Quintuplets, now 14, source of pride in Jansen household - Omaha.com
Published Monday, May 13, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:21 pm
Mother's day
Quintuplets, now 14, source of pride in Jansen household

The clock hits 6:34 a.m. at the Jansen home in northwest Omaha, and five 14-year-olds hustle out the door with backpacks to catch their bus.

Dad left for work 20 minutes earlier. Mom? She's still dozing for another half-hour until it's time to get up for work.

That mom is Karla Jansen, who on a summer day in 1998 became the mother of Nebraska's first quintuplets.

The quints were born two months premature and weighed a combined 15 pounds. Now they're healthy high school freshmen heading toward driver's licenses and part-time jobs.

The morning routine — five teens getting up and out the door without nagging from mom — is just one of the benefits of the self-reliance Karla and husband Jeff have instilled in their kids.

Karla, 50, is no helicopter mom — partly of necessity, partly because she's not wired that way. Jeff is the same.

Karla found out early on that with quints — three boys, Carter, Elijah and Nick, and two girls, Taylor and Miranda — she'd run out of fuel if she hovered.

She knows she doesn't have all the answers, that her kids aren't perfect, and that sometimes she arrives home from her teaching job so worn out that all she wants is the couch.

And that motherhood is both a gift and a challenge whether you're blessed with, as she puts it, a “one-pack or a five-pack.”

***

Karla learned self-reliance at an early age.

As a girl, she loved baking and searched the kitchen for ingredients. She wouldn't find much. She was the oldest of three children raised by a single mom on welfare in Mankato, Minn.

Still, Karla made tasty cakes, substituting mayonnaise for eggs and oil.

In sixth grade she discovered how to get the new clothes her mother couldn't afford: She took a sewing class and made a blouse and a winter vest.

Fourteen-year-old Karla took a job shelving books at a college library, earning money for shopping trips downtown. Her mother didn't own a car, so Karla walked or took a bus.

***

Karla and Jeff met as 19-year-olds in Mankato, married in 1984 and a year later had a daughter, Nicole, now 28.

They waited more than a decade and endured two miscarriages before the quints were conceived with the help of fertility drugs.

Karla prayed every day during her tense 31-week pregnancy. She prayed all five of her babies would make it one more week, and the next week she prayed the same.

A team of 10 doctors and nurses delivered the quints by cesarean section on July 7, 1998, at the Nebraska Medical Center. Twelve more doctors and nurses were on standby if complications developed. None were called in.

All five quints breathed on their own — a very good sign — and squirmed and fussed, but mostly they slept. One nurse proclaimed them “gorgeous.”

Within six weeks, all were released from the hospital. None experienced serious health or developmental problems, and all are just fine today.

Help poured in for the quints, whom Karla and Jeff nicknamed “Peanut,” “Princess,” “Pickle,” “Panda” and “Pooh-Bear.”

The Jansens were living in Oakland, Neb. Fifty volunteers rotated in shifts each day from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, helping with feedings and diaper-changing, playtime and baths. There was plenty of work, as the quints gulped down 6 quarts of formula a day, and each week burned through 210 diapers — 11,000 per year.

The Jansens' Catholic church held a bake sale and raffle to raise money. A foundation donated a clothes dryer. The Nebraska Furniture Mart provided five cribs and five car seats, plus a portable stereo for Nicole, who was 13 when the quints arrived.

But the Jansens knew they eventually had to wean themselves off the help, and by the time the quints were 2, Jeff and Karla, with help from Nicole, mostly tag-teamed the babies themselves.

They created baby assembly lines for tasks such as feedings.

Five babies in five highchairs. A couple of spoonfuls of baby food for Carter, then a couple for Taylor, and right on down the line.

Things didn't always go smoothly. That certainly is the case for all parents, but remember, this is times five.

Such as the time Jeff and Karla were in another room when Elijah, then 18 months old, wriggled out of his full diaper and smeared the contents like fingerpaint all over dining room chairs and a picture window. Jeff hosed down the chairs outside.

Yuck.

When Carter, Nick and Elijah were 3, they managed to open a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner and squirt it up and down the carpeting on the stairs. The carpeting was ruined, so Jeff had to rip it out.

Karla won't forget the time a 4-year-old Taylor cut off a hunk of her brown hair. She took Taylor to a stylist for a repair job, but her hair ended up so closely cropped that kids in her prekindergarten class called her a boy.

Like any mom, Karla learned that troubles ending in tears often become the best family stories, the ones ending with laughter.

***

Karla's back suddenly became less achy.

Her quints were about 2 and had figured out how to climb into their car seats.

Few things are as aggravating and exhausting for parents as plunking a squirrelly 25-pounder into a child seat. So when the quints took over that job, Karla felt like she'd won the lottery.

She didn't teach them how to do it. Instead, she gave them time to figure it out.

Self-reliance became a priority at the Jansen home at every age and stage, because mom and dad simply didn't have enough hands.

“I want them to be able to do the things they are capable of doing as early as possible,'' Karla said.

Karla did just that with the morning routine, like getting dressed. The quints figured that out by age 3.

She did the same with chores such as loading and running the dishwasher, which some of her kids started doing by age 8.

Sure, they made mistakes.

Shirts got put on backward or inside out, or shorts were put on in January. One time a quint squirted dish soap instead of dish-washing liquid into the dishwasher, and it burped bubbles.

But Karla resisted taking over, and she still tries holding back now that the quints are teens, attending Omaha Central High School.

The family moved to Omaha in 2001, and Karla soon started teaching library and technology skills in the Omaha Public Schools. Jeff got a shorter commute to his job as a plant supervisor north of Omaha.

All of the quints do their own laundry. Some fix meals, like spaghetti or tuna casserole, before mom and dad get home. Carter, the cook of the bunch, whips up pancakes and sausages for the family on weekend mornings and fixes coffee for dad.

All of the quints pitch in on Saturday morning for two hours of chores at the family's five-bedroom, two-story home near 156th and Blondo Streets.

Jeff and Karla assign jobs: Nick vacuums the living room. Taylor hits the second-floor bathroom. Miranda cleans the family room.

Sometimes the kids complain. No one wants the bathroom chore, and everyone would rather be assigned the vacuuming.

Jeff and Karla typically don't do a lot of assigning when it comes to the quints. Mom and dad usually let the five sort things out.

Like cellphones. The three boys share one phone, and the two girls share another.

The quints negotiated a few guidelines. Basically, whoever has an after-school activity carries the phone that day.

What if they all have something after school? Typically if one of them carried the phone a few days in a row, it goes to the one who hasn't.

Any girl who's had a sister knows there can be squabbles over clothes, and Miranda and Taylor have run into a few.

They both love a certain silver blouse.

But if they'd ask mom to mediate, she'd deliver a favorite line: Deal with it.

***

Karla, of course, still does plenty of mothering.

She's the kind of mom who spent hours making First Communion dresses, who sewed Halloween costumes for all five when they were little. One year they went as furry black-and-white cows.

When they were just 9 months old she was home alone when the tornado sirens wailed. She hauled a portable crib down the basement steps, along with each baby, one by one.

Last year, when Nick landed in the hospital with appendicitis, he asked mom to spend the night in his room. She slept, not too well, in a chair by his bed.

After a long day teaching, she'll help a quint map a plan for improving a history grade or make the 25-mile round-trip to pick up a kid from track practice.

Even though children must learn independence, learn to figure things out, Karla knows they still need their mom.

“I'm not going to smother them,'' she said. “(But) I will always be there for them.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1122, michael.oconnor@owh.com

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor

michael.oconnor@owh.com    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

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