What Chris Pearsons remembers from the night he met his wife Knikka at a house party was that she had something special.

At one point during the party, Knikka ran off to change into a ‘50s outfit. A polka-dotted dress – blue or black depending on whether you ask Chris or Knikka – and a pearl necklace.

“You like my ‘50s dress?” Chris recalled Knikka saying at the time.

“Something about it,” Chris said grinning. “She was just different from any girl I had ever met before.”

For Knikka, Chris was cute, funny and awkward.

“I don’t think he knew he was really cute,” she said with a grin.

Chris and Knikka live in a Haggerty Lane apartment with their two young children, Kayden, 3, and Ryleigh, 6 weeks. While parenthood came early for the couple – Knikka is 23 and Chris turned 24 on Friday – the two are embracing the challenges and the rewards of parenthood while trying to forge their own paths in life.

Both Knikka and Chris have East Coast roots, but both were drawn to Bozeman and moved to Montana in 2007.

Knikka was born and raised in Salem, Conn. Chris grew up in Vermont. The couple’s families live only three hours apart. After they each graduated high school, the two migrated to Montana.

For Knikka, the plan was to work for a year, get residency and enroll at Montana State University. That time off included working at Pickle Barrel and traveling to Peru and Bolivia.

Chris first landed in Belgrade before settling in Bozeman. He had spent a couple of weeks here one summer and knew it was where he wanted to be.

“I just kind of picked up and drove out here,” Chris said. “I just fell in love with it.”

After meeting at the house party at Knikka’s house, the two began dating.

“We started off really casual,” Knikka said.

But the relationship quickly turned serious after Knikka got pregnant after the two had only been dating a couple of months.

“It’s just kind of a shock to the system,” Chris said.

Knikka miscarried that child, but only weeks later found out she was pregnant with Kayden.

“I was pretty freaked out,” Knikka said, worried about being broke and failing out of school.

While Knikka worried, she said Chris kept her calm, reassuring her that everything would be all right.

“None of this was falling into my plans, but he makes it OK,” Knikka said.

When Knikka was seven months pregnant with Kayden, Chris proposed. The two were married at Knikka’s parents' home in Connecticut.

For Knikka, her unexpected family turned her life around. Before meeting Chris, Knikka said she was in a downward spiral.

“I was a really big party person,” she said.

Every night, she and her roommates had people over. She drank and smoked heavily.

“Now that I’m on the other side, I don’t really understand what I thought was fun about that,” she said.

Before fatherhood, Chris said he also enjoyed partying, although not to the extent of Knikka. He would go out and stay out late. He would spend time climbing every mountain he could.

Now the couple spends their time juggling school, work and keeping up with their two kids.

In the future, the two have plans to move to Connecticut where they will inherit Knikka’s parents home and 18 acres of land.

Chris started at Montana State University last fall, studying sustainable foods and bio-energy systems. He wants to start his own farm on Knikka’s parents land, selling food to markets, making his own baby foods, creating a farm-to-school program, raising bees and more.

Chris said he’s happy to be in school now, rather than right after high school when he said he would have most likely gone into art.

Being 24 years old in classrooms with 18-year-olds has been interesting, he said.

“They’ll ask, ‘What dorm are you in?’ I’m married and have two kids,” he said.

Knikka is enrolling in school again full time after taking last semester off. She will start online courses this summer to get her elementary education degree. She has a year and a half of school left. She also works part time at the Natural Baby Co.

“I feel like it’s a couple years of hard stuff to get to where life isn’t so hard,” Knikka said.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes. Mike Greener can be reached at mgreener@dailychronicle.com or 582-2682. Follow him on Twitter at @GreenerPhoto.