THE PARENTS: Jennifer Nicolo, 45, and Jim Nicolo, Jr., 44, of Rockledge
THE CHILD: Kacy Josephina, 2, adopted Nov, 1, 2019
A SURPRISE: When Jennifer and Jim were rifling through family photos before their wedding, they discovered a picture from St. David’s Nursery School that featured both of them. “Turns out we used to take naps together,” Jim says.
There was one indelible, suspended moment — after their wedding ceremony at Maternity BVM Catholic Church in Northeast Philadelphia, and before the hubbub of the reception — when Jennifer and Jim slipped into the backseat of the 1969 yellow cab they’d rented from a company in Brooklyn.
The driver sat quietly for a few beats, then turned around to ask, “You guys all right?”
The just-married couple looked at each other. Yes. They were.
“That cab was like our armored car,” Jim recalls. “All the stuff going on outside couldn’t touch us. We were just with each other, a quiet moment. We could just focus on us.”
He describes their first meeting, two years earlier, in similarly cinematic terms: Jim was onstage with his band in a club at Third and Market when Jennifer walked in with a bunch of friends. “It was like one of those movie moments, when the light was on her. I thought: I really want to talk to this girl.”
Jennifer hadn’t wanted to go clubbing that night in the first place, and she didn’t love the music. But as she and her friends got ready to leave, there was the band’s singer, beseeching her to sign their guest book. Hours later — Jennifer and her gang had left to go dancing — Jim turned up again, parked on the same block as her friend’s car. He suggested they all grab a predawn breakfast at a diner on Frankford Avenue.
“She gave me her phone number, which had way too many fours in it. I thought: This has to be a fake number. I called a day or two later,” avoiding the word “date” because it felt too risky. They had dinner in New Hope and talked for hours.
“He was so comforting. He had such depth. He wasn’t like anybody else I had dated,” Jennifer says.
Even in early conversations, they floated ideas about the future: Where would you want to live? Would you want kids? Jennifer told Jim about her lifelong idea of fostering or adopting. “I remember being a young girl and seeing a television show where they talked about the concept of fostering. I didn’t understand it, but I always carried it with me. I studied social work and knew that there are a lot of kids who need homes. It felt like a calling, almost.”
When Jim proposed in 2001, he took Jennifer on a driving tour of significant spots in Philadelphia and New Hope: the Ann Taylor store where she’d worked part-time to pay back her school loans; his childhood home; that parking lot where their paths converged the first time they met.
“The last stop was in New Hope, on the bridge,” Jennifer says. “He asked, ‘Will you marry me?’ I was shocked. But I said yes.”
They were married in 2002. Five years later — after traveling, buying a house, and settling into careers as a nurse (Jennifer) and an engineer (Jim) — they were ready to pursue Jennifer’s dream. Their first foster placement, a three-month-old girl born to teenage parents, came in 2009.
Jennifer and Jim raised the child for nearly two years; there were moments when they thought they might adopt her. But her biological father came through, with the support of his family, and the girl was reunited with him.
“It was bittersweet,” Jennifer says. “But that’s part of the [foster parents’] training. “The goal is always reunification.” After that, the couple provided respite care and foster care for other children — about eight in all — while holding onto their dream of adoption.
“People always assume, ‘Oh, you couldn’t have children.’ It just didn’t happen for us,” Jennifer says. “We never went to a doctor to find out what was wrong. I always knew there was another avenue to have a baby.”
But that avenue seemed to be leading nowhere. They’d been fostering for eight years; they were in their 40s. They’d even moved from Philadelphia to Montgomery County in the hope that the court process might be less tangled outside the city.
One night in 2017, Jim was walking their dog, Bessa Mae, when Jennifer called. “There’s a baby,” she said. “A baby what?” he asked.
Kacy was three weeks old, in the NICU at Holy Redeemer Hospital; she’d been exposed to speed, cocaine, and heroin in utero and was still going through withdrawal. She weighed 6 pounds. Jennifer called the social worker back: “Yes. We’ll go get her.”
The next eleven weeks were harrowing. Jennifer and Jim had to monitor Kacy’s breathing, feed her carefully to ensure she didn’t choke, and watch her for signs of hypothermia. The worst part was watching her wean from the drugs.
“I’d wake my wife and say, ‘I think she’s having a heart attack,’ ” Jim recalls. “She would pant and moan. It tore your soul apart. You think it’s never going to end … but one day, her color came back, and she looked like a person again. I’ve had friends who’ve battled addiction, but I’d never seen anything like this. She is so fierce.”
Kacy, and all their foster children who preceded her, “have taught me triple-fold what I thought I knew about life,” Jennifer says. Jim agrees. “The importance of children is that they teach you to think outside of yourself. Without children, the world would turn into a really selfish place.”
Nov. 1 was the adoption finalization in a Norristown courtroom. Jennifer brought the binders of paperwork she’d been keeping, just in case there was a bureaucratic glitch. About 20 people came with them: friends, relatives, social workers.