LARGO — Angelina D’Ambrosio woke up from her nap Saturday afternoon to the sounds of honking and hollering outside.
Her fiance, Chris Leyva, was the first to see the commotion.
The endless beeping interrupted his work, so he peered out the kitchen window to investigate. He spotted a long line of cars stretching down the street. Then, he saw his future mother-in-law in the driveway, standing next to a dinosaur wearing a homemade face mask and holding up a sign: Baby shower quarantine 2020.
Mariel Del Rio, 40, was crushed when she realized she had to cancel the baby shower for her daughter’s first child. It was already hard enough knowing that she couldn’t be in the hospital room to welcome her first grandchild due to the coronavirus.
“It’s been so many fears," she said. "So many worries.”
The couple had already been through a lot. Leyva, 30, proposed to D’Ambrosio at home in March after canceling the whirlwind trip to Europe he’d planned. D’Ambrosio, 24, was still going to work at Morton Plant Hospital despite the coronavirus because she wanted to save as much family leave time as she could for after the birth. Even though things were hard, there was still the baby shower to look forward to.
“We rented this beautiful Airbnb for the weekend just to get away,” Del Rio said. “I really wanted Angelina to be able to enjoy it and just relax and not have to worry about anything.”
By mid-March, the family realized the coronavirus spread was only getting worse. They decided to get a refund on the Airbnb and keep the money to buy supplies for the baby.
But Del Rio still had the cactus and llama decorations purchased for the shower. She’d already placed a catering order and picked out the perfect cake for her daughter. Her sister-in-law suggested bringing the food by, and Del Rio realized the celebration could still go on — just at a distance.
So Del Rio told family and friends to meet at a park around the corner from the couple’s home. They decorated their cars with balloons and signs. Four of the 15 or so cars had cardboard letters spelling out the new baby’s name: Finn.
She and her friend Ahlam Akar drove there early so Akar could wiggle into the inflatable dinosaur costume in the shade of a neighbor’s driveway. The finishing touch was a hand-sewn mask over the dinosaur’s mouth.
The parade of cars behind them waited. Then, they started banging on their horns to get the couple’s attention.
Leyva remembers hearing the noises and feeling annoyed. D’Ambrosio, disappointed on the day of what would have been the shower, had decided to lay down and rest. He knew the noise would wake her.
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He was in shock when he saw the haze of streamers and balloons outside. He told D’Ambrosio to get dressed and come outside.
One by one, the cars pulled up and honked. The driver came out and placed gifts in a pile on the driveway at least 10 feet from the couple. Then they hopped back in the car, waving and blowing kisses, and drove off so the next vehicle could take a turn.
Leyva started laughing as he realized what was happening. He and D’Ambrosio both cried a little, especially when they saw the banner reading “Chris + Angelina = Finn.”
An aunt brought a platter of food and a jug of D’Ambrosio’s favorite mango iced tea from Cuban Breezes, the restaurant they’d picked to cater the original shower. There was even a small version of the cake D’Ambrosio had picked out, complete with cacti decorations on top.
Del Rio hung around after the drive-by shower, mask on, and helped her daughter unwrap gifts.
D’Ambrosio had been worried about not having enough things for the baby before she gave birth at the end of May. But the guests brought her everything she asked for — including a stroller, bassinet and car seat — plus plenty of diapers and wipes.
While the presents were nice, Leyva said getting to see family members and friends was even better.
“Even though it was a half-an-hour, quickie version of the baby shower, it accomplished everything," he said.
Del Rio hadn’t realized how much having to cancel her daughter’s baby shower had upset her.
“To be able to actually do it and bring a smile and hope and happiness to my daughter, it made me feel so much better,” she said
D’Ambrosio couldn’t believe her family had pulled off the surprise.
“It really turned my whole day around.”
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