THE PARENTS: Lauren Kurisko, 33, and Brad Kurisko, 37, of Manayunk
THE KIDS: Braeden James, 3; Emma Jane, born June 11, 2019
THE NAMES: They decided on Braeden’s name and its spelling while Lauren was in labor. Two-and-a-half years later, he came home from preschool and said, “Can we name my baby Emma?” The answer was yes.
Brad is not a fan of clothing on animals. And he tends to be a bit oblivious. So when Lauren coaxed Winston into the family room and pointed out the dog’s new neckerchief, which read “Big Brother 2016,” Brad didn’t understand the message.
“Did you get another dog without telling me?” he asked.
“I said, ‘No, I’m pregnant,’ ” Lauren recalls. “His face just went white. I said, ‘I’m going to let you sit with this.’ Three days went by before we spoke about it again.”
By then, after knowing each other for almost a decade, they were familiar with each other’s styles: Lauren’s tenacity-to-the-point-of-stubbornness, Brad’s slowness to embrace change.
Despite the initial misunderstanding, they were ready for this pregnancy. After their 2011 wedding, they’d managed to check all their pre-kid boxes: They’d bought a house in Manayunk; they’d splurged on a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. They’d swum with sea turtles. They’d acquired Winston, a 75-pound rescue mix.
“I remember we were sitting on the couch one night, a weeknight, watching TV. We had both finished work. We were looking at each other and we were just like: OK. We’re people who like to do stuff. We’re kind of bored,” Lauren remembers. They were pregnant within a month of trying.
Back in 2006, when they met — both were servers at a TGI Fridays in New Jersey — Lauren was a 20-year-old college student who felt certain she did not want children. Not only that, she was in a two-year relationship and uninterested in dating the 6-foot-5 server who stood weirdly close to her one night in the restaurant kitchen and brightly introduced himself: “Hi, I’m Brad!”
“I just kind of brushed him off. He kept trying and trying,” Lauren says. After her other relationship dissolved, she told Brad, “I’m never going to date you, but we can have fun.” Six months later, she relented; by the time she left for a four-month study abroad program in Italy, during her junior year of college, they were determined to stay connected, through phone calls, AOL instant messages, and a weeklong visit that fall.
Lauren’s drive and focus were part of the appeal, Brad says. In turn, she appreciated the ways he challenged her. “I was a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and used to never being told ‘no.’ Brad says no regularly … while that was annoying, it was also refreshing.”
They began living together in 2009 — the two of them and Brad’s college pal in an 800-square-foot apartment in Bensalem. In January 2010, back home after a dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Brad revealed the ring he’d been carrying in his pocket for several weeks, just waiting for the ideal moment.
“I honestly didn’t have a plan,” he says. But for Lauren, who didn’t want public attention for such a private moment, the low-key proposal was perfect. They were married at the Pearl S. Buck Estate in Perkasie, where 175 guests celebrated as Lauren and her dad rocked the dance floor with a choreographed hip-hop routine they’d been practicing for a month.
“When we first met, I told Brad I did not want kids, ever,” Lauren says. “Obviously, things change. The conversation became: OK, we definitely want to have a family but we don’t want to do it right away.”
Once they passed the shock-and-silence phase, that first pregnancy was “pretty textbook,” Lauren says. She read about parenting but avoided birth videos and hospital classes on labor. “In that situation, for me, less was more. I wanted to be naive in that sense.”
They did learn that the baby was a boy; for Brad, that was license to deck out the nursery in full-on University of Michigan regalia: maize and navy, with university logo booties and nightlight.
Labor at Lankenau Medical Center — with an epidural that knocked Lauren out until it was time to push — was tolerable, until the moment she pushed so hard that her pelvis separated. “I feel like I was kind of numb to the world because of what I’d just gone through to get him out,” she says. “I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Oh, my God, that’s ours.’”
Brad had a similar reaction: “I was basically in a daze.”
That stunned moment quickly segued to sleep-starvation, the bumbling guessing game of new parenthood. “It was trying in every sense of the word: being a first-time mom, not knowing what you’re doing,” Lauren says. But Braeden was an easy baby, and they knew they wanted a second.
This time, though, conception meant five months of trying, with two miscarriages along the way. “I went through periods of shock, sadness, grief,” Lauren recalls. “After the second one, I thought: What’s wrong with my body?” It helped to talk with relatives and friends who’d also lost pregnancies. And then, last fall, a test turned up positive.
“I was skeptical and jaded: Well, OK. Maybe,” Lauren recalls. This pregnancy was different; Lauren vomited multiple times a day, and as soon as the nausea eased, she developed excruciating back pain because the baby was pressing on the precise spot where her pelvis had separated during Braeden’s birth. Only physical therapy helped.
The birth, though, was a relative breeze: an elective induction, four hours of labor, seven minutes of pushing. Now, life is an incessant juggle: get Emma to sleep — finally, gratefully— at 6 a.m., just when Braeden wakes up and wants help doing a puzzle.
Brad finds that the “blocking and tackling” aspects of parenthood — the diapers, the feeding — come easily. Summoning heroic levels of patience is harder. “With two, you don’t get a break. You can’t tag each other in,” he says.