THE PARENT TRIP: Christina Zimmerman and Rob Zimmerman of Warrington

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Savanna, Taylor, Christina holding Grayson. (Credit: Shane Mulligan)

The first morning in their new house, Rob woke up at 6:30 to find the lights on. He'd conked out before midnight the night before, after a day of hauling boxes, arranging furniture, and trying to occupy their kids - Taylor, then 4, and 2-year-old Savanna.

Tina, it turned out, had never gone to sleep. She had spent all night arranging clothes in drawers, positioning picture frames on the walls, clambering up to the attic. She'd done 15 loads of laundry.

It was Mother's Day, May 10. Their third child was due, via scheduled C-section, on the 14th. "Maybe it was that maternal instinct or nesting phase," she says. "I had so much energy. After the house was done, I thought: I'm ready for him. Come on, baby boy."

That surge of late-night vigor was typical of Tina: "You light the fuse, and she just goes," her husband says with a laugh. But the tumble of major life events - having a baby just days after moving from an Old Somerton split-level to a Warrington Colonial so spacious that Rob sometimes asks, "What's this room for?" - was also characteristic of their lives as a couple.

They met at a benefit for cancer treatment, where Rob gamely made his way through a cluster of people to introduce himself to Tina. That night, he called her at 2 a.m., and they talked for hours. Tina thought their first date, at a Phillies game, was "too good to be true." The next night, they ate at a diner; the night after that, Rob made a chicken dinner at his place and gave her a key.

The following summer, he dropped to his knees on a bridge in Central Park. "She said, 'What are you doing? Get up,' " Rob recalls. "I was wearing tan pants because it was July. She thought I was going to get my pants dirty. Then she realized and started crying."

Rob was certain he wanted children; he's the oldest of seven and one of 23 grandchildren in a family whose members span the city, from 17th and Tasker to the farthest bounds of the Northeast. "There was always a communion, a baptism, a graduation party, Christmas at my grandmother's little rowhouse under the El."

Tina wasn't as sure. She treasured her independence as a designer of kitchens and bathrooms, and she loved the perks her work brought: travel, shopping trips, material comfort.

Both were stunned when they returned from a trip to Florida in 2009, with their wedding set for July of the following year, and learned Tina was pregnant. "I'm a planner. I like to know everything in advance," Tina says. But she quickly shifted into can-do mode and spent several days rescheduling everything - the wedding venue, the photographer, the florist - for a fall ceremony. They invited guests by phone, asking each, "Do you want the chicken, the fish, or the vegetarian entrée?"

Once the wedding was over, merely being pregnant seemed easy. And when Taylor was born - the fifth generation of babies in Tina's family to be delivered at Abington Hospital - Tina looked at her and thought: "How could I not have wanted this?" She remembers the softness of Taylor's face against her own, and the lassitude of the first few weeks, when she spent hours on the couch, watching movies and snuggling her daughter.

Even Rob, temperamentally stoic, unraveled a bit during the birth - first, when he peeked over the drape during the C-section and glimpsed Taylor, half-in and half-out of Tina's body, and again when she emerged.

Rob wept, he confides, "like watching the end of Bambi. . . . I was in awe. There's a whole other life now."

After that, he took parenthood in stride, even inviting a bunch of friends over to watch the Stanley Cup finals when Taylor was just a few weeks old. Tina, out with her mother, came home horrified to find the living room full of pals cheering the Flyers and passing her newborn daughter back and forth.

Savanna was planned, born exactly two years, two months, two days, and 22 minutes after her sister. Parenting two was more of a juggle - "I really felt like a parent when they would both poop back-to-back, and I'd just changed one diaper," Rob says - but they resolved to try once more.

"Some people said, 'You're crazy - you both work full time,' " Tina recalls. "But there was a part of me that wanted to try for a boy." They learned the baby's sex - wish fulfilled - two days before Christmas.

They weren't planning to move before the baby was born. But hour-long commutes and city traffic were wearing on both of them. In February, Rob mentioned to a neighbor that they were considering selling the house; a few days later, some friends of that neighbor came over, saw the place, and made an offer.

Two weekends of house-hunting led them to the Colonial in Warrington - and to Tina's 37-hours-with-no-sleep move-in blitz. A week later, they brought Grayson home from the hospital into further chaos: Both girls had ear infections and itchy rashes their parents feared was chicken pox. With Taylor, Savanna, and Rob quarantined in the basement, Tina called her mother. "I can't do this," she sobbed. "Why is this happening to me?"

Monday brought a pediatrician appointment and a reprieve: The itchy welts were bug bites. And when Rob and the girls returned from the doctor, back to what he and Tina call their "forever home," he paused for a moment in amazement and relief. How did it happen so fast? You meet a woman at a party; next thing you know, you're the father of three.

"We came home, and we just took a minute to breathe," he recalls. There were the girls, giddy to see their brother, great-grandchild No. 15 on Rob's side. The house was unpacked. Everyone was healthy. "I felt really lucky," he says. "We have all this."


The Parent Trip

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