This summer, my family has been spending a month at the beach. It’s been like a daydream come to life: bright days and languid evenings spent with family, including a sparkly 3-year-old and her serene new baby sister. My granddaughters. I started picturing—and pining for—this kind of family gathering, the three-generation kind that includes grandchildren, as my 60s loomed and my two daughters entered their 30s with no obvious plans for baby-making. I’d kept to a pretty brisk schedule when I became a mother; I had both of my girls before I turned 30. But now those girls, like so many other women their age, seemed to me to be acting as if they had all the time in the world to decide about kids. I didn’t think they had all the time in the world—and, more to the point, I knew that I didn’t. As my joints started creaking and my knees stiffened up, I started to worry that by the time grandbabies came along, I’d be too old to enjoy them.
I tried to keep my mouth shut about my eagerness for grandchildren. The subject did come up several times with my younger daughter, but that’s because we were writing a book together on the topic of 20-somethings and their life choices, which made the conversations seem impersonal and therefore relatively conflict-free. I learned the hard way not to raise the subject with my older daughter, after I asked, on the eve of her first marriage, “So, how do you think you two will decide about having kids?” She told me, in no uncertain terms, to back off. I’d thought it was an innocent question, that we were close enough to be able to discuss these things. But I learned that on this topic, there’s no such thing as an innocent question.