THE PARENTS: Michaela Sweet, 33, and Chris Small, 39, of Bryn Mawr
THE KIDS: Jaxson Dale, 2½; Adelyn Kay, born May 2, 2018
WHAT HELPED EASE THEIR PARENTING ANXIETY: “What gave me comfort is knowing that humans have been doing this for years,” Chris says. “If cavemen could do it, we can do it.”
Michaela and Chris talk about the Day of the Sweatpants as a defining moment in their relationship.
They’d been dating for a few months — first messaging through Match.com, then meeting in the rare moments when their high-octane schedules were in sync. It was a November Sunday, and Chris was in town for a scant three hours, between a cousin’s wedding in Indiana and his next international trip for work.
He called Michaela: I want to meet up with you. Let’s do something.
“I’d been working a ton, I finally had a day off; it was a Sunday,” Michaela says. “I hadn’t showered. I said, ‘No, I just want to be by myself, do my own thing.’ ”
“But 10 minutes later, I texted: I’m not getting out of sweatpants, but I’ll meet you for coffee on Main Street [in Manayunk].”
Later, Chris confided that the impromptu date was his litmus test: If Michaela had blown him off, he would have taken it as a sign she wasn’t interested.
That was 2010. The following summer, Michaela moved in to the three-story Manayunk townhouse Chris shared with his best friend, the best friend’s girlfriend, and another guy. Five adults, two bathrooms. “During the weeks, it was a revolving door,” Michaela says. “But on weekends, we would eat all together or go out.”
In November, just over a year after they’d met, Chris banished their roommates long enough to light candles and plant scavenger hunt clues: on the couch where they’d first kissed, in their bedroom upstairs. He’d already flown to Rhode Island, where Michaela grew up, and asked her parents for permission to propose.
They were married at a church in Bristol, R.I., by a priest so relaxed he cracked jokes on the altar — “I need to go check my fantasy football scores,” he whispered to them at one point. There was an awkward moment when the two stood together after their vows, a Josh Groban song playing, unsure of their next move.
“It was supposed to be this nice moment in the Mass,” Michaela says. “But we didn’t know what to do. We were just staring at each other, giggling.”
Six months before the wedding, Chris had accepted a job offer in Denver, and Michaela left her position as event planner for the Flyers to follow him. In Denver, she opened a fitness studio. But just after it launched, Chris’ company — he’s vice president of a global bearing manufacturer — transferred him back to Philadelphia.
And a week after they’d returned — Chris had just landed from another trip to Europe, and they were living temporarily in a hotel because tenants were still in the Manayunk house — Michaela felt ravenously hungry, took a pregnancy test, tossed the stick into the garbage before the two-minute waiting time had elapsed, then checked it again later.
She shook her jet-lagged husband awake: “ ‘I think I’m pregnant.’ He high-fived me and rolled over. I got in bed, awake all night, terrified: What do I do now?”
Though they wanted to raise children, Michaela was petrified of pregnancy. “I’m a fitness instructor; I teach spin, I teach barre,” she says. “Growing up, everyone talks about how you have this baby and your body is ruined and everything’s terrible. It was a very weird, foreign concept to think of another human being growing inside me.”
But the pregnancy was an easy ride, provided Michaela stayed away from websites and chat rooms filled with stories of other women’s gestational struggles. She kept working out, kept teaching spin classes. The day before Jaxson was due, she scoured the house from kitchen to roof deck.
That evening, she texted a friend: “I’m going to be pregnant forever. This baby’s never coming.”
Her water broke early the next morning, and Jaxson arrived that night at Abington Hospital, after three-and-a-half hours of arduous pushing and an epidural that didn’t quite work. Chris remembers a process more immersive than he’d imagined — “I thought I was going to be holding her hand, saying, ‘You can do it,’ but a nurse said, ‘Grab her leg.’ And when I cut the cord, it was so full of blood it splattered everywhere. But I didn’t care.”
The early weeks of parenthood were rocked with visiting relatives, infant acid reflux, and the jarring realization that they could no longer sleep until 9:30 a.m. on Sundays and laze their way to brunch.
“But you kind of forget about that, which is why you do it again,” Michaela says. They wanted a sibling for Jaxson; this time, too, they had a quick conception and an uncomplicated pregnancy — that is until a month before delivery, when the baby’s position created so much pressure that Michaela had to stop teaching spin and go on long walks for exercise instead.
When Adelyn was born, they understood the source of that discomfort: she’d been resting face-down on a pelvic bone, leaving her with a massive lump and bruise on her head. “My first words to my daughter were, ‘Oh, my God, her head!’ ” Michaela says. But she looked like her brother — same round face, same big cheeks.
Michaela understands now how parenthood can swallow a person. With just one child, she could still eke out time each day for herself; with two, the demands never stop. Soon Chris will return to a punishing schedule of international travel; she’ll often be alone with both kids.
The pair hire a babysitter so they can have at least one child-free date night a month. And there are daily redemptions: when Jaxson insists, “Baby sister needs to watch me eat breakfast! Baby sister, watch me go down the slide!”
“People say, ‘Your life’s over. Two-year-olds are terrible.’ But no one tells you the awesome parts,” Michaela says. “Parenting is really scary, really stressful, really emotional at times. But if you’re scared and stressed and emotional, I think it means you’re doing things right.”