THE PARENTS: María Antoine, 32, and Angelo Antoine, 35, of Narberth
THE CHILD: Angelo Antoine Calzabo, born May 7, 2020
THE OTHER FAMILY MEMBER: Two-and-a-half-year-old Mara, Angelito’s “big sister” and four-footed nanny.
The setting was Hollywood-perfect: a table for two at XIX, the restaurant atop the Bellevue Hotel. A soft fog outside the window. An engagement ring in Angelo’s pocket, and a poem he’d written for María in his head.
But when he reached for the ring, the box got stuck. He began to sweat. “I kind of had an out-of-body experience,” he recalls. “I got the box out of my pocket and fumbled it. All of the perfect words I had to say went out of the window. I said, ‘Uh…’ And her reaction was perfect. She just looked at me, looked at the ring and said yes.”
That was December 2016, almost a year after the couple had met at a salsa dance in Old City. “Did that woman just sniff me as we were dancing?” Angelo recalls thinking. Then she did it again; María says she liked his cologne.
They exchanged phone numbers. He called the next day, and they spoke for more than an hour. “I don’t follow the rules where you have to wait a week before you call,” he says.
They went to El Vez and another dance event for their first date, began to see each other every weekend, then every day. “It was love at first sight,” María says. “It was easy to spend time together and get to know each other.”
Their cultural differences intrigued them: María was born in southwestern Spain, and Angelo is Haitian American. They also discovered a bedrock of shared values, Angelo says: learning, communication, exploring the world. “We’re adamant about family ties: Sitting down and eating together, with no phones. Talking. Getting to know each other on a day-to-day basis.”
He was nervous to meet María’s parents when they visited, especially since her father speaks just a bit of English and Angelo knows only a smattering of Spanish. But with María as translator, the meeting went smoothly.
And their wedding — a bilingual, Spanish-style, dance-until-dawn ceremony and reception in Ayamonte, Spain in 2018 — was a rare moment to bring together family and friends from both sides of the Atlantic. Angelo remembers watching both dads — his own, who speaks mostly Haitian Creole, and María’s Spanish-speaking father — hugging and laughing.
María teaches Spanish at the Shipley School; Angelo has a sister and four brothers. They knew from the start — and talked about it candidly — that they wanted to have children. For Angelo, family meant passing along traditions and creating new ones: matching pajamas at Christmas and stockings with each family member’s name on them.
“We were so excited to teach [a child] certain values: charity and love and family ties,” he says.
They wanted to do things by the book — or, at least, by the children’s jump-rope chant: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes … a house in Narberth. A terrier mix from the ASPCA. A drugstore test, clearly reading “pregnant,” sitting on the table when Angelo came home from work.
“I had a really rough first four months,” María recalls. “I was very sick. I would throw up every morning. And that made it hard emotionally.” She ached to share the pregnancy with family, especially her sister; they tried to make up for the distance with WhatsApp calls and photos of María’s changing body.
Meantime, she read ravenously: books and articles about discipline, baby sign language, and breastfeeding. The couple took four labor preparation classes and two parenting classes from Lifecycle WomanCare, where they planned to give birth.
María also thought about the woman whose children she’d babysat for seven years, after she first moved to the United States. “She’s like my big sister; I had such a good role model to follow.”
Angelito — a diminutive of “Angelo,” the name they picked as soon as they learned the baby was a boy — was two weeks late. “People kept asking, ‘When is he coming?’ ” María says. She knew she’d be scheduled for an induction if he didn’t arrive by 42 weeks. But just before that procedure — after two doses of castor oil and a round of steady contractions — María was sufficiently dilated. They were admitted to the birth center at 7 p.m.; Angelo was born five hours later.
The pandemic proved, in some ways, to be a blessing: plenty of intimate time at home, just the three of them, to bond and absorb a new routine. Still, it was painful to be so far from María’s family and so cautious with Angelo’s parents, who didn’t hold their grandson for the first time until he was six months old.
“He’s been a very chill baby,” María says, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Still, I did have days when I would cry and feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I wouldn’t have time to eat or shower.”
María plans to write Angelito a letter about his birth. It will include everything: her feelings about the pregnancy and about parenthood, along with details of this strained historical moment, the pandemic, the election, the nationwide reckoning about racial justice.
“We have videos and pictures and text messages,” Angelo says. “There will be a lot of history in it.”
Meantime, their son is changing them. María, an avid learner well-versed in child development, wants to know more about birth and how to educate other women about their options for a respectful, supported delivery. And Angelo has felt a seismic shift in his sense of identity.
“Most people identify with their jobs: I’m a teacher, I’m an engineer, I’m a doctor,” he says. “But having our son, having him depend on us, we realize that he’s shaped who we are. That was a big ‘aha’ moment for me: Angelo, who are you? I’m a husband. I’m a dad. What I do for a living is secondary. For a living, this is what I do.”