Baking Bread Children

Vulnerable child dough meets its parent(s).


Originally published in Edition Two (2023).


A parent is someone who has given birth to a child.


Getting older does not mean getting wiser.


There are plenty of older people who are just older people, not adults.


Can a parent's parenting make their child less than they were? Yes. Follow me.


A parent trying to shape their child: like handling a soft, fluffy pile of bread dough and shoving rough fingers into it, pinching it into a different shape with angry fingers that are white at their tips.


Some call this shaping necessary. How else will a child turn out properly otherwise?


But like a pile of dough, a child has something internal in them that drives them outwards, a powerful, expansive force that they grow themselves. Watch how the dough crawls up the side of the mixing bowl, making its own carbon dioxide, becoming smoother and firmer.


Don't you need a good environment for the child to grow up in though? Parents do that. Don't you need parents for that?


Yes. But


A piece of bread dough does indeed need warmth to rise. But a child already has that as a fact of life, as a foetus growing in its mother's warm womb.


A foetus needs to be fed water, just as bread dough needs to be hydrated, misted with water or oil to keep it moist. These facts make life viable, but they do not make a life.


Just as a baby does not do well with drugs and alcohol in its blood or milk, bread does not do well when its flour has weevils thriving in it. That is true.


But the growth of the dough, its slow expansion as it stretches its soft body into the world of its baking tray, happens quite naturally, with time, without outside interference. The baby's cells multiply, it grows longer, the bread dough grows in size; the baby is driven by an impulse to stand and the bread dough is driven upwards by the carbon dioxide bubbles bubbling into existence within it; the baby's muscles and tendons grow stronger; growing tough and stringy, gluten bonds strengthen within it the bread; one day, the bread's gluten bonds grow so strong that it holds together and passes the window test; one day, the baby's neck muscles grow strong, the fibers within it tightening and squeezing, so strong that it can hold its head upright by itself.


What about its thoughts though? How can a child know anything if the parent is not allowed to 'shape' the child? How can all this 'shaping' never be good?


Just like yeast migrating quite naturally into a dough mixture left out to sit, the child receives its information from all aspects of its outside world; teachers, friends, positive role models, if they have them. Like little specks of wild yeast collecting in the dough till it forms a culture, thoughts migrate into the child's mind till it forms a thought.


Some bacteria and fungi turn the dough mixture sour, unpleasant and inedible; some turn it tangy and delicious. The baker may try to control which collect in the dough; the parent feels, quite rightly, that only some of these should be allowed into their precious doughy creation. The question is, examine yourself closely - which of your own yeast culture are you imparting to the child dough budding off you; which of these two types of microbes are you putting into your little child dough?


Of course, baking bread is not the perfect analogy to bringing up children. A growing bread dough does not tremble and hide under the table when its parent baker slams clanging metal pans against the counter in anger; a growing bread dough does not question its existence when its bakers don't talk to each other for a fortnight; a growing bread dough does not stop growing and wish that it were a hard, solid, dead lump of dough when its parent baker doesn't talk to it for a whole week


Some parent doughs are just 'doing their best'; but perhaps it's possible that 'my best' can still be 'not good enough'. Maybe if they could pretend that they're still soft dough, pliable, not baked into a loaf of hardened bread; pretend that they are still soft and pliable, so that other people's wise thoughts can still migrate into their dough mixture like wild yeast, then perhaps some of their child bread dough will get some too. And maybe that will not just be their best, but good enough. 


But some people are like hard, baked bread, their crust dry and tough; their dry insides proclaiming that they'll never reshape their ideas; I won't tell you children to sit close by and watch them crumble, green, white, black and spotty, into mould.


Otherwise, if they've kept the child dough warm and well-fed, unharmed by other toxins and ingredients, bubbling only slightly unhappily, then maybe a half thanks to these parents. 

I'll leave you to decide, though, whether your parent(s) were just average bakers, or whether they've left you with so many lumps that you're not sure you will ever become a loaf of bread. 


Not asking to be a $7, 32-hours-fermented artisanal sourdough with Kalamata olives, well-adjusted, thriving, delicious, but will I ever even become an average, thin-sliced $1.90 homebrand loaf from Coles?


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