One recent night, the McCaughey family gathered for dinner around the huge island in their Carlisle, Iowa, kitchen. Spaghetti was on the menu and young Joel McCaughey, 10, headed to the stove for seconds. As he dished up another plate, Joel regaled his family with a poem he'd read:
You're wonderful stuff,
I love you spaghetti,
I can't get enough,
You're covered with sauce
And you're sprinkled with cheese,
Oh, give me some please!
Joel's parents, Kenny and Bobbi, roared with laughter. His siblings, however, rained down catcalls: "Joel, that's stu-pid! That's not funny at all!"
The McCaughey home is like any other in America-but with a slightly larger peanut gallery. On Nov. 19, 1997, Mr. and Mrs. McCaughey and their daughter Mikayla, then almost 2, welcomed the world's first surviving septuplets. The miraculous birth riveted the world's attention, and the McCaugheys, who attend Missionary Baptist Church in Carlisle, were quick to credit God and their church family.
Their pastor's wife organized volunteers to take meals to the family when Mrs. McCaughey went on bed rest just nine weeks into her pregnancy. After the siblings were born and grew strong enough to come home, the church continued sending meals, along with rotating shifts of helpers who assisted with several hundred feedings and diaper changes each week. Mrs. McCaughey told WORLD that the family hasn't had daytime helpers since the septuplets were 4, and they even gave up their Friday date-night babysitter a couple of years ago.
The kids' early years brought a brighter media spotlight-along with free trips to places like Disney World and the Oprah Winfrey show. But life today is mainly normal for the famous siblings-Brandon, Kenny Jr., Natalie, Joel, Kelsey, Alexis, and Nathan. Their 10th birthday did bring the usual flurry of annual media attention. Ladies Home Journal did a Christmas-issue photo shoot in August. NBC's Dateline taped a 10-year birthday segment that is set to air in December.
But this year, the McCaughey family's biggest story is a familiar one: the increased academics of the fourth grade. The kids attend a public school where Alexis and Nathan, who have a form of cerebral palsy, can get the special help they need.
"We do feel like we have to re-teach what they've learned some days because it doesn't agree with our worldview," said Mrs. McCaughey. "On the other hand, they do have a mission field they're in contact with on a daily basis."
The septuplets are sprinkled among six classrooms, with just two sharing a single teacher. The arrangement helps them make their own friendships and be seen as individuals. The downside: six different sets of homework. In three classrooms, the subject this fall is science; in the other three, it's social studies.
"It's difficult to keep up with who has what and what they should be working on," Mrs. McCaughey said. Even the siblings with homework in the same subject often are not working on the same textbook chapter.
"Next year I want four kids in one room, three in another, and the teachers can just deal with it," McCaughey laughs. "I'm tired of having things different all the time!"
Clouds lined up in the eastern sky on the morning of the McCaughey septuplets' birth: precisely 7, and dad Kenny says he has the photo to prove it (but he's not sharing)
Diapers at infancy: 40 per day
Baby jars: 98 per week
Church and other volunteers at infancy: about 100 per month
Current milk consumption: 5 gallons per week
Bread: 5 loaves per week
Vegetables: 20 cans per week
Laundry: 10 loads per week
Air pressure checks on bicycle tires: 16 per week (or more often)
And finally, with their birthdays and Christmas so close together, how do the McCaugheys approach holiday shopping? "We buy at least 24 different gifts, not including all of the stocking stuffers," reports Dad. Hope that mantle is long and sturdy.