The cost of not having kids

I was accused once of being rather selfish in my attitude to having children. An ex-boyfriend, who had held the ex prefix for a number of years, told me that it was selfish of me, a woman, not to have kids. He implied that it was my duty in life, my raison d’etre. And, what’s more, he said, it was unfathomable not to want them.

While I don’t ever remember making a conscious decision not to have children, it’s something that simply never happened. Had it happened, I’m sure I’d have been happy. But it didn’t. And there’s no corresponding unhappiness. It’s just the way it is.

I have memories of a conversation I had many years ago when, over a few pints one night, I asserted rather righteously that there were too many children in the world without parents to justify birthing any more. Why didn’t we, collectively, just look after the ones already born? It didn’t go down very well and one friend, who was adopted, took issue with it – and my selfishness. I never quite figured that one out.

But be it circumstance or be it a subconscious choice, the fact is that I am without issue – I have no children. And while I might occasionally envy a friend their precociously cute two-year-old, or their old-man seven-year-old, or their bright and savvy teenager, a life without issue suits me.

Of course, I’ve had the conversation – with myself and with others – about who is going to look after me when I’m old and infirm. The fleeting moment of panic that sets in, quickly dissipates when I remind myself there are plenty of old people who have kids and grandkids and yet live in homes and institutions anyway. I have it sorted, though. I have a few single friends of a similar vantage and vintage and we’ve agreed to pool our resources and set up house, should we ever find we can no longer manage on our own.

pensionBut recent rumblings in Hungary suggest that a life without issue might involve issues of a more monetary kind.

It’s a given that those paying taxes (i.e., those currently working for a wage) support those sectors of society that are retired and pensioned off. Of course, they also support those who are unable to work, for health, legal, or other reasons; but this isn’t what the focus is on. Apparently, there’s a school of thought that if you are a pensioner who doesn’t have children paying into the system that pays your pension, then you are, in effect, freeloading. And these people reckon that it would take two children to make this self-supporting pension plan viable (the baseline), with additional points being given for additional children and points being deducted for fewer or no children at all. The final tally would determine the amount of pension paid.

The holes in this grand scheme are gaping. What about those who can’t have children? Never marry? Or have children who die before they start work? Or have children who can’t find a job, or don’t want a job, or have a job abroad? What then?

Recently, these same people, the Demographic Roundtable (Népesedési Kerekasztal), a group of experts charged with finding a solution to Hungary’s declining birth rate and depleting state pension fund, have put this idea back on the table, albeit in a slightly improved form compared to what was mooted in 2012. But no matter how improved it is, the thought of men or women who remain childless for whatever reason being monetarily penalised for not having kids beggars belief.

First published in the Budapest Times 5 September 2014.

Age belongs… on tombstones?

It’s a little ironic really to think that we spend the first, say, third of our lives trying to be older than our years and the rest trying to be younger. I’m seven and a half. I’m thirteen and three-quarters. I’m nearly 21.  What is it about age that we can’t live with? What is it about age that we can never seem to be comfortable with? I get an almost prurient pleasure when people think I am younger than I am and the younger they think I am, the more pleasure I get. But really, at the end of the day, what does it matter? Who gives a flying foible?

In my head, I will always be 32. That’s when I broke my back (my sacrum) on a snowmachine in Alaska, 81 miles from town, 2 miles up the side of a mountain. I thought I’d been shot. But no blood. Just one broken sacrum and a fractured L2 vertebrae. With weeks on end contemplating the ceiling, hostage to a remote control and the shopping channel, I had little to do but deliberate upon whence I’d come and whence I was going. Time stood still and although years have since passed, while I might be aging outwardly, inside, I’m still 32.

So why am I so preoccupied with age?Admittedly I’ve gotten better. I no  longer insist on knowing how old you are before I deign to have a level 2 conversation with you. I no longer do the math when I first meet you. I no longer fixate on whether or not you’re too young or too old for whatever it is I have in mind. But still, all the same, it’s there. Inside me. That dread that one day, instead of being 32, I might actually have to start acting the age I am.

I have friends who are in their 50s and dress and act ten years younger and carry it off. I never question their age or what they’re up to. I have other friends who are in their 50s and, by their appearance, should be drawing a pension. So what’s the cut-off date? What’s the age at which I need to start acting my age? When does reality click in?

And then I see this video of these stylish ladies in New York and it makes me want to go shopping and go mad. And my mate, the one who has come back to life, is talking of wearing a black and orange mumu and embracing eccentricty now that she has a second lease on living.And I wonder – why am I bothered?

What is at the root of all this angst? It’s simply a fact of life that while I am beyond my sell-by date with regard to having kids (and truth be told, my biological clock was always a few minutes slow), this precludes any relationship of substance with the majority of men I meet who are under 50 and childless. Perhaps, deep down, that’s the fact of life that I’m resisting.

PS Akció means ‘sale’ in Hungarian