Other than the leaves whispering in the morning breeze and the chirping of cicadas, the cul-de-sac in east Olathe sits peacefully quiet. Calm.
Walk toward the split-level home on the right, though — the one with toys and a slide on the front deck — and soon that changes. You hear the giggles and squeals, faint at first, then in full stereo.
Soon comes a small, frustrated voice from inside the home: “Mom, Jesse is messing it up!” Then another “Mom!” Add to that the patter of small feet, lots of them, and the morning’s silence and peacefulness is long gone. No turning back.
This is where the Brooks quintuplets live and play. Emily, Owen, Jesse (pronounced Jess), Ruth and Helen.
Walk inside the Brooks home, where the floors are littered with toys, children’s books and all things kid, and there’s Kate, a woman not yet 42 who once upon a time thought she’d have two, maybe three kids. The youngest of five herself, she just figured she and David (who grew up with one sister) would stop at three.
Then came the doctor’s news, followed by a panicked look and the word “quintuplets.”
On Oct. 10, 2006, she and David went from the parents of toddler Mallory to mom and dad of six. They went from living a somewhat peaceful existence, with hopes of stashing away money for college each month and going on things people call vacations, to living in a bit of chaos. Sometimes organized chaos, sometimes not.
Lots of noise. Most of it joyful, some of it not so much.
“Welcome to my life,” says Kate, laughing, as she looks around her front living room turned play room. One child’s on the computer with another waiting his turn. One reads a book while two fuss over a toy. And big sister plays nearby with a family friend.
Kate knows how startling it must look to a newcomer, who last checked in on the kids when Mallory was toddling around at 1½ years old and her five siblings were in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City as tiny babies three months premature. Their arms were the size of small fingers and their whole bodies able to fit in your hand. Machines were helping some of them breathe.
Now, the five siblings are a couple of months shy of their sixth birthday, members of the Olathe Class of 2025. Doctors say they’re healthy, and other than their height being a little low on the charts, their growth is exactly where it should be.
Mallory’s 7 now and in the second grade. She’s oh so eager to welcome her two brothers and three sisters to her school, Black Bob Elementary.
The date — Aug. 16 — had been marked on the kitchen calendar for months. The first day of kindergarten, the day when the five would go off to school for the whole day and leave mom alone.
Looking toward that monumental moment on this day in the middle of July, Kate admits it sounds pretty great. She giggles when she says it.
What she won’t know for a few weeks is how tough it will be to let them go. The crying she’ll do a couple of days before school and the tears she’ll fight when her five “babies” that many call miracles settle into Mrs. Dawson’s kindergarten class.
But before all that, she can’t force the smile from her face when looking at the calendar.
“I’m so excited for school to start,” Kate says, her eyes fixed on that August square. “It’s just the anticipation of truly having a quiet house.”
She and David can barely remember what quiet is.
Instead, they know noise. Laughing and yelling, jabbering and crying. And the whispered conversations from Helen, who had a trach tube in her throat until she was 18 months old and still is strengthening her vocal cords.
They also know busy. It’s not just giving one kid a glass of milk, but pouring another five. Cooking 41 chicken nuggets for lunch. Playing tag team at dinner. Kate gathering up the food, David making sure kids are in their seats and ready for the prayer.
“You get used to it,” David, 44, says.
In the beginning, once the babies all came home, it was middle-of-the-night crying and feedings. One baby would wake up hungry and Kate would come to the rescue. David would get the next one. And so went the pattern. They spent lots of time watching television in the early morning hours.
“We always joke that we’re surprised we’re not broke because of all the infomercials we watched in the middle of the night,” David says, admitting that they did buy a Shark vacuum.
The couple met through a dating service back in 2000.
The first time the two talked by phone, the conversation went on for two hours. Kate hung up and called her mom, revealing: “This is who I’m going to marry.”
Their first date lasted nearly seven hours. And they realized that their lives had intersected for years. They grew up in the same neighborhood, knew the same people. His cousin and her sister-in-law went to school together.
“Our lives kind of danced around for so long,” Kate said.
After 11 weeks, they were engaged.
On their first date, David asked Kate: “Do you want private or public school for your kids?”
Never did they think those kids would include quintuplets.
When they first heard that the artificial insemination worked and that they weren’t just pregnant, but pregnant with five, it was devastating. Kate called her mother, Julie Hanson, that night and sobbed.
Hanson brought over ice cream sundaes from Baskin Robbins, and mother and daughter sat on the floor and cried.
The options were scary: Terminate the pregnancy altogether. Use selective reduction. Go ahead with the pregnancies and all the risks.
“She wanted me to give her the answer,” Hanson recalls. “I told her, ‘I can’t tell you what to do. You know what you believe, you know how you were raised. You have to follow your heart.’ ”
After that night, Kate realized it was all part of God’s plan. That they must have been meant to have five babies at one time, and it would all be OK.
When it came time to decide whether to go with reduction, David shared his thoughts first.
“I can’t do it,” he said.
She added: “I can’t do it, either.”
Six years later, looking at her quintuplets playing in the front room, Kate shakes her head.
“If I would have reduced, who would I not have right now?” she says, gesturing to each of the five.
Maybe it wasn’t what they thought life was going to be like. But, they’ve learned, it’s better.
“We never planned to have six kids, if it was one by one,” David says. “Like I always say, ‘We hit the jackpot.’ ”
In the beginning, David worried about money. How do you afford five newborns at one time? (Just new shoes for school set the family back about $258. Good thing Grandma came through with nearly half of that.)
Through the years, the worry hasn’t gone away. Especially when David’s job was eliminated in 2010.
The family lived on his severance and with three weeks left of benefits, he started a new job in April 2011 at Johnson County Community College, where he works in the IT department.
Now the Brookses save every spare penny they have for what they hope will be their first family vacation in February. David and Kate want to take the kids to Disney World. Kate’s mom and sister also plan to go.
Any way you do the math, it looks a little scary. Daunting.
But as she has from the very beginning, Kate has faith.
“It’ll work out,” she says. “Things always do.”
Emily wanders up, tilts her head back and smiles. Her glasses slip down her nose.
“Can we talk about my life?” she asks.
When she gets a response of “Sure,” Emily smiles wide and motions to her bed where it’s time to sit.
“My life is about music and dancing,” she says as she twirls to the left. “And it’s about hanging out with my best friends.”
She talks, you listen. It can’t be helped.
Each of the quintuplets has their own personality. No doubt they are their own persons. It’s what Kate and David always have strived for.
“We never wanted for them to just be a group,” David says.
It’s why when David goes on an errand, he may take one of the six kids with him. To give them some Dad time. Kate does the same. And during the day, each gets some time on mom’s lap for extra “mom kisses.” Mallory gets her own attention too.
“They need that time with just Mom and Dad,” she says. “We may not be able to give them as much as we want, but we try.”
As an incentive for good behavior — when they’ve saved up enough “bucks” — they can either request a toy, another kind of treat or special time with either parent. Mom and Dad see the difference that individual attention has made.
So does “Grandma Kay.” She’s not a blood relative but has been like a member of the family since the first quintuplet came home (that was Owen in December 2006). Kay Osborn, a retired teacher, didn’t know the Brooks family before she heard they had quintuplets and needed volunteers to help.
She was one of their first volunteers, helping David and Kate with rocking the babies, giving them baths and playing with them as they grew.
In the years since, she hasn’t missed a birthday and was there when the crew first got on the bus for preschool.
“They’re all special in their own way. They really are,” says Osborn, 70, who now lives in Pleasant Hill. “I can’t say enough good about them. They are a blessing from God.”
Ruth is the mom of the group, the one who’s first to obey and always ready to keep others in line. Owen’s the sensitive soul who can do his own thing and be happy. Jesse, rough and tumble with a touch of ornery.
Helen’s the strong-willed talker. Some say a little Kate.
And Emily? Kate calls her the shy one.
Unless she’s one on one with someone and has her own audience. Then she comes alive.
“Now it’s time to show you about what my life is,” Emily says.
She twirls to the left, her foot in the air. Her arm scoops the air as the smile never leaves her face. Her right hand, which has little movement, is one of the only visible signs of her mild cerebral palsy. She also wears a special boot on her right foot, inside her tennis shoe.
When Emily’s done dancing, it’s time for the show across the hall in Mallory and Ruth’s room. The two — soon to be announced as “Mallory the Great and her assistant” — have been choreographing and practicing for the past two days. Owen’s ready for the performance, even slipping on a tutu to get into the mood. Jesse will be one of the first to take his place in the audience.
“Let’s go watch,” Emily says grabbing a hand to hold.
It’s moments like this that have tugged at the hearts of those who have known the Brooks kids since the five were born in 2006.
People who are with them out in public comment on how well behaved they are. They say thank you and please. They wait their turn. They sit quietly. During a recent trip to the shoe store, when Kate focused on helping one child find the right pair, the others sat together and looked at a book.
As one person put it: “Kate sets the standard high and they follow behind.”
All six children are close. They play together, read together and yes, can argue at loud octaves.
In this performance, Ruth initiates a dance move, then looks at a cheat sheet reminding her and Mallory what comes next. They bring the finale home with Mallory holding Ruth in the air as all the siblings clap loudly.
Mallory loves being the big sister. “I like getting to play with them every day,” she says.
If any of them has a preference, it is being all together. It’s what they’re used to.
“The greatest punishment for any of them is to be by themselves,” Kate says.
School’s not for another two days. Backpacks have long been bought and prepackaged boxes of school supplies await them at Black Bob Elementary. Lunch boxes came free with the backpacks, so those are ready, too.
Now it’s just time to wait. And think.
That last one gets Kate. On the phone with David, she starts to cry.
“It’s the realization,” she would later say, “that they’re really going to be gone, that I’m going to be alone.
“I’ve always been around my kids,” she says. “I don’t know what life’s like without them. I’ve been around them for five years.”
The kids, though, seem to be ready. Kate goes over what it will be like. She wants them to know everything.
They’ve visited the school many times, first when they would go for Mallory, then last year they visited as part of a program that brings preschoolers into the school to help them feel adjusted and familiar when they start kindergarten.
Their new principal, Barry Cook, has been in education 40 years but never had quintuplets at any of her schools before. Because of that preschool program she feels she knows many of kindergartners.
“I’ve already seen them in action,” Cook says. “That really helps, especially when there’s five in one family.”
Cook and kindergarten teacher Kelly Dawson met with Kate and David a couple of weeks ago to get to know a little more about each kid. To get to know each one’s personality.
It’s what Cook has done with many parents over the years, especially if they have multiples.
“I take my lead from moms and dads, they know their kids best,” Cook says. And she has no worries about the quintuplets all being together in one class.
In fact, they make up about one-fourth of Mrs. Dawson’s all-day kindergarten class.
“They all have the Brooks name, but they are five different people, five different personalities,” Cook says.
It’s barely 7 a.m. and the Brooks house is hoppin’. All lights are on, the smell of cinnamon from French toast sticks fills the house and a television station’s live truck is parked in the driveway. (They’re here to see the quintuplets off to school, too.)
All six kids are up. Everyone’s dressed except Helen, who seems to want to stay in her pink Cinderella nightgown a little longer. After some prodding from Dad, she scampers upstairs to put on a dress.
Kate’s standing in the kitchen, lining up cups for milk or orange juice. She’s already been to the grocery store this morning.
“I didn’t have anything for breakfast,” she says, raising her hands in the air. “What kind of mom would I be, handing them a granola bar, ‘Here’s breakfast for your first day of school’? ”
No one seems to be nervous. No one even a tad weepy. But the family’s been talking about this day forever, the monumental moment marked on the calendar for Aug. 16.
“It’s our first day of school,” Emily says, giving a tiny hop into the air. “We go the whole day.”
Each quintuplet is excited about different things. Emily can’t wait to see the friend she went to preschool with. Ruth’s all about the family’s two-block walk to school.
“Recess, it’s my favorite thing,” Owen says, peering through his Clark Kent eye glasses.
Helen pipes in: “I’m excited about recess and playing.”
“And playing bootie,” says Jesse, always the jokester.
Though they’re not sure what that even means, they all giggle.
A little after 8, the two boys are on the front deck, backpacks on and ready for the walk. Running a little late, after posing for photos, David leads the single file procession to school and Kate catches up to complete the line.
A few passers-by, moms who’ve already done the first-day drop-off, holler support.
“Got them all going now, huh?” one woman yells from her SUV.
Another walks by and waves: “I got teary-eyed seeing them walking together.”
No doubt the crew draws some attention. When they walk into Mrs. Dawson’s class, all the seats immediately fill up.
“You guys have a lot of children,” one boy in the front says to Kate.
“Yes, we do,” she answers.
The boy watches as Jesse takes his seat: “And they’re all the same size.”
Dawson says her plan is to eventually tell the children that one-fourth of the class is one big family. It won’t be a big production, just a short conversation.
“I’ll probably say, ‘Sometimes we have twins, which is two siblings,’ ” Dawson says. “ ‘This time we have five that are brothers and sisters.’ ”
Simple as that.
Before Dawson launches into the first day, Kate and David say their goodbyes.
“How about a kiss, Owen?” Kate says to her first-born boy.
“And a hug,” he answers.
Times that by four more.
Tears well in Kate’s eyes and she quickly wipes them away. But no full out crying.
“I’m glad I got that out of my system the other day,” she says.
She and David walk the two blocks home together and he jumps into the car and heads to work. He’ll be home later tonight and will sit and listen about the day’s adventures from his kids.
Now it’s Kate time.
Just the other day, she asked the kids what they thought mom would do once they went off to school.
“You’ll sit on the couch and eat ice cream,” Jesse told her.
Hmmmm, sounds promising. Yet not practical. She’s decided that now that she has time, she’s going to start going to the gym regularly. Maybe scrub the floor, do some heavy cleaning or redecorating. Focus more on her freelance medical transcriptionist job.
She’s had little time for any of that these past six years.
On this day, though, she’ll launch into her new freedom by just taking a seat in the front playroom. She’s in one rocking chair, her mom in the other.
The toys are put away and books stacked nicely. No one’s home to mess it all up, to squeal through the house and holler out “Mom!”
Kate just soaks it in.
At last. A quiet house.
To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to email@example.com.