Every once in a while, you cross paths with someone who unknowingly inspires you. If you’re lucky, this happens at least once in your life. If you’re really lucky, maybe twice. Recently, I met six people who inspired me. For that, I’d say I’m doing alright.
Allow me to introduce you to Barrett Russell and her 3-and-a-half-year-old quadruplets: Aubrey, Turner, Boone and Burke. I spent some time with the Russells on a recent Wednesday, which also includes Barrett’s husband Steve, and I came away in awe. Not because Barrett and Steve have quadruplets – although that is pretty awesome – but because I’ve never met another mother to whom parenting comes so naturally no matter how many kids there are.
I arrived at the Russell home in the tiny town of Norene, Tenn. near Watertown, around 9 a.m. Steve had already left for his job as a network engineer at the Cracker Barrel home office in Lebanon. Barrett was helping the kids start their day. Perhaps “helping” isn’t the right word as they had a pretty clear understanding of their marching orders.
Having just finished breakfast, they all headed to the double vanity sinks in the downstairs bathroom to brush their teeth. Aubrey and Turner share one sink, Boone and Burke the other. After the kids brushed, Barrett gave them each a once over and OK’d them to rinse. Among giggles and grins, each did as they were told before heading upstairs to make their beds.
“Miss Ashley, do you want to come see my room?” asked firstborn Turner, as she galloped out of the bathroom barely waiting for an answer. “Miss Ashley, look how I can make my bed,” said a tiny voice coming from the room at the top of the stairs. As I got to the top and rounded the corner, I found fourth-born Burke bringing up the comforter on his bed, which was crowded with his “lovies,” (aka stuffed animals).
The quads share a bedroom, not for lack of space, but for lack of desire to be separated. “We kept saying that once they got to be 1, we’d split them up,” says Russell, 33, “but then their first birthday came and went. So we said when they were 2 we’d do it.” Birthdays 2 and 3 have come and gone, and they’re still sharing a bedroom – 100 percent by choice.
On one wall are two brown wooden toddler beds with “Bob the Builder” sheets and comforters. On the other wall are two white wooden toddler beds with “Dora the Explorer” sheets and comforters. Beds all made, it was time to head down to the playroom to get dressed, brush hair and at last – play!
I Had a Dream
With the children engaged in the “Jump-o-lene,” Barrett and I had the chance to get to know each other. While our conversation was occasionally interrupted by a “Mommy?” here and a “Miss Ashley” there, I finally got the backstory on the “quads.”
Married for nine years, Steve and Barrett decided it was time to start a family. Unable to do so on their own, they sought fertility treatments to give them a “jumpstart.” Having little more than a few days between insemination and conception, Barrett says, “I went in on Thursday and had pregnancy sickness by Sunday.” Success!
Barrett recalled for me a poignant experience that occurred the night before going in for her six-week ultrasound: “I dreamed that night that we came home from the hospital with four babies, and we had absolutely nothing – no cribs, no food, no diapers, nothing! Well, the next morning at the ultrasound, the technician said, ‘There’s the first sac.’ But, Steve and I only heard ‘There’s the sac.’ We were so excited! The tech kept going, ‘There’s the second.’ And at that point, I said to Steve, ‘Do you remember my dream last night?’ The tech asked what we were talking about. I told her I dreamed we had four babies, and her jaw dropped and she said, ‘There are four sacs.'”
Perhaps Barrett’s dream was a sign from above of what was to come. It wouldn’t be unthinkable. A religious family, the Russells share in daily prayers and attend church regularly. Two of the four children can even recite almost all of the books in the Bible’s Old Testament.
On September 3, 2000 – at 33 weeks (average delivery time for quads in 2000 was 28 weeks) –Russell delivered all four children, premature but healthy, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. After three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, the Russells brought their long-awaited and much-wanted newborns home.
The nights of getting 30 minutes of sleep here and there may be long gone, but an active life with four kids is here to stay. To maintain order, Barrett has everything color-coded: Aubrey is pink (or red if pink’s not available), Turner is yellow, Burke is green and Boone is blue. The color-coding is enforced with everything from sippy cups to Magnadoodles, and clearly it works. If it’s yellow and Boone’s got it and Turner wants it, there’s no need to even pursue an argument. It’s Turner’s, and odds are Boone’s blue whatever is somewhere nearby. The magic in this is that all of the children understand the rules – and respect them.
As Barrett prepared sandwiches for our picnic, she called out tasks for the children to complete … pronto. “Everyone needs to gather their water cups and put them in the cooler for the picnic.” In less time than it takes me to walk from one end of my house to the other (and I live in a very small house), all four cups – pink, yellow, green and blue – were in the cooler. “Everyone needs to go get some socks out of the basket and put on their shoes.” Again, four little bodies scurried up to the playroom, and returned – socks in hand. Each pulled a pair of shoes from their own stack of drawers and went to work putting them on. Kids ready and cooler packed, we loaded into the family’s conversion van and headed for the park to meet Steve for lunch.
It Takes a Team
“I think you’re really going to be impressed with Steve,” Barrett told me in the car. Not only is Steve a retired military man, but he’s also a cancer survivor in remission since December 1999. “We really do this together,” a proud Barrett continues. “He does everything I do and then some,” she says, referring to all of the work that goes into parenting – any number of kids.
It was Steve who suggested early on that to reinforce their confidence and highlight their individuality, each child should have his or her own day. “He suggested it when they were just babies,” says Barrett, “and it just sort of stuck.” To “have your own day” essentially means you rule the roost for a 24-hour period. Since Wednesday is “Boone Day,” he selected the video we watched on the way to the park.
Other Boone Day perks might include deciding who gets bathed first, what bedtime stories will be read or helping Mommy with dinner preparation. Each child has the utmost respect for whomever’s day it is, too, knowing that when it’s their day, they expect the same in return. With Monday through Thursday spoken for (Turner, Aubrey, Boone and Burke), Barrett explains that Friday is Everybody Day (a democratic day when ultimately Mommy decides), Saturday is Family Day when “mostly Daddy decides” and Sunday is God’s Day, which pretty much goes without saying in the Russell home.
With our time together drawing to a close, I asked Barrett how being a mom has changed her life. Her reply was modest, yet devout. “When people see our quads, they often say, ‘How do you do it?’ I say, ‘One day at a time.’ But, honestly, I am so blessed. God entrusted Steve and me with four precious children, so we feel a mixture of great gratitude and tremendous responsibility,” she says in a humble tone. “Above all else, we want to raise children who are happy, loving, respectful, kind and responsible. That’s a big job, but we’re so thankful for the opportunity.”
A Moment’s Peace
After our picnic and some serious playing, the rosy-cheeked Russells were looking a little weary. Steve gave a “kiss, hug and a high-five” to each of the children, and Barrett, too, before heading back to work, and we for home. In the nearly 20 minutes it took to sneak back into the countryside to the blue house on the gravel road, two of the four children were sound asleep. Once home, Barrett, who clearly has done this a few times, sent the girls inside to remove their shoes and head upstairs. She carried the two groggy boys inside to help them do the same.
With nary a wimper, all four children were in their beds in no time. I tried to help Barrett by getting Burke and Boone tucked in, but the boys weren’t interested. Burke politely bypassed my efforts. “Mommy, will you please tuck me in?” said the voice of a child who’s heart belongs to Mom. “Yes, honey. I will,” said the voice of a mom who lives – and loves – her life for her family.
With four of the sweetest children you’ll ever meet drifting off to sleep upstairs, Barrett sent me off with a hug and a picture of her four angels before she, too, would grab a moment’s peace.
As I drove further and further from the bustling house in the country and closer to the hustle of my own busy two-children-and-a-husband world, I found myself wanting to stop and relish in the Russell’s peace for just a moment more. “Peace?” you might say. Despite the four voices that laugh, yell, cry, giggle and make the Russell house a home, here is a family that is clearly at peace in their faith and in love with each other. And that’s enough to inspire us all.
Ashley Driggs is senior editor for this publication.
DO THE MATH
- As babies, the quads went through one-and-a-half 28.5 oz. cans of formula each day. That’s approximately $27 per day.
- Once the quads started eating solids, they went through 200 – 300 jars of Gerber each week.
- By the time all of the children are potty trained (currently two are, two are not), the Russells will have gone through close to 40,000 diapers.