2004: The McCaughey Septuplets at 7
Balancing School and Social Life
The septuplets are now old hands at the public elementary school in Carlisle, Iowa, where they're in separate first-grade classes. That includes Nathan and Alexis, whose speech and cognitive skills are impaired by cerebral palsy; both need walkers to get around, though the ever-practical Alexis sometimes prefers to crawl.
"They love going to school so much that last summer they'd sigh, 'Oh, that's our school,' whenever we passed by on our way home from church," says Bobbi. After several years of homeschooling, Mikayla, 8, started attending the same school, where she has leapfrogged into fourth grade. Bright and articulate, she's become quite the social butterfly. "Then again, she's always been outgoing," says Bobbi. "For example, we'll go camping, and by the end of the day she has a new best friend."
With the septuplets' early, most labor-intensive years behind them, Mom and Dad are reaping the rewards. Since the kids get tray lunches at school, there are no more for Bobbi to pack. "Even though I got it down to seven meals in 15 minutes, I dreaded doing it day after day -- especially pouring the juice," she says.
Fewer spills mean the septuplets can wear a single outfit the whole day long, so weekly laundry loads have dwindled from a dozen to just half that. And no longer overwhelmed by a constantly needy brood of fussing, finicky toddlers, Kenny seems to have come into his own and found his footing as a father. "I'm the fun-stuff guy -- they come to me when they want to go outside, play video games, or ride their bikes," he says. "They go to Bobbi when someone is hurt or one wants to tattle on another."
After his 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. assembly-line shift at a local manufacturing plant, he's also the house disciplinarian. But today, as on most days, the skirmishes are minor. "Get down right now!" Kenny yells at Brandon, who's walking on the kitchen counter. Then, to Bert, who saunters in chewing gum -- a no-no unless doled out by Mom or Dad: "Where'd you get that? Spit it out, right here, now!" The boys oblige.
These days, the greatest challenge for the McCaugheys is balancing their children's growing need for independence with the desire to keep them close to the nest. "They've made so many friends, they're always saying, 'I want to go play with so-and-so,' or 'Why can't so-and-so come over?'" Bobbi says. "We can't accommodate them very often. Kenny and I are very close to our brothers and sisters and want to spend weekends with them and their kids."
There's also the siren call of team sports -- and the risk of parental enslavement to schedules and chauffeuring. Brandon, a natural at baseball, was dying to play, but after careful deliberation, the McCaugheys said no for now. "It's partly because of how much all the equipment costs and how it would cut into family time," she says. "My dad didn't allow me or my five siblings to do sports for the same reasons."