That was the first sentence of a press release I received in January from New Mexico Voices for Children.
The most-notable news the Albuquerque-based children’s advocacy organization found in the report is a decline in the percentage of New Mexico children living in poverty, from 27 percent in 2018 to 26 percent in 2019.
And the bad news? New Mexico’s state ranking in child poverty dropped from 48thnationwide to 49th.
Let me say upfront: I have been a fan of NM Voices for many years. This nonpartisan, nonprofit organization does honorable work encouraging state legislators to channel rhetoric and good intentions into legislation that will tangibly improve children’s health, education and safety. They release the Kids Count Data Book, issued by the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, every year at the start of the state legislative session, in conjunction with policy recommendations for addressing the needs of New Mexico’s children.
I can certainly understand the urge to frame news in the best terms possible, especially in a state accustomed to seeing itself at or near the bottom of the list in child well-being. But to me, this was a simple case of bad news/bad news. To have more than a quarter of the children in our state living in poverty — with all the accompanying risks of food insecurity and inadequate access to health care, child care and secure housing — is horrible. Children of color in particular fare even worse: 30 percent of Hispanic children and 41 percent of Native American children are growing up in families living below the poverty level. In the state-by-state comparison of overall child well-being, there’s New Mexico at the bottom of the list, with a big “50” next to it. (Read more about the Kids Count Data Report on page 7.)
It is good news that there are people who care enough about children to crunch this data from state, county, tribal and school statistics into such a comprehensive analysis. It’s good news to see children’s needs tracked in quantitative metrics, to support advocacy and fundraising efforts with accurate information.
But the news itself is sad for all of us who care about children. It’s sad to see their fear for their planet, safety at school and financial future, and their encounters with hate and prejudice. I can understand the rage of environmental activist Greta Thunberg and the local members of YUCCA (Youth United for Climate Crisis Action), a program of Earth Care, towards adults who have squandered their responsibility to protect the planet.
It might be tempting to despair, but as a mom I feel almost hardwired to maintain hope. My husband and I brought our beautiful baby into the world with a promise to love, care for and protect him. That promise hasn’t stopped now that he’s an adult, and it doesn’t stop at the borders of our family. Loving our child spills over into a desire for all children to be well fed, healthy and safe. It feels just wrong to abandon hope for the future we’re giving them.
Yet I don’t want rosy-eyed, naïve hope. I want wise hope. Lovinghope. Actionable hope. Where do I find it?
For starters, I look at the many wonderful people and organizations here in Santa Fe and New Mexico giving their time, energy and wisdom to kids, schools and families. As always, many of them are featured here in Tumbleweeds.
I take heart, and hope, from articles like Kathryn York’s “Embracing the Earth” about Earth Day activities at the Railyard on April 26. I’m particularly inspired by her sidebar, describing three simple actions we might take at any time of year that engage children’s powers of observation, expression and decision-making — all vital components of maintaining hope.
Protecting wildlife around us is another thing we can do through simpler actions than we might expect. Sally Maxwell, of the Randall Davey Audubon Center, shows us 10 ways we can help critters — particularly birds and insects — in our backyard, porch or schoolyard, in her article, “Welcoming Wildlife.”
The desire to protect the environment is built on happy outdoor experiences beginning in early childhood. Even camping? Yes, even camping! Whitney Spivey, a die-hard outdoorswoman and mother of twin toddlers, points out that while camping with toddlers might not be easy, it’s probably not as hard as you think. Her suggestions in "Camping with Kids" are ones you might get from a good friend: practical, compassionate and workable.
As we all discover, family life doesn’t always go as planned. Antoinette Villamil shares lessons and reassurance about parenting after divorce, in her “Surviving Solo” (and “Cómo criar hijos sola” in Spanish, translated by Flor de María Oliva).
Judy Reinhartz, of the Santa Fe Alliance for Science and a MathAmigos coach, shares a way of teaching math that I haven’t seen in Tumbleweeds or elsewhere: by incorporating story books that focus on math in daily life. The books and techniques she shares in “Counting on Math” may even stop adults from hindering children’s proficiency with their own math aversion!
Modern life can be alienating, and new groups are building multigenerational, communal housing communities where members share public spaces, social events and decision-making. Anne Stirling envisions herself as a “cohousing auntie” in the upcoming CohousingABQ project; see her “Building Community.”
St. Patrick’s Day is coming, and what better way to celebrate as a family than going to the Rhythm of Fire, 2 p.m. March 15 at the James A. Little Theater. This year’s show will feature Irish dance along with flamenco and folklórico dancers and other guest artists. See Belisama co-founder Celia Bassett’s “Step to It!” and our calendar for more details.
Here in New Mexico, we have extra-special ways to enjoy nature. You may be inspired by Kate Daley's article, "The Magic Place," to treat your family to a week at Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, just north of Abiquíu, for programs for kids and adults in one of the most magical places in the state.
These articles illustrate the ways we can make a difference for children, day by day. I’m sure you have favorite ways of your own. Maybe one of these stories will inspire you to new actions. It was a Tumbleweeds article on Big Brothers Big Sisters a few years ago that inspired me to sign up as a Big Sister in their school-based program, spending one lunch period a week at a child’s school. My Little Brother and I are coming to the end of our third year together. I leave his school every Wednesday with a smile.
Still, I admit, as I look at the state and national statistics, these individual efforts aren’t all that I want to see. I want to see systemic change, policy upheavals, drastic reductions in child poverty, hunger and homeless. I want seismic shifts in national priorities. We are lucky to have groups like NM Voices, and the Children’s Defense Fund, a national nonpartisan advocacy organization. The systemic changes promoted by these organizations, together with the efforts of local individuals and groups, complement each other in bettering children’s lives. That’s truly good news.
People have been asking me, since I announced last year that I was looking for a new owner for Tumbleweeds:Have you sold it yet? No, it’s still for sale. If you’ve been toying the idea of owning a print publication that is actually growing in ad revenue, being more engaged with our community, and learning from my 25 years of publishingexperience, please give J. Erika Munde, of Sam Goldenberg & Associates Business Brokers, a call at (505)820-0163. I’m sure you’ll enjoy talking with her.