Having now been 30 for a total of 13 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes, I feel fully qualified to pronounce the sorts of subjects one talks about in one's thirties. In sum:
All Of The Things We Talked About in Our Twenties
"I have had so many conversations about having kids in the last week I can't believe it!"
"I don't really feel different being 30. I just suddenly feel like I need to start having babies. Like right now."
"So, how many kids do you think you guys want?"
Mind you, with rare exception, everyone in my circle of friends -- the speakers of those above lines included -- is childless. Childless in the way that people say they are single, in italics. As in, children of one's own remain a fairly abstract, fanciful concept that loom in a suddenly, disarmingly, imminent distance.
So, it seems notable that, with little warning, we are all, rather unwittingly, obsessed.
One might say this obsession has obvious, biological roots. But then, if we were so beholden to biology, we would have begun procreating 10-12 years ago, back when we were too naive to think twice.
Now, of course, we are jaded enough to think several hundred times. But (the big question) is, is that several hundred times too many?
Much proverbial ink is habitually spilled over this plight of 30-something women, pondering our fertility in something between a casual, academic stance and panicked, delirious stupor.
What's the right age to have a baby? What if you're actually infertile? How much money are you supposed to have? How stable should you be? How many should you have?
The questions are endless. And they are easy to see as ridiculous, toxic, indulgent, privileged, silly and obnoxious.
But perhaps -- just perhaps -- they are also good.
The economic downturn has slowed birth rates in this country, which means that fewer Americans are having kids. Still, most do.
Having children is still perceived as normal -- just as it is to pair off. Single, childless people and families are still the ones who have to explain themselves.
So, perhaps my friends and I are talking about having kids so much because we don't have any. Because not having kids is still something to explain, whereas having them is simply expected, applauded, the next, normative step.
I don't know why I want kids.
Recently, my boyfriend and I listened to a Freakonomics podcast about the economics of parenting. Accomplished economists who study parenting were interviewed about the way that their personal choices are often at odds with their research: one mother described digging in the data to contradict the finding that parenthood, statistically, uniformly, decreases happiness levels. She couldn't find it. She had a child anyway.
She and her husband both explained the extravagant parenting strategies they employ with their 2-year-old -- language classes, strict nutritional policies, etc. -- despite their awareness that these techniques have no proven payoff.
When it comes to parenting, even for the most rational among us, our choices are not rational.
After we listened, driving a long, straight stretch of I-94, I grasped to explain why it is that I want kids even though I know, supposedly, it won't make me happier.
"I know overall it won't... but I feel like the individual moments... the things that parents describe having with their kids... are just more... more joyful... than other things...?"
My boyfriend nodded. Later, at a wedding, I sought affirmation of this general hunch from a college friend.
"Don't you think?" I said. "Like, the joy you've found with your son? Isn't that totally different special?"
"Uh, yeah," she nodded. "Sure."
In other words: she humored me. Or rather, my completely subjective, totally slippery attempt to rationalize a gut feeling that I am unable to explain.
Do I want kids because I am female, and because child-bearing is still constructed to be an essential rite of womanhood?
Do I want kids because I grew up (partly) an only child, and want a big family to compensate for a lonely youth?
Do I want kids because I grew up (partly) in a large family of four, and want to re-create that experience as an adult?
Do I want kids because I'm vain?
Do I want kids because I'm lonely?
Do I want kids because I think I'd be a good parent?
Do I want kids because I'm supposed to want kids?
I'm not sure it's possible, in the tangled context of our modern lives and individual angst, to tease out clear answers.
But I'm also not sure it's a bad thing to spend time trying.
If there's one thing my friends and I do understand clearly about parenting, it's that it's a big commitment. And while we understand the risks involved with taking our time getting into it, I'd argue that -- for many of us -- it's a risk worth taking.