'I Don't Have Kids, and It Would Be a Lie to Say I Don’t Regret It'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A German and an Israeli celebrate major birthdays and take stock of their lives

Julia Gniech.
Tomer Appelbaum

Julia Gniech, 50, lives in Hamburg; flying to Zurich

Hello, can I ask you what you were doing in Israel?

I came here to celebrate my 50th birthday – half a century!

Congratulations.

Age is generally not so meaningful for me, but 50 ... I don’t know. For two years I planned how to celebrate it. Usually I travel with a friend or with relatives, but this time I decided to take a journey by myself. I was in Israel for 10 days.

How was it?

I wanted to meet people, so I thought it might be nice to rent places through Airbnb, but I didn’t know you could end up in a completely empty apartment. That’s what happened when I’d just arrived, but then I switched places, and in Jerusalem I met a nice religious woman who invited me for a Sabbath meal. Another place I got to was a little like a hostel, with nice people but they were rushing around. I felt very much alone. Then the 50th birthday arrived and I didn’t have a room reserved and didn’t find one, and it started to rain and I didn’t know where I would sleep. I was really afraid and I thought that in another minute I was going to be celebrating my birthday on the street and wet.

Bummer.

But then I told myself that I was an adult woman and smart, and that I would get along.

And did you?

Yes. People told me to try the Dead Sea, but I thought that I love life so much and it wouldn’t be appropriate to go to the Dead Sea precisely on my birthday! I went to Tiberias instead and had a terrific time. I stayed in an excellent hotel with a balcony overlooking the lake, and on my birthday I woke up really early and saw the sunrise and thought about life. I thought a great deal on that day.

And your conclusions?

I felt that I can get along, that I have an inner compass that guides me, and that if I use it, everything works out. Afterward, I did a healthful day – all kinds of treatments, massages and things I usually don’t do; I looked after myself and cared for myself. I also walked all around the beautiful Kinneret and I spoke with friends and family, who called to congratulate me. Everything was very relaxed. All told, this trip was very nice. I started with the fear of being alone, and now, during my last stop, in Tel Aviv, I found a small loft in Florentin [a neighborhood] and I was alone there, too. But it was actually all right: I met nice people and it was a good experience. I’m happy I made the trip and I’ll be back. I’m even learning Hebrew – it has a marvelous sound.

Are you upset about going back to routine?

No. I love my work, and I love my cats.

Where do you work?

I work in communications on the web. I’ve been doing it for many years, and I still remember that when I’d just started out that I had a modem that made all sorts of noise. Now I’m working for a nonprofit that protects wild animals in Germany. My contacts are with biologists and researchers and it’s very interesting. I tried to be self-employed and work on my own, but crashed.

Why?

I had to sell myself, and I’m not good at things like that. It was a rough patch, and I also broke up with a partner after 10 years, which is a bit like a divorce.

Children?

No. When you’re 30 or 40, you think maybe you’ll still have kids, but at the age of 50, I already think it won’t happen, I won’t have them. Maybe I’ll get married one day, but the truth is that even if I should meet someone, I don’t see what reason there is to get married.

Was not having children a conscious choice?

It wasn’t a choice exactly. For a long time I thought it would happen at some point, but life just kept going. It would be a lie to say that I don’t regret it. Sometimes I do regret it, but not everyone has to be a parent and we all regret something. If I were to meet someone of 50 who says he has no regrets, I would call him a liar.

So would I.

When I look back on my life, I think everything is all right. Maybe I would have done one thing or another differently, but all in all I am very happy and grateful for what I’ve experienced, for the family and the friends. I’m a lucky old woman!

Not so old.

Half a century is pretty old, but I’m good with it. There is nothing special I am trying to achieve. I feel that I am at a moment of my life that is calm and peaceful and complete, and I wish myself another 50 birthdays. My grandmother was 101 when she died.

Elad and Yaara Dital.
Tomer Appelbaum

Elad and Yaara Dital, 45 and 40, live in Kibbutz Usha, in Western Galilee; arriving from Vienna

Hello, can I ask why you went away?

Yaara: To celebrate my 40th birthday.

Elad: First trip without the kids, after how long?

Yaara: Forever. We are devoted parents and I don’t believe in leaving the kids alone, even though their grandparents are great.

How was it without them?

Yaara: We enjoyed the quiet, but once in a while I missed all the shouting.

You could chill out.

Elad: Yes, but it took time.

Yaara: Mainly because on the evening before the trip, we had a break-in.

Elad: They broke the window of our home’s “secure space” [mamad] with a pick-axe.

I thought people moved to kibbutz so as not to be burgled.

Elad: Others thought the same thing, because they broke into three more houses near us.

Yaara: They took small things – money, jewelry.

Elad: Our first worry was whether they took our passports, which were on the counter, ahead of the trip.

Yaara: When we saw the passports, we said we would cope with the mess: We straightened things up, went to sleep and got up for the flight.

Have you had a midlife crisis?

Yaara: Not really. But 40 is a turning point. You look back: What have you managed to accomplish? What do you want to improve? Are there more goals to conquer?

Elad: And what kind of trip to do at 50.

Are you satisfied with your inventory?

Yaara: I’m an occupational therapist, so my life is filled with giving. Maybe I don’t get enough in return, because our salaries are so low, but I’m really happy with what I do.

What does your work involve?

Yaara: I work with kids with learning disabilities and with new parents at family health centers. The baby isn’t turning over, the baby isn’t crawling. I mainly reassure people; there’s no right/wrong here.

Too bad, because absolute answers can make things easier in parenthood.

Yaara: Today, with Google, there’s a lot of information, but it’s not always professional. A mother can be wonderful even if she bottle-feeds. It’s enough to look a baby in the eyes and talk to him and smile. Sometimes moms need to hear that. You can’t do parenthood, the feelings, the bond, the intensity on automatic pilot or via Google.

Where do you stand about kids and the internet?

Yaara: There’s a lack of attention being paid, not because of bad intentions. And parents themselves are sometimes into screens and don’t grasp the implications of that.

Elad: Even though balance is also important: You can’t cut kids off from the real world.

Yaara: The right way, I think, is to offer interaction – telling the child, “Go read a book” isn’t really helpful. Elad: Sometimes, when I get home late and I see you and them on the carpet, playing…

Yaara: Don’t make me out to be an ideal mother!

Elad: But I see you together and it looks magical. And not because I, physically, am not capable of sitting on the carpet.

Elad, what do you do?

Elad: I’m in high-tech, an information systems analyst.

What does the midlife crisis look like in high-tech? Cushier?

Elad: Not for me. I really did have a crisis. I left a company I’d been with for 12 years and tried to go back to the profession I had in the army: flight supervisor. I tried for half a year, I went through all the stages, got to the final acceptance interview and was sure I’d be approved, but I wasn’t.

What a letdown.

Elad: They didn’t say so explicitly, but it was hinted that they’re not eager to accept people of my age. It was a huge disappointment. I had a few days of shock, I admit, but at that stage we had two children and a mortgage, and I told myself, “You have to snap out of it.”

Yaara: People often get told, “If you really want something, you’ll get it,” but that’s not always the case.

Maybe only if you’re Lady Gaga.

Yaara: And even then things are lot more complicated than that.

Elad: I’m calm, because I know I did everything that I had control over. I have a new job that I like, and since then I’ve also joined a running group, which I’d always wanted to do. And the main thing is that I have a family that loves me.

Yaara: Knock on wood, we are thankful for what we have. I wake up happy in the morning, and we have three healthy, lovely children. I just wish for all this good to continue.