A Septuplet Celebration: The Septuplets at 9
Come mid-December, Kenny McCaughey will use strings of white icicle lights to decorate the seven-bedroom house in the small central Iowa town of Carlisle that he and his wife, Bobbi, share with their eight children. Mikayla will turn 11 in January, and the septuplets -- Alexis, Brandon, Joel, Kelsey, Kenny Jr., Natalie, and Nathan -- celebrated their ninth birthdays on November 19.
Today the eight kids are sprawled on the multisection sofa in the family room, reading library books. Stacks of The Berenstain Bears and American Girl series, as well as the Arthur chapter books, surround them. Bobbi is in the spacious adjoining kitchen, with its bright-white cabinetry, navy blue walls, and 10-seat counter, clearing the remains of their mac-and-cheese lunch. Kenny Sr. is at work on the assembly line of a factory in nearby Des Moines that powder coats metal furniture.
The seven 9-year-olds continue to captivate because they are believed to be the world's first surviving septuplets. In 1998 a second surviving set of seven was born in Saudi Arabia, and octuplets were born in Texas, of whom seven survived. Reportedly, no larger multiple-birth siblings are alive today.
Bobbi wants the kids to put in a good hour of reading, but every couple of minutes one of them pops up to do something else: Kelsey kisses the beak of her blue parakeet, Tweety, who occupies a cage in the kitchen; Mikayla brings in Cattie, the family's calico cat, from the attached two-car garage; and Brandon, who has long enjoyed making his own bows and arrows out of sticks, announces that he has just gotten a real store-bought set.
"You haven't finished your reading," Bobbi admonishes them all, whereupon Natalie and Alexis burst into "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" in preparation for recording the Christmas carols they will sing in a few days for LHJ.com. "We want to practice!" they cry out.
Finally the group leaps up and rushes off in a pack to show a visitor their bedrooms. "It says 'Hollywood,'" shouts Natalie, as she points to a sign on Mikayla's door. "And now you'll see why." One of the shyest of the septuplets, Natalie has become a ringleader. "Ta-da!" she cries as she swings open the door to reveal a hot-pink-accented bedroom with a ruffled-canopy four-poster bed and a raised, curtained stage in the corner.
The four girls troop into the room. "We're actresses, take our picture," chorus Kelsey, Natalie, and Alexis, scrambling onto the stage to hide behind the curtains and fling them open with a few more ta-das! With a TV-viewing diet of public television, the Learning Channel:TLC, and other family entertainment, the children are only marginally aware of today's pop icons, like Britney Spears, though they are apparently aware of the glamour of Hollywood.
"And I," says big sister Mikayla, raising her hand for emphasis, "am the director." Almost two years older than her septuplet siblings, she's part of that cohesive group yet -- quieter, more serious and self-possessed -- very much her own person. In contrast, the seven, or any subset of them, are so close they can finish one another's sentences, or even speak in unison.
The group sprints to the three younger girls' shared room, where Kelsey, Natalie, and Alexis remove from the wall the plaques they earned at church for memorizing many Bible verses. Together they recite John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...."
The boys are impatiently waiting in the hallway to show off Kenny Jr. and Nathan's camping-themed room, with its bunk beds, small tent set up along one wall, and nearly life-size stuffed bear propped up in a corner. Alexis snuggles up with the bear. "It's not real," she and Kenny Jr. explain, while Joel climbs up the inside of the doorframe by pressing his hands and feet firmly against it. "My mom and dad don't mind," he says.
Bobbi then appears and tells him in no uncertain terms that she does mind, whereupon he jumps down and leads the dash next door to his and Brandon's nautical-themed room, with beds shaped like rowboats.
"Time to get back to reading," Bobbi warns, and the group tears back downstairs to the family room and the neglected books.