Birthdays are such a special time, especially for kids. I have always loved backyard parties, and with Mark’s birthday in April and our quintuplets in October, we usually have good weather for them. With typically around 75-100 people at each party, Bill cooks a barbeque dinner, and we set up a bouncy house, a kids’ activity table with a craft, coloring pages and cookie decorating, and enjoy time with friends and family celebrating the day.
Every birthday is an exciting time to let someone know you are glad they were born; however with our quintuplets (and probably any high risk birth) there has been such a huge sense of blessing. We are aware that it is not the norm to have five healthy quintuplets and are grateful every day, but their birthday always brings that to the forefront of my mind. It is amazing to watch them run, play and interact together.
While we do one birthday party for all five (at least for now), we always try to celebrate each of them individually. We sing happy birthday to each one individually and let them blow out their candles. The looks on their faces are absolutely priceless! This year was their third birthday, and they “got it” much more than last year. They understood when it was their turn and were very excited! With them in pre-school this year, they each got to have a birthday celebration in their classrooms too. They selected a treat to take; some were the same and some were different. Mark, Becca and Ali all chose rice krispie treats, David and Kate picked yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and John selected chocolate chip cookies. I love watching their personalities, both similarities and differences, emerge more and more each year. My favorite thing from this year’s birthday was listening to them sing happy birthday to each other for several weeks.
We have taken Mark to a Japanese hibachi restaurant for his past two birthdays, and this year we went as a whole family for our quintuplets’ birthday. We take up a whole hibachi table, and it is such a fun dinner! They had a great time watching the “silly chef” do tricks and the food was great. I think that may become an annual tradition for us.
Pictures are taken frequently in our house, but it is rare to have Bill or me in them. We have tried to be very deliberate in taking some pictures with parents. On Mother’s Day, each child gets a picture with me, on Father’s Day with Bill and on their birthday with both of us. That way everyone gets a picture with each parent and with both parents at least once per year.
Life has changed so much over the past few years. We are so grateful for all six of our children and incredibly blessed that they are healthy! We also feel so fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who are involved in our lives. We look forward to many more birthday celebrations.
My kids are all very good eaters! There are lots of theories on whether to make kids eat, let them refuse, give them alternatives, etc., and I think every family finds what works best for them and their situation. We try to offer a healthy variety at each meal. We don’t require that they eat anything, but to get seconds of anything, they have to finish all of the things on their plates. I purposefully don’t put a lot of things that I know are not favorites.
We have three meals per day plus one or two snacks. (Sometimes we miss the afternoon snack.) We do not offer food in between these, so the kids learned pretty early that they didn’t have to finish their dinner, but they would wait to eat again until breakfast.
Dinner could be 18 tacos, a 9×13 casserole, two pounds of meatballs along with spaghetti and sauce, two (or more) pounds of chicken (grilled or baked) with potatoes, 2 lbs of fish with rice, or many other options, and dinner always includes a fruit and vegetable, and I have started adding a bread side to fill them up! I am amazed how much they eat, and it kind of scares me to think of the teenage years!
I really enjoy getting to eat outside the home. From an early age, we went on lots of picnics, sometimes at a park and sometimes just in the backyard. While we go out to eat some, it is not a frequent activity. I think that actually makes it easier! Since it is a special treat, the kids are really good! We always pick kid friendly restaurants with our favorites serving pizza, Mexican food, or a variety of food where we get bread or chips early to give them something to snack on.
The kids love helping me cook, and I try to involve them as often as I can. I divide the ingredients into either six or 12 portions, so everyone gets to add something the same number of times. Sometimes that means I split one ingredient and two people add it (two half cups of flour instead of one cup). Everyone enjoys stirring! Their favorite two things to make are banana bread and “yogurt pops,” which are yogurt, almond milk and honey frozen as a popsicle.
Transitioning a baby from breastmilk and/or formula to “real food” can be exciting and sometimes a little intimidating. Mark started solids at six months, and our quintuplets started around five and a half months. We opted to make all of our own baby food instead of purchasing pre-made jars. Mark’s first food was banana which was really easy! I mashed it on his high chair tray and let him touch it and eat it on his fingers. For him, we added avocado, cereal, fruits and veggies, grains and eventually meats. With our quintuplets, we started with rice cereal and added applesauce very quickly. I had heard that cereal can cause constipation in infants, so we always mixed it with a fruit or vegetable. I would think that helped the taste too. Making baby food was much easier than I thought it would be. For soft fruits like pears and peaches, I pealed them and put them in a food processor.
For most veggies and harder fruits, I peeled them if necessary then cooked (usually steamed or baked) them and put them in a food processor. Doing it this way, I could control the texture. At the beginning, I blended it to be very smooth then increased the texture as they got older. When we started meats, I would add water or broth from cooking to get a good texture. Very shortly after adding meats, I would make meals and put those in the food processor too. The favorite two were pot roast with carrots and potatoes and chicken and rice with peas. When Mark was a baby, I would make big batches of different types of food then freeze them in ice cube trays. When frozen, I would put the cubes in labeled baggies or tupperware and just pull out what I needed for that day. Our quintuplets ate enough that I never froze any. I would use one big bowl of food and one spoon and go down the line.
I am a believer in the philosophy that kids learn by touching and trying things. We were never very neat! As soon as they were able to feed themselves, almost everything became a finger food. Around ten months old, they ate almost everything that we did and fed it to themselves. I knew I needed to scrub the table and mop after each feeding, but it was worth it to have them becoming
more independent and learning.
When they were little, the kids wore bibs, but they quickly learned how to take those off. I safety pinned them on for a short time, but the bibs tore from that. I tried feeding them in just a diaper, but we found that then we had to sponge bathe all the kids after meals too. What worked best for us was putting an old, stained, larger shirt on over their clothes. It didn’t matter if it got more stained, and we just threw them in the wash each day.
Bill and I really wanted to sit as a family for dinner as often and as early as we could. When Mark was old enough to “sit” in a bumbo, he sat in that on the table with a toy during meals. When he was in a high chair, we put it at the table with us and gave him toys or cheerios until he was old enough to actually eat with us. We used a four seater feeding table for our quintuplets with a booster seat pulled up next to it. When we were just feeding the kids, we put Mark’s booster at it too and fed them or let them eat. When Bill and I were eating with them, we set up a card table next to the feeding table where we would sit with Mark. When we outgrew the feeding table, we bought a utility table and all sat at that with the kids in booster seats.
We still sit at that only they don’t use booster seats any more. I know this table does not go with the decor of the house, but it is awesome with kids! They color, glue, use playdough, etc., and I am never worried about the furniture.
Traveling with children can always be a challenge, but traveling with 6 kids (within 18 months of age!) provides extra logistical challenges. We don’t travel a lot, but we have taken several trips. We have driven several hours, driven 17 and a half hours, and taken one trip by plane. I am going to highlight a few favorites from different ages.
My in-laws are about a 4 hour drive from us, and this distance is a very manageable one! Due to the quintuplets’ prematurity and flu / RSV season, we did not make this drive until they were about seven months old. They had been sleeping through the night for several months by then, so we opted to drive at night. We wanted to avoid stops, so we did their last feeding of the day, put them in jammies, and left in the evening. Our hope was that they would sleep in the car and then transfer to their beds when we arrived without messing with their schedule too much. They lost a little more sleep than I hoped for, but it worked pretty well. We were there well before midnight, so Bill and I didn’t lose much sleep either! I thought this was a great age to visit people! They weren’t very mobile yet, so baby proofing wasn’t a huge deal. They still primarily had formula, and we were able to pack very simple solids. We made all of our food, and we were able to pick easy things at this age. It was a huge help that my mother-in-law grocery shopped ahead of time with a list that I sent and was able to borrow some pack-n-plays so we didn’t have to pack six of them! As they have gotten older, we prefer to make this drive in the afternoon. If they take a nap, then they are extra rested for our visit; if not, it is no big deal. Now that they aren’t in cribs, it is easier to put them to bed if they have seen where they are sleeping first.
When our quintuplets were 20 months old and Mark was just over 3, my parents and I rented a passenger van and took everyone to visit some of my family.
This was a 17 and a half hour drive! We still didn’t let the kids watch any TV at this age; however, even if we allowed TV in the car, I think it would be tough. Those vans are long, so whoever is in the back wouldn’t be able to see or hear, and I can picture the complaints. This was a good age to travel too! They could eat anything and could do most things themselves. Mark was potty trained and could go for long periods, and the quints were not potty trained yet. We packed breakfast, snacks and lunch which we fed them in the car, then we stopped after eating to stretch our legs at rest stops.
Again, it was a huge help that my aunt grocery shopped ahead of time and had borrowed cribs and pack-n-plays for our visit. She even had a twin bed for Mark to sleep in. They didn’t nap well away from home. We tried to plan outings such that the kids would fall asleep in the car for a catnap to get them through the day and then do a slightly earlier bedtime. It worked pretty well. The kids had a lot of fun on this trip! They enjoyed meeting cousins, going to a family member’s farm, going out to eat at their first restaurant, etc. It was a lot of work, and I am not trying to downplay that, but it was fun at this age! This trip was very special to me. We had made this drive when Mark was a baby so that my grandmother could meet him. We were excited to see a lot of family there, but I was most excited about my grandmother meeting our quintuplets and seeing Mark again. We had debated waiting another year. She passed away last February, and it really reminds me not to wait to do things! I am so grateful that we made this trip and that we have the pictures of her with the kids!
This past June, my parents, Bill and I took the kids on our first airplane ride as a family!
I must say that this was a whole new world for me! I flew once with Mark when he was just over nine months old, but that was my only flight with a child let alone children! With my parents along, we had four adults and six children, which I thought was a great ratio! Getting through security was the part that I was most nervous about.
I wasn’t sure if the kids would want to walk by themselves or if they would be intimidated by all the people and gadgets. They were fine. They lined up behind me, and we played “follow the leader” right through. The people at security were great! They gave the kids high fives as they went through and were really friendly with them. I had packed notepads, crayons, stickers, books, baby dolls, stuffed animals and few other goodie type toys for them to play with. They enjoyed discovering everything in their back packs during the flight, although they might have been most entertained by going potty! In many ways, this trip was the easiest we have taken. The kids are all potty trained, will eat anything, are flexible with their schedule, and can do many things like dressing themselves. The only thing that was especially challenging this trip was sleep. The kids all shared a room with sleeping bags which was great!
We didn’t nap them at all on the trip hoping they would be tired and sleep at night, but sharing a room with six sleeping bags is really exciting! It took awhile to settle most nights, but they had a good time and seemed to play fine during the days even with less sleep. Again, my family made the trip so much easier grocery shopping ahead of time, borrowing carseats and a mini-van, and having lots of kids stuff like toys and play dough! We had a great time!
While traveling with a big family can present different logistical challenges, we are definitely looking forward to our next trip, wherever it may be!
Being home with an infant is definitely an adjustment for any family! Bringing home five brought even more changes to our home! The quintuplets were on a three hour feeding schedule when they came home from the hospital. It took us about an hour to change diapers, make bottles, feed them all, and get cleaned up, then two hours later we started again. Within about a week of being home, we stretched to a four hour feeding schedule which helped a lot! We put the babies in boppies in a semi-circle with Bill and me in the middle for feedings. We used blankets to help prop bottles at the beginning then bought bottle proppers to make it easier. Eventually I got to where I could burp three babies at a time putting them tummy down on the boppies and using my foot for one of them! We were fortunate to have friends and people from our church come to help with feedings during the day, and my parents helped with many of the evening feedings. Bill and I did nights by ourselves and were very happy when they started sleeping through the night around 3.5 months.
Schedule was not the only adjustment for us. We lived in a 3-bedroom, 2-story house, and our bedroom was downstairs. Mark had slept in a pack-n-play in our room for the first few months after he was born, but it was too noisy having all the babies in our room. We got rid of our dining room furniture and made it a downstairs nursery so we wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs so much when they were little. We had 2 pack-n-plays, 3 swings, a changing table, and some storage in the dining room, and it was baby central! At a couple of months old, we moved them upstairs to their room. We were able to fit five cribs in one of the bedrooms, and Mark kept his own room for awhile. Our living room had 5 bouncy seats, several play gyms, and eventually three exersaucers and two jumperoos, and it was gated at all three entrances.
All five of the quintuplets came home on apnea monitors. These had two leads on their chests and monitored their breathing and heart rates and would sound an alarm if either were outside normal range. The alarms were loud! They sounds like smoke detectors blaring! When they were first home, the alarms went off a lot because the leads would come loose. We started taping the leads on, so they wouldn’t come off as frequently. A representative from the company would come out periodically, download the data from each of the monitors and send it to the pediatrician. At two months old, they no longer were connected when they were awake, so we kept the leads attached and tucked them into their clothes and would plug them into the monitors when we put them in bed. Within a few months of that, everyone was off them completely. The monitors gave a lot of peace of mind! I slept soundly knowing that everyone was breathing and doing ok. However, we were very happy to be done with them!
I had a 5-seater vehicle which would no longer hold our family. We bought an old Suburban after the babies were born to accommodate everyone. While the babies’ carseats were rearward facing, I would climb into the back and load three of them from there and then load Mark and two babies into the backseat. Shortly after the quintuplets turned two, we upgraded to a 12-passenger van which is definitely easier to load!
Getting out and about was more of a challenge with five as well. I took Mark everywhere I went when he was a baby, and I rarely used a stroller. He rode in a sling, front pack or back pack until he was old enough to walk. Obviously I couldn’t carry all five of the quintuplets! We had two triplet strollers as well as a six-seater stroller. The 6-seater was great and gave me the freedom to go out by myself! It does not collapse though and rides on a carrier that attaches to the hitch of the vehicle and then is tied down. While I have a cover for it, I usually took the two triplet strollers if it rained since those collapsed and fit in the back of the Suburban. I got used to pushing one stroller while pulling the other.
Because they were preemies born in October during flu / RSV season, we did not allow other kids around them and were very careful to not have anyone who might be sick near them. Our church was incredibly supportive and opened another room in the nursery that was only used for our kids! When the quintuplets were three months old, we were able to go back to church, and I rejoined some of the activities there during the week. Calling someone to babysit wasn’t really an option for us at that point, so it was really nice for me to be able to get out some and have those short breaks!