A wooden sign on the front door of the Jansen home alludes to the chaos inside: “Forget the dog. Beware of the kids.”
The sentiment seemed appropriate on a recent Thursday, when mom Karla was home with three of her quintuplets. The boys were sick with flu symptoms, but they were far from placid.
“They're on the mend,” Karla said. Just then, a little blond head poked out from under the kitchen table.
“Homework,” she said sternly.
For years, the Jansen children were the only quints born in Nebraska. We were there for the baby steps, the first day of school, First Communion.
Now the state has a second set, delivered last Sunday at Bergan Mercy Medical Center. The parents have declined to release names or be interviewed.
Nobody knows better than the Jansens what lies ahead for that family — the expenses, the spotlight, the craziness. To help the new family adjust, the Jansens offered advice while Miranda did math, Taylor gabbed about her day and the boys — Elijah, Nick and Carter — wiggled in their seats.
The 11-year-old quintuplets — who have no significant problems resulting from their premature births — are sixth-graders at Picotte Elementary School. Karla often visits them as a traveling librarian. Dad Jeff, a plant supervisor, is gone from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., so Karla keeps track of the kids.
The household has grown to 10. Older sister Nicole and her toddler twins recently moved in.
Karla jokes that the kids probably wouldn't have seen age 11 if not for lots of help. The quints were born two months early in 1998, weighing a combined 15 pounds.
At the time, Karla and Jeff Jansen lived in Oakland, Neb. (They moved to Omaha in 2001) They relied on friends and family to take regular shifts. Many brought loads of diapers, wipes and other necessities. But the small stuff — a spaghetti dinner or movie tickets for mom and dad — stood out.
Karla encouraged the new quints' mom to seek out that help.
And get some “me” time, she said. Karla said she neglected herself when the babies spent weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Nebraska Medical Center and then caring for them when they came home.
“I wanted to see the babies all the time. I was excited,” Karla said. “But I should have been taking care of myself.”
She found out she had fibromyalgia, with symptoms that include pain, fatigue, poor sleep, tingling and memory problems.
“It hurt to get up in the morning and walk,” she said.
When she realized she couldn't do it all herself, she couldn't wait to greet volunteers. She took one day a week for fun or to substitute teach.
Now that the kids are older, they handle more chores. All make their own beds and sort laundry. They share dish duty. Nick and Miranda even wash clothes.
The family still gets help from friends such as the Rev. David LaPlante, former chaplain at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, although he has moved to Wisconsin. He sends a package every holiday filled with granola snacks, decorative pencils, candy, toys and clothes.
LaPlante keeps pictures of the quintuplets in his new office. He's aware of Nebraska's new quints.
“I just hope they have a good support system,” he said from Wisconsin. His advice to the new parents: Look at them all as individuals.
“They have different personalities and different interests,” he said. “Keep the focus on that.”
While the Jansens focus on their family, they also still have occasional date nights. Nicole watches all seven kids.
“You need to find your ‘me' time,” Taylor chimed in. “My mom did that. You need to be away from the kids for a while.”
Taylor is the motherly one with braces. She changes diapers for the twins, feeds them and kisses their boo-boos.
On that Thursday, toddler Alex climbed under a coffee table to kiss Mittens. The cat hissed and bit his nose.
“Mommy,” Alex cried. Taylor came running.
By this time, the boys were playing in their bedrooms. Miranda was still doing homework. And mom was reading while still thinking of the new parents.
Be prepared to make sacrifices, Karla said.
“You'll give everything you've got and you won't think twice,” she said.
Forget manicures and pedicures. You buy baby food and clothes. You switch from name brand to store brand to generic and buy in bulk.
If fruit is on sale, grab it, she said.
“The kids don't eat a lot of candy or chips,” Karla said. “I can't keep apples or bananas in the house. We must be doing a good job because in 11 years they don't have a cavity.”
Everyone shares space. Miranda and Taylor have a pink upstairs bedroom. Nicole and the twins have another room. Elijah and Carter share part of the basement, and Nick is in a converted office downstairs. He reads a lot, so he claimed the room with doors. Sixty-six books line his bookshelf.
Expect lots of little surprises, Karla said — fights one minute and teamwork or games the next.
“Sometimes the other siblings can get a little annoying,” Taylor explained.
“You're annoying,” Elijah said.
“If you get into a fight, it's like bombs dropping,” Taylor continued. “Everyone starts yelling at you at the same time. You just feel defenseless.”
And, new quint parents, be prepared to share fairly personal details with the world, Karla said. Everybody wants to know about the quints — or if more kids are coming.
But that has tradeoffs. Karla opened a scrapbook and pointed to a picture of all five kids in one crib. Her favorite pose, taken by a newspaper photographer. If not for the interest in her family, she wouldn't have it.
The Jansens' milestones weren't just theirs. Everyone celebrated.
She said she shared those intimate moments not to exploit her family but to show the people who burped babies, sent money and said prayers the results of their efforts.
“I've never had to watch ‘Jon and Kate Plus Eight,' ” she said. “I lived it.”
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