THE PARENTS: Alina Torres-Zickler, 36, and Ken Torres-Zickler, 38, of Rutledge
THE KIDS: Kaila Nancy, 6; Luna Jean, 4; Finn James, born April 27, 2017
WHERE THEIR NAMES CAME FROM: Kaila and Luna were simply names the couple liked, and Nancy Jean was Ken’s mother’s name. Finn was inspired by the Glee character, a footballer who also sang, and Alina’s uncle and grandfather were both named James.
He was about to propose, at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, when a cottony fog rolled in, obscuring the view of autumn reds and ochres. That misty blanket also masked the other leaf-oglers; for a moment, Ken and Alina could see only each other.
That’s how it was almost from the beginning: Ken walked down a dormitory corridor at Ithaca College, on his way to a mutual friend’s room. “Ken has a remarkable smile,” Alina says. “I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble.’ ”
And though she recalled Ken — not favorably — from a freshman-year intro to mass media class, in which his New England accent and private school pedigree made her think he was pretentious, this time they talked all night.
“I remember heading back to my room at some ungodly hour,” Ken says, “thinking, ‘I really hope that was not it, that the conversation was not going to end there.’ ”
By St. Patrick’s Day of their junior year, they were officially together. After graduation, there was a series of moves — “We think of our lives as, ‘What’s the next adventure?’ ” Alina says — to Vermont and New Hampshire, with travel detours to Hawaii and Alaska. For a while, they shunned marriage, in solidarity with lesbian and gay friends for whom legal weddings were still off-limits.
But after Ken’s mother died in 2003, and Alina’s father became ill, their calculus shifted. They married in 2006, in an Ithaca park where they’d hiked during college.
“We had the basic ‘We want kids’ conversation,” Alina recalls, “but it was always off in the distance.” The year Alina was about to turn 30, at a routine doctor’s appointment, an examination showed parenthood was closer than they thought.
“The doctor said, ‘You’re eight weeks pregnant.’ I had no idea, no weight gain, no nausea. I came home, took a pregnancy test, and gave it to Ken as a Valentine’s Day present.”
Though that Philly summer was sticky and hot, Alina’s pregnancy was an easy ride — at least until the final weeks. An induction, due to high blood pressure, kick-started three days of depleting labor, two hours of pushing and, finally, a C-section.
Alina recalls hearing a doctor say, “Ken, stand up so you can see the baby.” Her response: “He’s going to faint! That was my first worry, that he would keel over and not actually see our child.”
Ken remained upright as the OB handed over their daughter. “There was this little human that we had created. You realize how vulnerable they are, how much they need you. I’m a parent now; this is real.”
Though both felt undone by fatigue — Kaila slept only in 90-minute increments — they were cushioned by family who came to hold the baby, by friends and colleagues who delivered meals nearly every day.
Alina had always envisioned a family of three. This time, it was Ken who figured out that Alina was pregnant; she had complained about not feeling well in the mornings and collapsed into bed early each night.
This pregnancy was different, not only because they’d planned it; they had a toddler, a 100-year-old house under reconstruction, and Alina had a new job as an administrator at West Chester University. They wanted a less medicalized experience, too; that meant a midwife, a doula, and birthing classes.
Luna’s arrival was the opposite of her sister’s: Alina’s water broke at midnight, she labored at home in her rocking chair and nearly gave birth in the car on the way to Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. “I ended up delivering in triage because they couldn’t get a room fast enough. I pushed for half an hour.” And Ken, despite his horror of blood and needles — he’d nearly fainted when a nurse inserted Alina’s IV — managed to remain steady through the delivery.
The postpartum weeks were different, too: Luna slept for longer stretches than her sister had, and Ken, a systems engineer in the TV industry, was able to take some time off work. “We were much more settled into parenthood,” Alina says.
In fact, she could easily imagine adding a third child to the mix. It took some time to persuade Ken … and then more than a year to conceive. It was a Friday evening in August, during dinner with longtime friends, when Alina suddenly thought, “I should take a pregnancy test.”
And once the answer was definitive, Ken no longer wavered. “I thought: We can do this. Having kids is something we’re good at now.”
Once again, Alina had to be induced because of high blood pressure. But with midwives in attendance, she was still able to have the vaginal, nonmedicated birth she wanted. Finn entered the world a bit before midnight; Alina and Ken remember his wide-eyed stare.
“With three kids, people say, ‘Oh, you’re outnumbered,’ ” Ken says. “Yes, you are. But having a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old is all right, because they can help.” Kaila has learned to make scrambled eggs, with supervision; Luna soothes her baby brother with goofy, extemporaneous songs.
For Alina, parenthood has meant becoming more intentional. “Before kids, we were so fast-paced … this is a good pause and reflection, to think, ‘What is that life turn I want to make now?’ ”
For Ken, it’s a dip back to his own childhood — for instance, pulling two huge tubs of Legos from his father’s basement and watching Kaila, who is equally obsessed with the building toys, light up in anticipation.
For both, it’s a goal to take their trio on an “epic journey,” a cross-country road trip to match the ones they took as children. Alina remembers touching the Pacific for the first time; Ken recalls the majestic domes of Yosemite.
“I felt like I was seeing the world,” Alina says. That’s a perspective both want to give their kids: a deep understanding that the country is huge, the view wide, the landscape peopled with family and friends.