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Silent Summer

By Janice Lane Palko

As you read this article, stop a moment and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the laughter of children? I don’t.

When we moved into my neighborhood 31 years ago, there was a sign at the entrance that stated, “Please drive carefully. Over 200 children live and play in this neighborhood.” On my stretch of the block of a dozen or so houses back then, there were about 30 children living around me. On summer days, there’d be kids outside playing in the backyards, riding bikes or swimming in pools.

Today, I can count four kids under the age of 18 living around me. Granted, I’ve lived here long enough that those children my kids played with have all grown up, but the experts tell us that my little slice of the world is not an anomaly; we are in a dramatic global decline of births.

This lack of children will bring many consequences. According to Economics Help, “In the 1960s, there were six people of working age for every retired person. In 2021, that is three-to-one. By 2035, there will be two working-age persons for every retired person. This has profound implications for health care, government spending and tax revenues.”

Having no children deprives the world of innocence, humor, innovation, and hope as well. Throughout the pandemic lockdowns, it was being around my young grandchildren that kept us looking on the bright side of things. Most inventions and innovations come from young people. Expect things to grow stodgier with less children.

There are many reasons why birth rates are declining, from falling fertility rates, to the view that having a career is more rewarding than having children, to the belief that this world is such a mess, why would I bring a child into it? When wasn’t the world a mess?

I sympathize with those who want children but are unable to have them, and I understand that there are some people who should never have children, but for the rest, I can only speak from experience that it is not a cliché to say that children are truly one of life’s greatest blessings.

Children make life worth living. They make you laugh, require you to live in the moment while also looking toward the future. Having children takes you out of your selfishness. Sure, they require work, love, and sacrifice, but all things of value require that.

One of my favorite scenes about having children comes from the 1989 movie Parenthood starring Steve Martin as Gil. There is one part where he and Grandma have a conversation, and she tells him of an episode about riding a roller coaster, relating it to what it’s like to have children.

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story.

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

Having children is a thrill ride. Writer Elizabeth Stone once said that having a child is “is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

It can be scary and risky to be that vulnerable, but not taking into account the economic, demographic and social benefits, yes, you get more out of life with children in it. Even if it’s only the sound of laughter on a summer afternoon.


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