The Absence of Children on America’s Darkening, Echoing Green


Somerville, Mass.:  Davis Square street band 9/16/12
Somerville, Mass.: Davis Square street band 9/16/12

           Going to places, like beaches and parks, I associate with children has made me feel their absence and the silence of their ‘songs of innocence’.

           I don’t mean there aren’t any.  There are.  A few.  But it’s lonely, haunting out there, even if I understand why the emptiness.

           Couples are poorer now, two incomes a necessity.  Hopes for employment and benefits are much lower than their parents’ and grandparents’.  Union jobs have disappeared.  Employers import skilled workers they can compensate less, control more and train not at all.  Meanwhile, student loans burden borrowers heavily in their child-rearing years. 

           And on Sunday, the New York Times’s Elizabeth Rosenthal reported the cost of having a baby in the US is the highest in the world.

           From 2004 to 2010, the prices that insurers paid for childbirth … rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections…, with average out-of-pocket costs rising fourfold…  The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866….

           Women with insurance pay out of pocket an average of $3,400….  Two decades ago, women typically paid nothing other than a small fee if they opted for a private hospital room or television.

           Those numbers don’t reflect the experiences of the uninsured or under-insured.  Nor do they reflect the costs of the country’s extremely high infant mortality rate.  In April the Times reported, ‘In 2008, the United States ranked 27th in infant mortality among the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development….’

More and more often, ‘The Echoing Green’ comes to my mind.  It is from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789):

The Sun does arise
And make happy the skies;
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bells’ chearful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the Echoing Green.

Old John, with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
“Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls & boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.”

Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sports no more seen
On the darkening Green.

The Children of Men, P.D. James’s haunting novel and the brilliant movie adapted loosely from it come to mind this weekend of pageantry meant to transmit national memories to a generation not there.

The beaches and parks of 21st century America: the darkening, echoing green.


  1. Tom Welsh said:

    Children were and remain the product of the following:
    1. The lack of access to large scale, cheap birth control provision
    2. The anti-female religious teaching
    3. Cultural paternalism and male dominance
    4. Cultural role of women
    5. Old age security for parents & grandparents

    None of these have a justification in todays western plutocracy where accumulation and consumption rule the day. In addition the political culture of Fear inhibits birth rates in the West – ‘I would not want to bring a child into this world!’

    More intriguing is the notion of village and town ‘greens’, I thought those were for condos!

    July 5, 2013
  2. Ralph Meima said:

    Peter, Brattleboro’s Living Memorial Park was awash with tots, toddlers, tweens, and teens for yesterday’s 4th of July fun fair and fireworks. Many young families. And it turns out that the VT and NH infant mortality rates (second-lowest and lowest in the US) come out right at and below the OECD average, roughly matching Austria and Australia. So it’s much, much safer to have babies in these two states than elsewhere in the US, on average. Maybe there’s a connection between this and the scene at the park yesterday evening. (Glad we had our babies in Sweden, but Vermont wouldn’t have been as dangerous as many Europeans assume…)

    July 5, 2013
  3. Rosalie Prosser said:

    Your comments made me, too, think of Children of Men, a truly haunting film and (I’m sure) book. Tom Welsh above is totally correct in his list of places with expanding birth rates – comes down to women being forced into the kind of numbers they may be pushing out. Our globe needs fewer of us and we are just seeing and showing some of how it might be. China’s going to be using massive world resources in the continuing attempt to raise the standard of living of their bloated population – and this after so many years of its draconian control measures. And let’s not even talk about India! As the biggest consumers of resources in the world, the US must shrink. Even if we can’t bring down our usage individually, at least lower numbers will make that happen. It’s a major change, isn’t it?

    July 5, 2013

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