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Mother and Child - Update!

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Wednesday, April 26, 2006 | 0 comments

October 20, 2004 - Geelong Road, Brooklyn.

A busy highway slicing through an industrial zone. Modest houses opposite massive warehouses. In an unassuming, brick veneer house with a large front yard lives a family with a story. In this house, where there was once an unbearable hush, there is noise, laughter, movement, a girl. Her name is Carmelina.

She sits on her father's lap, chatting away about Charlie's Angels, karate chops, Charlton Heston, Guy Sebastian, lap tops, DVDs, horoscopes, school.

"I don't like Guy's hairstyle, neither does my mum," Carmelina says. "I don't like it because it's puffy like a balloon."

Mother, father, daughter laugh.

"See what joy she has brought us? We used to be two mummie!" her father, Giuseppe, says in his native Italian.

"Mummia", as in an Egyptian mummy, stiff, silent, lifeless. "Mummia", as in mute, sombre, drab.

It is a state difficult to imagine Giuseppe and his wife, Angelina, ever assuming. Angelina is ferociously energetic, fussing and hospitable, checking constantly that her guest is warm enough, well fed, comfortable.

Giuseppe is more subdued, quietly spoken, happy to play the supporting role, let Angelina and Carmelina do the talking - and talk they do, in English and Italian. Carmelina's Italian is exceptional, something her mother is keen for her to maintain.

Dinner at the Calabro household is a feast of food and chatter. Giuseppe, a retired butcher, brings out his homemade salami and home-made wine, making sure one's glass is never empty. Angelina whips up a delectable pasta. The conversation is loud and lively, and drowns out the television, which is tuned to The Simpsons, Carmelina's favorite series.

They are a thoroughly normal family. Except Carmelina's mother is 64, her father 67. Angelina and Giuseppe married 45 years ago, in Saint Mary's church, West Melbourne. Photos of the couple as newly weds hang on the walls of their immaculately kept, ornately decorated home. Angelina is dark-haired and radiant, Giuseppe young and cherubic. Their faces shine with hope.

"Nobody knows what's ahead of them, do they? You can be young and something happen to you."

For Angelina, it was the hope of children - she was 19 and dreamt of two girls and two boys.

A family was all she desired. But for 36 years, the couple remained childless. It was an absence acutely felt, especially for Angelina, who grew up in Sicily in a family of 12 - nine children, two parents and a live-in grandmother. Her own mother, Domenica, conceived her last child at age 46, so Angelina kept hoping. But her 46th birthday came and went, and no child.

One weekend, when she was 50, Angelina decided she was done with fretting. She cast out all the dolls she had kept in anticipation of a child, spent the weekend grieving, then threw herself into a busy social routine.

Several years later, Angelina discovered she was pregnant. "We were incredulous,'' Angelina says. "I turned around to look behind me when the doctor told me, I asked him if he was talking to me.''

She says Carmelina's was a natural conception, "a miracle of God''. In 1995, aged almost 56, she gave birth to Carmelina by caesarean section, becoming the Mercy Maternity Hospital for Women's oldest mother.

Back in Brooklyn, although the Calabros are the oldest parents in their school community, they don't particularly stand out, says Annunciation Primary School principal Dan Mogg.

"They are not the only older parents in the school, parents range from 27 to 28, to people in their 50s," Mogg says. "It's an accepting, tolerant community."

I first met Angelina and Giuseppe in 1997, when I reported on Carmelina's birth. I had always wanted to meet the Calabros again and see how their chestnut haired, brown-eyed, smiling baby had grown, and how they were coping.

What was it like being sixtysomething parents to a child of nine?

Did they have the energy to keep up? How were they managing financially? Recently, I called them and asked if I could visit. "Why didn't you call us earlier?" Angelina screamed down the line, and proceeded to invite me to dinner, to Carmelina's birthday, to her First Holy Communion.

On my return to Brooklyn, Carmelina opened the door and she was a joy to behold, with an energy as irrepressible as her mother's. She proceeded to tell me all about her favorite film, The Ten Commandments, which she had watched at least 20 times, and her favorite actor, Anne Baxter, who plays Nefertiri in the Hollywood epic. Just like her idol, she wants to become an actor. But her plans differ from those of her parents. Like many Italian migrants before them, they want their child to become a doctor.

"You just don't want me to be an actress because it means I will go away and travel the world," Carmelina says. "I don't want to be alone again," her mother replies.

It is clear Carmelina is a gift. But Giovanna Morabito, Carmelina's godmother, encourages Giuseppe not to spoil his daughter or be overprotective.

"He can't help himself, having waited so long to have a child," she says. "She has changed their lives dramatically... they have got so much to live for... she's keeping them young."

But the Calabros are in their 60s and this poses its own challenges. Raising a child on two pensions is not easy, Angelina says, but the couple have never been spendthrifts or had extravagant tastes. Their house is paid off and their needs are few.

Angelina has a simple hope for the future. "I only pray to God that he lets me have another 15 or 20 years, for the age when she will get married, then I will be so happy. That's all I pray for."



About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost our precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted there will be no more babies in our house.

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