THE PARENTS: Denise Wilson, 34, and Glen Wilson, 36, of Ambler
THE KIDS: Callie Lee, 2 ½; Jackson Butch (JB), born Dec. 16, 2016
WHY THEY OPTED NOT TO KNOW IF THEY WERE HAVING BOYS OR GIRLS: “I didn’t want him or her to be genderfied right off the bat,” Denise says. “And it’s one of the only true surprises left in life.”
When Glen got his wife’s text -- “When you have a moment and can step away, can you call me from a private spot?” -- he figured he must have done Something Very Wrong.
“I was prepared for all hell -- this marriage was over. I called. As soon as she answered, she said, ‘Are you ready for your world to get turned upside down?’ I said, ‘You’re pregnant.’ It was one of the happiest moments in my life.”
By that time, just after Thanksgiving 2013, Denise and Glen had known each other for more than a dozen years. She was a freshman at Ursinus College, assigned by some administrative glitch to an upper-class dorm, and he was a sophomore. They began dating a week into the semester and started living together the following year, in Glen’s off-campus apartment.
“I was the first to say ‘I love you,’ at 1 o’clock in the morning, over the phone,” Glen recalls. “And I remember her sitting me down one night and saying, ‘Are we going to date or not? Are we getting serious?’ I might have been turned off by that, but I was attracted to that strong personality.”
For Denise, Glen meant freewheeling fun -- sorority and fraternity get-togethers, a trip to Key West -- but also stability. He provided the financial ballast, after graduation, that let the two of them move to Maryland so Denise could attend graduate school.
Before they were married, before Glen proposed on Christmas Eve in his grandparents’ Virginia home, even before he’d tentatively broached the topic of engagement with Denise’s dad, the two were jolted into responsibility for their “first kid,” a Siberian husky rescue dog.
Their apartment had a strict no-dogs rule, but after agreeing to help a friend by caring for Lynx short-term, the two fell in love with the dog, changed his name to Bubba and moved to an animal-friendly complex.
They’d never even tended a houseplant together. Suddenly their lives included a living being that needed walks and vet visits and attention. No more carefree nights of drinking, then passing out on a friend’s couch. Someone needed to stay sober enough to drive home.
“He went everywhere with us in the back of a four-door Dodge Neon,” Denise recalls. “The first time we got into a serious fight, we only stayed together because we couldn’t figure out how we would divide up Bubba,” Glen says.
For a long time, they teetered about having children -- Denise, a researcher by profession and compulsive analyzer by temperament, was unnerved by reading a study that itemized the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18. Glen was more sanguine: We’ll figure it out; we’ll make it work.
During her “breeze” of a pregnancy -- no morning sickness, no complications -- Denise pored over The Happiest Baby on the Block and books on breast-feeding; she took a labor-preparation class at Abington-Jefferson Health. “I do everything by the book,” she says. “I made sure I had a plan for how to take care of this kid.”
They quickly learned that, even in utero, the kid was calling the shots. When doctors wanted to induce labor at 39 weeks -- they were concerned the baby might not be growing enough -- Glen figured Denise would get some medicine, then they’d see their infant shortly afterward.
“Nobody told us that if you get induced, you sit around and do nothing for a long time. It’s still up to the kid.” Denise had made a playlist -- some Norah Jones, some country, some up-tempo rap when her labor slowed a bit -- and after an hour of pushing, Glen glimpsed a head with a tuft of black hair.
“I was 33, and that was the first time in my life that I’d experienced unconditional love,” Glen says. Denise recalls shaking, crying -- uncharacteristic for her -- and aching for the baby to be brought from the warmer to her arms.
Those first weeks of parenting held moments of bliss -- the two of them staring at Callie and asking, “Why the hell did we wait so long?” -- and weary, shredded nights. “I remember pleading with her at 2 o’clock in the morning, ‘What can I do for you?’ ” Glen recalls. “It was a very humbling experience.”
And one they wanted to repeat. This time, Denise quietly had her IUD removed, thinking conception would likely take a while. She was pregnant the next month. “I got home from work, Denise had Callie and said, ‘Go show Daddy a surprise.’ We ended up in the bathroom, and I saw the stick. I was totally baffled.”
This pregnancy was a bit harder -- some nausea, more fatigue -- but this time, Denise’s labor started naturally, on a Friday morning. They were at Abington Hospital before lunchtime. “This almost feels like a date,” Denise told Glen after she got an epidural and the two chatted through the afternoon -- and, after 11 minutes of pushing, JB emerged.
In the two years between their engagement and marriage, Denise and Glen had worked hard, with the aid of a couples counselor, to communicate more kindly and appreciate each other’s quirks: She’s a sucker for romance; he’s more pragmatic. She tends to overthink. He has a hard time unplugging from work.
Parenthood means making room for two more sets of needs. “We have a toddler who deserves attention that sometimes we can’t give her because the baby needs to be fed,” Denise says.
In February, on one of those crazy-warm weekends, they decided it was time to toilet-train Callie. Naturally, Denise had a book -- Oh Crap! Potty Training -- and a plan. But at some point, they bent the rules. They took the potty outside to the deck and switched the toddler tunes to country music. Yes, JB fussed, and Callie needed periodic reminders to pee, but there were no work calls and no e-mails -- just the four of them, together in the sunshine.