No. 3s and biological clocks

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There is something about hiking that leads to great conversation.

Part of it is privacy. As soon as you pass the trailhead, there will be no next-table eavesdropping. Only the trees and the porcupines will hear.

And even if the hikers barely know each other, conversation comes easily. You don't have to look into anyone's eyes and even long silences are filled comfortably with the crunching of feet and the scanning of scenery.

On Saturday, a friend and I went on an afternoon Flat Tops foliage hike. The conversation unrolled onto the trail in front of us for the entire six miles.

We were half talking and half thinking out loud, our conversation following a switchback path that always returned to the same subject.

My companion's sister is getting married next week and her mind was full of bridesmaid dresses, her sister's changing life and her own future.

By mile two, we were talking about the wedding and by mile three we were having the inevitable "do you think you will?" conversation.

Saturday wasn't the first time I had this conversation. But at 29, it seems to be coming up a lot, because friends who I never thought would, have.

It would seem that the biological clock is a marching army, and women are trapped in a corner watching the distance lessen and lessen. To escape will take some Charlie's Angels flying leap and flip that they never taught us in gym class.

Starting in high school and continuing ad infinitum, my female friends and I have sorted and discussed ourselves into one of three categories: 1. Never-evers. 2. Maybe, if some paradox of the universe causes it to implode -- or I meet the right guy. 3. Yes. I'll take it all -- husband, kids, golden retriever and the latest self-help audio tape playing in the minivan tape deck.

Since we met her, No. 3 knew the names of her children and had her wedding dress doodled in the back of her junior high history notebook.

No. 3 always has been the object of ridicule.

She is so status quo, we would say. "So what? Wasn't she paying attention in women's studies?"

My grandmother was married the day after she graduated from high school. Her wedding-day 16-inch waist (she still brags), soon expanded with her first child. By the time my mother was my age, she had both her children, etc. etc.

But the women of my generation had important things to do, we say -- careers to start, countries to explore, "selves" to find.

Alas, as I heel drag toward the precipice of 30, more and more of my friends (many of whom were No. 1s in college) are becoming variations of No. 3.

By mile four, my hiking companion and I threw out names for possible children. I picked, "Ezra." She picked "Lily." She berated my choice and I berated hers, and by mile five we had regained our sanity and were laughing and head shaking about No. 3s again.

But life off the trail is different, tighter-lipped, because the things we talk about in the woods can reach us.

That night, I threw a party at my house and a friend came with her new baby. When we were making fun of No. 3s, we conjured images of Tupperware parties and Oprah. But there she was -- master's degree intelligent -- doing everything we just made fun of.

I read in The New York Times the next day that the most frightening moment of your life occurs when your first child is born. This is the moment when your life ends and theirs begins.

When I saw her there, holding her newborn, it was not the time for cynical jokes about breeding.

I wanted to ask, "Aren't you scared?"

Instead, I peeked at the baby and said, "What small toes. What small fingers."

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