No, I write back. There’s a long pause. I imagine Hugh climbing into bed with her and running his hands around her back, spooning up close, and my stomach lurches. If God wants me in Wendy’s body for me to be of service, fine. So be it. But I am willing to lay down good money that he does not think Wendy should sleep with my husband as part of the bargain.

Then I’m not coming. Hugh defrosted a lasagna and opened a bottle of merlot. If I have to be you, I might as well enjoy it.

I groan. I would really like to be in my adirondack chair with my merlot right now, not organizing chore wheels for someone else’s lazy kids. It’s important, I text her. Important that we make some plans for the week ahead, before she screws up my kids and damages my marriage.

Finally she writes back. 8:35. Bridge reads in bed when Linus goes down, and I’ll have you back in time to tuck her in and turn out the lights at nine. Meet at that thorny shrub you can’t see from the house.

I sigh. What will Bridget think if she gets up for a glass of water and finds her mother missing? What will Hugh think when “I” just walk out the door right before we usually sit down to watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show? Why can’t Wendy just at least put in the tiniest bit of effort to hold up her end of my life while I’m over here Cinderella-ing the heck out of her house, life, and family?

Why couldn’t I have body swapped with someone who has just a tiny bit more of a clue? What did I do to deserve Wendy Charles?

But then, I think I know exactly what I did. I got very, very lucky, and now it’s time to even the score.

When I was ten weeks into my maternity leave with Zoey, I got a formal letter from my college’s HR department. I worked, back then, full time as a math teacher at a local community college—not at all like the flagship university system that is the backbone of Minnesota but a little satellite two-year program for people from all walks of life. My 200-level classes were mandatory for secondary-ed majors, future actuaries, and nighttime MBAs, while my surveys were requisite for most everyone else. I remember my pregnancy with Zoey as nothing but grading, grading, grading, and the endless string of petitions for unearned good grades that I euphemistically called my office hours.

Zoey, when she arrived, needed no grading. She was one of those babies, the angel kind, who eat, sleep, and poop in an endless, predictable cycle. And Hugh made things even better. Each morning before work as he kissed us both goodbye, he told me in no uncertain terms: “If I hear about you cleaning or cooking while that baby sleeps, you’re in big trouble.” He made me feel like the very act of growing, birthing, and nursing Zoey made me a goddess suitable for worship, or at the very least unrequested foot rubs.

Even on the weekends the rules were the rules: if Zoey was asleep, I was to be resting too. Mostly I slept, but sometimes I wasn’t exhausted, and Hugh propped me up in my bed with a happy baby in my arms and set up an unending stream of The Office, Parks and Rec, and House Hunters for my entertainment. Or he took the baby from me, wrapped her up in a woven sling he’d insisted on mastering, and handed me a romantic novel and a strawberry smoothie on his way out the door.

Her waking hours were almost as blissful. Mostly she and I walked around the neighborhood in slow motion, but sometimes we’d do chores, wash and fold her tiny clothes, and take photos for her baby book. Though my daily planner was always close at hand, I refused to turn to the next month’s pages and fill them out in advance as I usually did, because I knew the day I had to go back to work was approaching fast. The closer it came, the sourer my mood, and Hugh noticed. He revved up the preparations, knowing I was going to be worried about every little thing once Zoey wasn’t in my sight all day. We called in my mom to come be with Zoey for at least the first couple of weeks. Found a dreamy day care with a one-to-two care ratio and the kind of attention to safety and snuggles only another mother could replicate. Ordered some milk-bottling supplies to keep at work, got one of those Velcro pump bras that make you feel like a dairy cow in an industrial feedlot, met with a lactation specialist to prepare for the change in nursing schedules. And every night I cried myself to sleep.

The letter that came the week before I was to return, however, changed everything. Everyone knew the school budget was being hacked to pieces, salaries were frozen, and class sizes were going up. Even in my baby bubble I’d been keeping up with all the news. What I hadn’t heard was that they were buying people out of their contracts. If I wanted to be one of those people, I could get paid through the rest of my two-year contract at a 20 percent rate and never set foot on that campus again.

I didn’t tell Hugh about the letter right away. First I ran numbers. What would we have without my salary? What would we have to give up? How would it affect our retirement, our dreams, our plans? I made charts, ran scenarios, even did a cost-benefit analysis. I tried to make it make sense—show that we’d save money on my lunches and work clothes and day care—but the numbers just didn’t add up. There was no doubt: he’d be working longer, we’d be living smaller, vacations would be campouts instead of beaches, and the next house wouldn’t have any more bathrooms than the one we were already in.

I decided there was no point in even bringing it up.

I threw the letter away and ordered some more stretchy work pants and nursing shirts. My mom arrived. I told her how I was feeling about going back to work, and she, having been through it all herself, only with two jobs, four kids, and no supportive partner, let me cry as much as I wanted.

Then, the Friday before I was to go back, Hugh came home from work waving a piece of paper like he’d won the golden ticket.

He forked it over, and I recognized it very well. It was a cost-benefit spreadsheet, just like the one I’d made, showing what my going to work would cost us and what it would earn us. Mine had come out miserably. He, however, was grinning like an idiot and pointing at it erratically. “Look here! We just need three kids!” he said excitedly.


“We want three kids, right? I mean, if that’s what we’re given, that’s what we’re going for. We always agreed on that. You still feeling the same?”

I smiled sadly. “I think so. I mean, it all depends on how things go when I’m back to work. But yes, I hope for three. Why?”

“Well, that’s the crossover point, baby. Look at this graph! Three kids—well, two and an eighth, but it’s hard to have that many, from what I hear—that’s when we save more from you being at home than we make from you working. That’s the tipping point that lets you be home with the kids!”

My jaw dropped. I had not even considered taking the math out through two kids, much less three.

“But that won’t be for years,” I said. “It’s a moot point as far as Zoey is concerned.”

“But remember you won’t be driving to work,” he went on. “We just need to be creative. One job only needs one car. Like your Corolla, which is cheap to own and as reliable as the tides. If we sell my truck now and don’t buy another car until the third baby comes, we can really make this work!”

I remember how I felt, even now, when I got that news. Ever since I had taken care of my little siblings as a teenager, I had known I wanted to be a mother more than anything else in the world. Now, thanks to Hugh and a quirk of educational funding, all my dreams were about to come true. That wonderful day I didn’t worry about getting back into the workforce someday or being a good feminist or defining myself as someone other than who I wanted to be in that very moment. Who I wanted to be, with every bone in my body, was solely and exclusively my daughter’s mother.



Wendy is late. I have found the “thorny bush,” also known as an English tea rose. It should have been cut back last October, but it’s on her side of the property line, and how she’s supposed to garden when she’s so busy with Sangria Policing I’m not sure. Fresh wood with cream-colored buds winds its way through old growth of years and years past.

I know where the hedge trimmers are. It’s not dark yet, and Wendy’ll probably still be struggling to get Joy to sleep with no milk. Or maybe she’s nursing my baby—who knows. My stomach feels funny. I mean, it’s my milk, my boobs. Wet nurses have been a thing for millennia. But still. Wendy might be nursing my kid right now. This, this whatever it is, just gets weirder every single time I consider it.

Stop considering it, I order myself.

Instead, I go into the garage via the side door and find the hedge trimmers.

Only I also find Hugh.

“Wendy?” he asks.