The Parent Trip: Karla and Daniel Thut of University City

During her first labor, Karla tried to channel her grandmother.

Her Costa Rican-born, hardworking and plain-talking grandma, who delivered each of her 12 children alone, at home. The grandma who helped shift her perspective on this unplanned pregnancy by reminding Karla she had every reason to be happy: she was 26, with a husband and a home and a graduate school education.

During the daylong labor at Pennsylvania Hospital, "I just kept telling myself that I came from strength," Karla says. "That I could do this."

And when Emilia finally emerged, "My first thought was: She's brown! I liked that I could see myself in her."

Despite their different trajectories - Daniel grew up in Goshen, Ind., and went to college in Canada; Karla was raised in Honduras and attended college in Daniel's hometown - their paths merged in Guatemala, where Daniel was working at a cross-cultural study center and Karla was taking one final college class abroad, a seminar on poverty and liberation theology.

"We were sitting down for class, and in walked this tall, young guy with a baseball cap who gave us a whole talk on the history of Guatemala," Karla remembers. When a volcano eruption draped the city in ash just before Karla was scheduled to leave, Daniel offered to drive her to the airport to see whether her flight had been canceled.

After Karla graduated and returned home to Honduras, the two visited each other - a 14-hour bus ride through the mountains - about once a month.

It helped that each spoke the other's language fluently and each had spent significant time living abroad. They could see the world through those shared lenses. A trip to the U.S., which included stops at Daniel's grandmother's farm in Ohio and at his sister's home in Philadelphia, persuaded both of them to make their bond permanent.

Back in Guatemala, Daniel packed a picnic lunch and took Karla to an archaeological site, Mixco Viejo. But it wasn't until a groundskeeper advised that the area would be closing in five minutes that he scrounged up the nerve to ask.

They were married in 1999 at Karla's parents' home in Tegucigalpa; among the guests were Daniel's grandmother and a group of friends from Guatemala who arrived in a bright-red bus. The menu was a cultural cocktail: potato salad along with barbacoa, the traditional Honduran spread of slow-cooked meat, guacamole, and refried beans.

The next year, the couple moved to Philadelphia - a temporary relocation, Karla thought, while she attended graduate school in social work and Daniel figured out what to do next. She was jolted by Philadelphians' blunt directness, the way a merchant at the Italian Market would rib a customer and expect a laugh.

Daniel, meanwhile, had noticed an empty building at 43rd and Baltimore and teamed up with his brother-in-law to transform the corner spot into the first Green Line Cafe. It was a race to see which would be born first: the baby or the restaurant.

Emilia arrived in November 2002; the cafe opened the following January. "I remember that as a really happy time," Karla says. "Daniel would leave to go to the cafe, then come back and bring me coffee, just to see the baby again."

While they worked on conceiving a second child, they took a summertime cross-country trip - Emilia was 3½ at the time - traveling in a pop-up van from the California coast through Oregon to Yellowstone and South Dakota. By October, Karla was pregnant.

They told Emilia, cautioning her not to share the news for a while. But when they pulled up to the Green Line Cafe the next day, Emilia leaned from the window and yelled to her aunt, "My mom has a baby in her belly, but it's a secret!"

This time, Karla's labor was induced, and the baby, unlike her very vocal sister, didn't cry right away. "She came out, clearly alert, and looked around and yawned," Daniel remembers.

Over the next few years, Daniel would periodically point to someone's infant and ask, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a baby?" or glance at the family and say, "Don't you think there's someone missing at our dinner table?"

"When I was 39, I had this overwhelming feeling that maybe I did want to have another one," Karla says. "I came home and said, 'OK, let's do it.' I found out I was pregnant on my 40th birthday."

Though the pregnancy itself was her smoothest - she'd been kickboxing to build stamina - their daughters worried about the impact of another sibling. "Dahlia was afraid I wouldn't remember her as an 8-year-old, because of the baby," Karla recalls. A few family sessions with a play therapist helped all of them air their mixed feelings.

And once Eli arrived - a prolapsed cord prompted an emergency C-section - Emilia and Dahlia embraced their brother. "Dahlia loves holding him when he's the most fussy," Daniel says. "She calls herself the baby whisperer."

Now they have one child in diapers and another applying to high school, with a third trying not to get lost in the middle. It helps that Eli is an easy sleeper with a tranquil temperament. It helps that they've been down this road before.

"There's a laid-backness that we have about a lot of things," Karla says. "Knowing you can make mistakes, and that parenting is pretty forgiving as long as you love your children unconditionally."

"Parenting," says Daniel, "is about being a good person . . . the way you want your kids to be."

As soon as Eli could sit up, they pulled his high chair to the table so he could join them for family dinner. Like his sisters, he loves refried beans ("a sign that they're Honduran," Karla jokes). And there they were, five now, a mezcla of ages, perspectives, and needs. "They are who they are," Karla says of her kids. "And you have to meet them where they're at."

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