In between all of the excellent science reporting is that lingering, ominous coverline: We have no idea what we’re getting into. “A phrase I heard repeatedly during these conversations was ‘natural experiment,’ ” Shulevitz writes. “As in, we’re conducting a vast empirical study upon an unthinkably large population: all the babies conceived by older parents, plus those parents, plus their grandparents, who after all have to wait a lot longer than they used to for grandchildren.”
I think about this all the time. Of course, there are the scenarios no parent wants to contemplate, like the possibility that mine or my husband’s age will somehow contribute to one of our sons growing up to be autistic or severely depressive or schizophrenic. But the more mundane situations we can predict with some accuracy. And they are frightening enough: I will not be an empty nester until I’m at least 54, and that’s optimistic. I will probably be taking care of my ailing parents while I’m still taking care of my growing kids. And I’ll probably be in my late 60s by the time my kids start having kids (if they have them) and well into my 70s by the time my grandkids are fun to talk to and all wearing underwear. Whereas most of my grandparents lived to see me graduate from college, get married and start my family, it’s quite possible I won’t see any of that from my kids’ kids.
Then there’s this: “What haunts me about my children,” writes Shulevitz, “is . . . the actuarial risk I run of dying before they’re ready to face the world.”
This is not exactly how I’d like things to go. And I’m not sure why I set myself up for it. I got married at 26. We delayed having kids for five years just . . . ‘cause. Our friends weren’t having them. I was, as the story goes, “focusing on my career.” And it was fun to be young and married without too many responsibilities. But we would have made friends who had babies because that’s what happens. And while I loved my young married years, it’s not as if they created any sort of happy-times reserve that I can tap into now, whenever I am feeling annoyed that I can’t just go out after work without booking a sitter two weeks in advance. Plus the physical advantages of being a young mom — to think how much kinder I could have been on my poor, poor old-lady back. As for my career, I have no way to predict what would-have-been-could-have-been had I started having kids at 27. Maybe I’d be wandering the streets, professionless in mom jeans right now, maybe not.
“A remarkable feature of the new older parenting,” Shulevitz writes, “is how happy women seem to be about it. It’s considered a feminist triumph.” I’m not so sure. Also, remember how there was that one kid in your high school class whose parents were so old that it was weird and creepy? That’s all of us now. Oops.
Allison Benedikt is the managing editor of Slate’s Double X lifestyle section.