We’ve been following them since before they were born. This week the Mccaughey septuplets celebrate their sixth birthday. They are energetic, rambunctious, and marking new milestones as they grow. Seven children, seven different personalities, as NBC’s Ann Curry learned when she spent another dizzying day in the life of the McCaugheys.
In the heart of Iowa farm country, an egg-white van rolled into sight. And when the doors cracked open, a rare breed popped out, the first family of its kind, in fact, ready to explore. Make way for ducklings and the McCaughey septuplets. Four boys, three girls, each their own force of nature.
Bobbi McCaughey, of course, is the “Mrs. Mallard” of this brood. Her seven babies, each one once tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, have all left the nest for kindergarten. And even she wonders how the time has flown.
Bobbi: “I can’t believe they’re going to school — that they’re that old. It’s exciting and sad and unbelievable all at the same time.”
They’re turning six years old, and Kenny, Alexis, Natalie, Kelsey, Nathan, Brandon, and Joel were eager to explore at kid-friendly, Dan-D Farms in Knoxville, Iowa.
We saw how each has sprouted in the year since our last visit, we saw what they are learning, and what they are conquering.
It was scorching hot, but there was plenty of comic relief. The first glint of maturity came from Natalie, who recognized someone she had seen on TV.
Natalie: “Hey you came to our house.”
Curry: “I did.”
Natalie: “And we had some baby movies and we saw you in our baby movie.”
Curry: “Isn’t that funny? I saw you getting weighed, and remember what happened?
Bobbi: “Natalie you peed on the scale!”
Natalie: “I peed on the scale.” [laughter]
Curry: “I know.”
A budding self-awareness, though still innocent about what makes them special.
Bobbi: “For all they know, you go to everybody’s house and take pictures for their birthday.”
Curry: “Do they know they were all born together?”
Bobbi: “Yup, because on some of the videos and things they’ve seen when I was pregnant and they talk about all of them being in there at once, but I don’t think that it’s clicked yet that that’s an unusual thing.”
The children, who once guzzled more than 30 bottles a day themselves, were now the ones doing the feeding on their outing, with the animals. It was a familiar chore for big sister Mikayla, who has handled bottles since she was a baby.
Curry: “Is it fun to have so many brothers and sisters?”
Mikayla: [laughter] “Sometimes its fun. Sometimes, it’s... I don’t know.”
Mikayla, a third grader, continues to be home-schooled. But this year, with the kids in public school, she has her mother’s undivided attention.
Bobbi: “It will be good to have extra time to devote to that, so it should be her best year yet, she could come out shining.”
Kenny McCaughey stopped by on a break from work and told us what life with the septuplets is like these days.
Curry: “So is it easier or harder?”
Kenny: “Getting easier.”
Curry: “How’s the discipline thing going?”
Kenny: “It’s going pretty good. Trying to stay consistent is the hardest part for me.”
The McCaugheys are spending more one-on-one time with the kids, depending on what they like to do. Not surprisingly, Brandon couldn’t wait to try out the corn cannon. This little boy is so obsessed with weaponry, he watches the history channel for sport.
Brandon: “I like to play with tanks.”
Curry: “Tanks. you like tanks?”
Brandon: “Tanks have guns.”
Bobbi: “In that respect, it’s getting a little easier. Some of their interests are emerging.”
At the farm, the children took their “pet” interests into their own hands. Kenny, the class clown, spent hours tailing his new best friends.
Kenny: “There’s a kitty in there, in the corn field.”
Curry: “You were in the corn field?”
Kenny: “I like kitties.”
Kelsey fell in love with a gangly goat that she carted everywhere. But, at one point, a miniature donkey caught her eye.
Curry: “Look how big his ears are.”
Kelsey: “He looks like a bunny.”
Curry: “He does look like a bunny with those big ears.”
Kelsey: “Hey he’s biting my shoe. You don’t bite my shoe!”
She may be a confirmed tomboy, but Kelsey has one frilly wish.
Curry: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Kelsey: “Ummm... a tooth fairy!”
Curry: “A tooth fairy?!”
Born 10 weeks premature, through the years, some have wrestled with significant health and learning issues, problems more common among multiples and preemies.
Joel, the youngest by one minute, was behind in pre-reading and developmental skills last year. As he catches up in kindergarten, Joel is figuring out that seven plus Mikayla adds up to a lot. Natalie also needed extra help in preschool. She is now keeping up with her class. The little girl who for years was fed through a tube in her belly, has developed an appetite bigger than her brothers. For Alexis, the feeding tube is a distant memory, too. She does, however, face a lifetime of challenges caused by cerebral palsy, a disorder for which multiples and preemies are at risk. Alexis is picking up speed with the walker, supported by leg braces that stretch her feet and ankles. Bobbi encourages her to keep the braces on, but Alexis can only stand the discomfort for so long.
Alexis: “Mom, get me my braces off!”
Bobbi: “Are they really hurting that badly?”
Bobbi: “You’ll be stuck in the chair. Nobody is going to carry you anyplace.”
Her personality is emerging as her speech and comprehension improve. It’s unclear how much cerebral palsy has affected her cognitive development, but with therapy and special education, she is reaching new goals.
Curry: “The last time I saw Alexis, I worried whether she would ever be able to speak in complete sentences. What happened between then and now, because she’s a chatterbox?”
Bobbi: “So many times I think, especially when you have kids with special needs, you can work with them over and over on the same things and then just out of the blue it just clicks. I think she finally discovered that she had words she could say, she had the ability to use them and you know now she gets in trouble for not being quiet.”
Nathan is learning to live with cerebral palsy, too. It stiffens his limbs, but he refuses to let it cramp his style.
Bobbi: “Nathan has always been the most determined, I think of the kids, to do it himself. and when you have any kind of physical challenge it’s always a huge plus.”
Curry: “Does he ever say that he’s sad that the other kids leave him behind a little?”
Bobbi: “He’s never said I wish I could do this, I wish I could do that. I think he’s just happy with what he’s able to do and goes from there.”
And the boy who sometimes rolls to get around, showed us exactly where he’s headed: he’s walking. He took his first steps on national TV. thanks to practice, practice, practice.
Bobbi: “At home, literally, he just goes back and forth, probably 20 times, between his walker back and forth, back and forth.”
With that winning smile, it’s no wonder he has a cheering squad at school.
Bobbi: “Nathan actually had a little harem of girls that would follow him all around the playground.”
Curry: “Believe me, if I were his age, I’d follow him around, too.” [laughter]
This was the only pecking order, during a day of madcap moments. Humpty Dumpty had a little fall, everyone reeled in a fish, but only the joker puckered up. There were a few cat fights, and by the end of it all, everyone needed a rest.
Bobbi: “He’s probably tired. You’ve worn him out today.”
They may still be a handful, but six years after the McCaughey septuplets defied the odds, they are in step with Mother Nature. And that amazing crop of babies has yielded seven little people, bursting with potential.
For the first time in their lives, the septuplets are not spending every day together. At school, they are scattered among six kindergarten classes. Only Natalie and Joel are in the same class.