THE PARENTS: Jennifer Kitchen, 36, and Michael Kitchen, 37, of Delaware County.
THE CHILDREN: Miles Michael, 3; Paris Jade, born Feb. 28, 2020.
THEIR NAMES: “Miles” is a nod to the distance the two traveled in multiple trips to Europe, and “Paris” is for the city where they fell in love as college students.
Jennifer and Michael were students at Temple University in 2004; she studied journalism, while he majored in architecture. But it took a semester abroad in Italy, and a side trip to Paris, for them to fall in love.
In Rome, they met at a welcome party for the 200 students who were spending the term abroad. On weekends and fall break, they traveled in small groups: Vienna, Prague, Budapest. But the venture to Paris was just the two of them: getting lost in tiny alleyways, gaping at the Eiffel Tower.
“I was constantly surprised by her,” Michael remembers. “I kept saying to myself: I can’t believe this girl; she’s awesome.” Jennifer recalls being drawn to Michael’s sense of humor, his honesty, and the ease of talking together.
When she returned home — Michael opted to stay a bit longer, to visit London and Amsterdam — he sent a bouquet of roses to her house. And after she picked him up from JFK Airport, while the two were sitting on the porch of Michael’s uncle’s Bensalem house, he asked her to be his girlfriend.
They graduated from Temple, found an apartment, dug into careers — Michael at an architecture firm, Jennifer in public relations. On Dec. 23, 2011, their “dating anniversary,” Michael stopped Jennifer from going for her usual morning run.
“I want to make you breakfast in bed,” he insisted, then presented a plate of not-quite-cooked blueberry pancakes along with a “breakfast dessert,” a crystal container holding a jewelry box.
The ring had an unusual, four-pillar setting, reminiscent of the base of the Eiffel Tower. “He was on both knees in front of me,” Jennifer says. “I was a complete mess. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life.”
They were married on a 60-degree February day in 2013, in Millennium Hall at Loews Hotel. Album covers served as table designations, the band played “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” and the photographer captured a shot of the pair singing along, heads inclined over an old-fashioned microphone.
For years, Michael had been wary of marriage — his father wed four times — but the passage of time, he says, changed his mind. And though he enjoyed playing Hot Wheels with other people’s children, kids of his own “were something I never really thought about.”
Jennifer didn’t want kids until she met Michael. “The way his brain works, listening to him tell stories, I knew I wanted a child and I wanted that with him.”
She’d run the Berlin Marathon; they’d made a reprise trip to Paris; Michael had weathered a layoff in 2008 and established his own business. “We thought: OK, we are ready to settle down,” Jennifer says.
They were pregnant just before their wedding anniversary; Jennifer told Michael with a gift — one of the leather-bound journals he always carries to jot notes, with a message inside that said, “If lost, please return to my daddy. Love, your baby.”
The pregnancy was healthy, except for a severe bout of sciatica that left Jennifer hobbling in pain. “I carry large, so a lot of people asked if I was having twins,” she says.
She hoped for a natural childbirth; when the baby was 12 days late, she did everything — acupuncture, spicy tacos, long walks, having her membranes swept — to kick-start labor. Finally, her contractions began at work and ramped up through the evening.
At Lankenau Medical Center, though, she was just four centimeters dilated. Labor moved slowly: an epidural, a brief scare when they lost the heart rate, then a 9½-pound baby whose size so stunned Michael that, instead of announcing the infant’s sex, he blurted, “He’s so big!
“It took me a second to catch up,” he recalls. “When we first laid eyes on him, we thought: Oh, that’s who’s been inside Jennifer for nearly 10 months. Oh, you’re the new person who’s going to be with us forever. It’s a moment of surreal realization that nothing will ever be the same.”
Those first weeks and months tried their stamina — breast-feeding was hard, and Miles didn’t sleep — but both wanted a sibling for their son. “It felt like we were still missing something from our party,” Michael says.
This time, Jennifer told Michael with a party-favor Magic 8-Ball. He asked it, “Will Jennifer ever be pregnant again?” The ball’s answer: “Yes — definitely.” She corroborated.
She felt more nauseated this time, and more tired, though she continued running throughout the nine months.
“Everyone said [birth] would be easier the second time around,” she recalls. But it was another slow labor at Lankenau, including two hours of walking the halls, then pushing out another nine-pound baby, this time in sunny-side-up position. “It took the life out of me,” Jennifer says. “It was very, very draining.”
It was the end of February. Michael, a news junkie, had been reading about a new virus rampant in China, but at home, seasonal flu seemed a more urgent concern. As soon as they brought Paris home, Miles developed a sinus infection, and Jennifer suffered headaches from the epidural.
“We were home with a toddler and a baby, and we were already in a bubble,” Jennifer says. So when COVID-19 reached the United States and quarantine measures went into effect, “we just kept our bubble going.”
Paris has yet to meet most members of her extended family, and parenthood, especially during a pandemic, has provided daily lessons in relinquishing control. “No day is the same. Every child’s different. It’s being able to adapt constantly,” Jennifer says.
For Michael, parenthood feels like a promotion. “I feel a little more pressure; I’m providing for the family,” he says. “Like I got a higher position at a big company. I’ve got more responsibility — but in a good way — and I’d better not mess this up.”