5 min  Family Life


Charlotte Dunn

Dating was the first ingredient; marriage, the resulting product.  But children!  You had always loved them, always wanted your own.  The owner of the Iowa bakery sold the bakery to you when she became pregnant and decided making babies, not bundt cakes, should be her new profession.  Silly woman, you decide, but she offered you a deal you couldn’t refuse.


Peter wanted children as well.  He thought they were amusing.  When the two of you attended functions for the mathematics department, there were usually children present, and you both eyed them longingly.


The attempts to increase your chances only embarrassed Peter.  His fellow doctoral students were all having children.  Why couldn’t he?  You threw yourself into work at the bakery, and he threw himself into his dissertation.  The dissertation was a great success, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association.  “He’s only 30!” people would say, and you’d smile.  Your new recipes were also a hit:  profiteroles with chocolate sauce, fudge tartlets with peanut butter ice cream and cabernet caramel.  The bakery made it into Bon Appetit, and you and Peter bought a house in downtown Iowa City, close to the university and the bakery.  It had three bedrooms because even then you two were still somewhat hopeful. A young celebrity statistician and his celebrity baking wife.  What talents your children would have!  During your first few months in the new house, with its polished hardwood floors and exposed-brick kitchen with two convection ovens, you and Peter would lay in bed and think of what your children could accomplish.  They could estimate the perfect temperature for an elderberry buttercream frosting!  They could analyze the curve of a chocolate soufflé and measure exactly its diameter and degree! 


But still, the children did not come.  They hung about the house like ghosts or dust that couldn’t be swept clean.  The university hired Peter as an assistant professor when he finished his doctorate.  He was inducted into the American Statistical Association two years later and traveled the country, presenting papers at the American Educational Research Association conference and acting as a national consultant.  But he hated working with students.  


“They’re ignorant,” he told you one night.  “These mistakes they’re making, I made in high school.  They’re like children.”


Yes, you nodded, just like children.  You walked upstairs and stretched out in bed, thinking of macadamia-nut cookies and the children that refused to arrive.


You are nearing forty now, and childless.  You and Peter are not quite at separate bedrooms, but you are close.  You remember when your parents switched to separate bedrooms, after your mother had given birth to you and your father was disgusted with her swollen body.  You are not as thin as you were—tasting and sampling your work never helps—but you are still slender, still young.  Your fertility testing comes back promising, as does Peter’s, but nothing changes. 


Though in his mid-forties, Peter’s hair is turning gray at the temples.  He is looking older and older now.  When he isn’t researching item-response theory or policy issues in large-scale assessments during late nights at the university, he is traveling and consulting.  You are often alone.  Your voice echoes in the empty bedrooms when you peer into them, the lights turned off, as they always are.


You and Peter give in to separate bedrooms and a dachshund, which you name Snickers.  The dog at least makes Peter smile.  You work with premium candies and pastries all day, only to name your new pet after a simple candy bar.   


Though you sleep alone now, Snickers gives you and Peter a common interest.  You discuss Snickers and his behavior over supper now.  Peter comes home early, and you prepare smoked salmon and goat cheese frittatas and fresh fruit and mint mousse.  You look up new recipes, new ideas.  Snickers chased a squirrel, Snickers barked at the mailman, Snickers dug up the neighbor’s Holland tulips.  The two of you laugh, and Snickers is fed food from the table, which he bats across the floor before eating.  His nails click and clack against the floor.


The bakery is something of a hot-spot now.  Gourmets from across the country travel to eat your creations.  You prepare midnight breakfast treats for the nearby college students, who love you.  Snickers comes in to work with you sometimes, and he wanders around, begging customers for a scratch behind the ears or a piece of their blackberry scone or muffin.  One older woman who comes in every morning knits a sweater for Snickers so he won’t get chilly in the Iowa City winters.  You create a Snickers’ Special every day, and every day, whatever it is, it becomes a hit.  You even rename the bakery Snickerdoodle’s after your new-found pride.  You’d like to believe you are responsible for his large eyes and scampering gait, as if your genes somehow created this clumsy, innocent thing.


Peter is in love with Snickers, too.  You begin sleeping in the same bed again, even though by now you have given up on the idea of a child.  You watch Peter sleep at night, and wonder how you could have ever believed the two of you couldn’t be happy on your own. 


Peter is promoted to a full professor, and the two of you go out to celebrate.  Research added to publications and national grant awards leads to promotion at a public university like this one.  Stir in his celebrity from years past, and the process speeds up even more.  Never mind that Peter still can’t stand his students, that he shreds their papers and tests with his corrections and degrading comments.  You leave Snickers home alone to go out to eat, to celebrate Peter’s promotion.  It is the end of the spring semester, so you leave Snickers outside in the fenced backyard.


When you wake up the next morning, you cannot find Snickers.  A cup of coffee in your hand, dressed in one of Peter’s t-shirts and his flannel bathrobe, you search every corner of the backyard, calling for Snickers.  Peter searches for him, too, and finds that the back gate somehow got unlatched.  Snickers’ body is three blocks from your house, flattened in the middle, like a failed pastry.  The two of you bury the dog’s small body underneath a tree at the edge of the back fence.


You do not cry.  Peter does not cry.  The two of you move back to separate bedrooms, separate lives.  During the summer, Peter takes on grant work in New Jersey, consulting for the College Board.  You spend longer hours at the bakery again.  And again, you wander through your house, silent, late at night.


When Peter comes back from New Jersey, you tell him that you are pregnant.  Peter smiles a little. 


You have started to show, and he rubs your feet when you come home.   A child, at last, after all this time.  Marriage plus time equals a baby, you decide.  You and Peter discuss baby names and future schools.  You cut back on bakery hours, and Peter leaves much of his work to his graduate assistants.  You drink unsweetened teas and take Lamaze classes with Peter.  Time plus education will equal a healthy baby.


When the doctors discover the child, a girl, is in a breech position, with the umbilical cord around her neck, they decide to perform a C-section, and Peter holds your hand, wiping sweat from your forehead.  And when the child has jaundice and is taken away, to be placed underneath UV lights, you try not to worry.  You and Peter will raise this child, this small wild thing, in the Iowa snow.  You will teach it to bake, and Peter will teach it numbers, and it will learn any matter of recipes, formulas, and combinations which it will master in order to live, to survive, to breathe and walk.       

Charlotte Dunn lives and writes in South Carolina.

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