The ink on her Doctor of Philosophy degree had not yet dried when my partner, Lara, was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to work at the Chicago Botanic Garden. That was back in 2002, when we were still living in Perth, Western Australia. We both knew that if she were to accept the job in Chicago our relationship would have to survive the heartache caused by the tyranny of distance. It was not an easy decision, but in the end we both agreed it was too good a job for her to pass up.
To make life a little easier, we decided that I should visit regularly. I made the grueling 36-hour journey seven times before she completed her first year in the United States. It was during the last of those visits that life suddenly got more complicated. Lara became pregnant.
It was great news, of course, and we were both ecstatic, but how was Lara going to cope with us being so far apart? It was obvious that we had to be reunited. One of us had to move. Who? Lara had a great job and I was a tenured academic at a university in Perth.
In the end, I decided my career was not as important to me as spending quality time with my partner and child. Nine months after my last temporary visit to the U.S. our first son, Ryan Dharius, was born. That made us a truly international family. I am Italian, Lara is Australian and Ryan is an American. Naturally, that day in March 2004 was one of the happiest days of our lives. Ryan weighed 8 pounds 11 ounces and was a very long baby, at nearly 24 inches.
Like all babies, he screamed the minute he was born, but stopped crying when he recognized my voice. That’s probably because I was reading books to him well before his birth. Lara and I bought a small microphone and headset specifically for pregnant women. I read almost every Dr. Seuss book to him, which he still likes to this day. I even played music to him. I piped down mostly classical music, but also threw in some Beatles and Earth, Wind and Fire for good measure.
Shortly after Ryan was born, Lara returned to work. It was tough on her at first, but not nearly as tough as it was for me. It wasn’t only the fact that I had a newborn baby to contend with, but for the first time in a long time, I went from working full-time to part-time.
While Lara was at work, Ryan and I went for long walks along Lake Michigan and played at playgrounds. We read lots of books, entertained ourselves with games and spent plenty of time socializing in local cafés. We did more of the same as a family at night and on weekends.
By the time Ryan was 2, we decided to have another child. A few days shy of Thanksgiving in 2006, we had even more reason to be thankful. Our second son, Aiden Michael, was born.
Like she had done with Ryan, Lara was back at work about a week later. I was now left spending my days caring for two small children and there was only one thing I could do: panic!
As luck would have it, both boys are angels most of the time, so I quickly settled back into the routine I had with Ryan. We walk a lot, play at tot lots and go to the local cafés. We read plenty of books and play with toys. We are, however, very happy and relieved when mum returns home from work.
I can honestly admit without any reservations that leaving full-time employment to spend more time with my sons was the best decision I have ever made. It has enabled me to establish an incredible bond with my two boys, which I am hoping will help shape them into good men. It has meant making a lot of personal sacrifices and therefore life has not always been easy, but has definitely been well worth it.
Marcello Pennacchio is a part-time ethnobotanist and conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. He has written a reference book and a children’s book. Lara Jefferson is a restoration ecologist for the Chicago Botanic Garden.