Sunday, May 19, 2013
With a third kid on the way and a 1,100-square-foot, one-bathroom Brooklyn apartment, my husband and I talk a lot about when we'll be able to afford a home to comfortably fit our family.
I'm 35, he's almost 40, and neither of us thinks we can even begin to contemplate shelling out for a mortgage or higher rent for another five years. In the fall of 2018, all of our kids will finally be in public school, and we will have the $5,000 we pay in child care every month back in our bank account. I will be 41, my husband will be 46, and perhaps then we can start to consider a second toilet.
Not all of that $5,000 will go toward a family home -- to pay for preschool, we stopped contributing to our 401(k) years ago. So 2018 will also be the year we start paying into it again -- not that we will ever be able to retire -- and, hey, let's put some away for college, shall we?
Let me just stop you mid-eye-roll to confirm that yes, we are, by the standards of most Americans, rich. My husband and I both have steady jobs, make good salaries and are lucky enough to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world simply because we want to. As Gawker's Hamilton Nolan wrote earlier this year, we can't cry poor just because we don't have a lot of money left after we've spent it all.
So I'm not complaining. But you know what I am doing? I'm wishing. I'm wishing we had started popping out those kids, oh, say, five years earlier than we did, so that maybe, by 40, my bedroom and my sons' bedroom wouldn't be separated by a fake wall.
Which is what I thought about when I first saw the cover of a recent New Republic magazine, featuring a photo of a graying couple and their toddler son and the very effective line: "We Are Having Kids Later Than Ever. We Have No Idea What We're Getting Into."
The excellent piece, by Judith Shulevitz, is generally about the "scary consequences" of older parenthood, and specifically about the greater likelihood of physical and mental disorders that children of older parents face.
Shulevitz cites the study of older dads that got a ton of attention earlier this year, establishing that "the number of genetic mutations that can be acquired from a father increases by two every year of his life, and doubles every 16, so that a 36-year-old man is twice as likely as a 20-year-old to bequeath de novo mutations to his children."
She also writes about "age-related epigenetic mutations" -- how environmental influences, such as age, can affect sperm DNA, and therefore traits in our offspring such as body size and mental capacity.
Sociologists have devoted many man-hours to demonstrating that older parents are richer, smarter and more loving, on the whole, than younger ones. And yet the tragic irony of epigenetics is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides and herbicides. They may have endured more stress, be it from poverty or overwork or lack of social status. All those assaults on the cells that make sperm DNA can add epimutations to regular mutations.
There's also the question of how much we know (or don't know) about the long-term effects of fertility treatments -- treatments that Shulevitz herself underwent when finally trying to have her first baby at the age of 37. As one Columbia University professor puts it, "We keep pulling off these technological marvels without the sober tracking of data you'd want to see before these things become widespread all over the world."
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