The Parent Trip: Marizete and Charles Stasnek of Pottstown

Marizete and Charles Stasnek, with CJ and their pets.

THE PARENTS: Marizete Stasnek, 30, and Charles Stasnek, 30, of Pottstown
THE CHILD: Charles Joseph IV (CJ), born July 15, 2016
THEME OF THE LARGER WEDDING THEY PLAN FOR A FUTURE HALLOWEEN: Beetlejuice, with all the guests in costume.

In the dream, she was in Reading Terminal Market and heard a baby crying inconsolably. Amid the bustle, she glimpsed a stroller facing the wall. No one was tending to the baby. The sobs continued.

That was in late October 2015, and Marizete was already feeling strange. Though she was a regular at the gym, her weight kept creeping up. At night, in bed, she sometimes felt a lurch similar to driving a car that hits an unexpected bump. For a moment or two, her heart would canter.

Even Charles said one morning, "You look different."

On Nov. 11, Marizete took a pregnancy test and left it in the bathroom; she figured it would be negative, just like the other times. "But when I came back in to put my makeup on, it was positive." Charles, an electrician, was already at work, but that evening, Marizete handed him a bag from Target: an Eagles onesie, a card, and the drugstore test stick.

"I already knew," he says. "I didn't even have to look at it. You know how they say there's a glow about somebody [when she's pregnant]. Now I know what they mean."

Marizete, who was born in Brazil, came to the United States in 2012 for what was supposed to be a one-year stay as an au pair. She met Charles at a group outing - her au pair friends, a cluster of his buddies - at the Manayunk Brewing Co. and talked with him for so long her girlfriends hustled her out the door before she had had time to say a proper good night.

Later she texted him: "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to be rude. Let's hang out again." The second date was for bowling, not dinner - "a chance to see who we really were without worrying about whether there was something stuck in our teeth," Marizete says, laughing. Then there was a Halloween party - he came as a leprechaun, and she was a witch - and before long, they were talking about marriage and visas and permanence.

"I had planned to stay one year and improve my English, then go back to Brazil, take law classes, pass the bar exam, and get a good job," Marizete says. "But life had other plans for me."

They had been dating for a little more than a year, and Marizete's visa was soon to expire, when Charles asked his best friend's mother, a pastor, whether her church was available the following weekend. Marizete's parents were already planning a visit, and the two married Jan. 11, 2014, with rings they'd picked up at the mall and an impromptu reception at a Phoenixville bar with two dozen friends and relatives.

At first, neither of them wanted children: Marizete found it hard enough to care for someone else's kids, and Charles imagined a life of work and travel, just the two of them.

But they got a cat, then a pit bull, then a fixer-upper in Pottstown with an overgrown backyard. "I started talking about having a baby as soon as we moved in," Marizete says.

She missed her family: the chatter in Portuguese, the familiar dishes of oxtail and feijoada, a traditional stew of beans with pork. Charles, raised in Collegeville, had roots here, and plenty of friends, but Marizete felt untethered. They were close to 30. She didn't want to wait.

And then she had the dream of the baby in the stroller.

During her pregnancy - uneventful except for occasional cravings for chocolate-covered raisins - it was hard to be so far away from her parents, Marizete says. "You feel sad, then happy, then crazy. I wanted them to be able to touch my belly, not just see me on Facebook." She and Charles spent equal time poring over What to Expect When You're Expecting and a book called Baby Bargains that advised where to find the best deals on cribs and diapers.

On the way to Paoli Hospital, Marizete apologized to Charles in advance for the screaming she expected to do during labor. Once there, he tried to sleep on a cramped, pullout chair while Marizete, loopy from pain medication, dozed between contractions.

The epidural she requested (yelled for, actually, at 4 in the morning, both say) was a mixed blessing: It muted the pain but made it hard for Marizete to feel her progress. "The nurse would say, 'You're doing great,' but I couldn't tell where I was pushing. It felt like my head would explode every time I pushed. I wanted to see what he would look like. That's what motivated me to push him out."

What he looked like - this baby they'd already named after his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather - was a wrinkly old man with outsize feet. In the first photo Charles snapped, CJs eyes are wide open, and Marizete wears a smile.

Her parents had flown up for the birth, and their help was indispensable in those initial days. Her mother showed Marizete how to clean the umbilical and take care of the circumcision, how to bathe her son and clean his ears.

CJ's not crawling yet, but he can worm himself from one side of their bed to the other. He loves Baby Einstein and seems to enjoy watching football. Charles looks forward to taking him fishing, perhaps coaching his rugby team, indulging his own kid-at-heart nature with father/son Lego projects.

Marizete imagines her son's first day at school, how he'll wave and call, "Bye, Mommy." She speaks to him in Portuguese, calls him "Babo" and wants him to respect older people, the way she was taught to honor her elders.

In the dream, Marizete approached the stroller and turned it around. The baby tucked inside looked just like her brother when he was an infant. She reached in to scoop up the child and hold him close. The sobs quieted. The baby drifted to sleep against her chest.


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