THOMAS — There are seven chairs along the granite-top island in the kitchen at Rick and Jennifer Payne's farmhouse near Thomas in western Oklahoma.
And there are seven Christmas stockings hung along the fireplace mantel.
But the most telling number in their house is four — as in Preston, Griffin, Carson and Claire.
That's been the most telling number for five years now. Rick and Jennifer had wanted a brother or sister for their son, Parker, who turned 8 on Saturday.
However, on Dec. 17, 2007, Jennifer gave birth, by cesarean section, to three sons and a daughter.
Four changed everything.
“Several people have asked me how we do it,” Jennifer said. “I've decided that the Lord thought we could do it, or He wouldn't have given us so many kids.
“I was in shock at first, but then we took reality as it came.”
Reality is getting all the children up and at breakfast by 7 a.m. It's eating, putting on shoes — not always the right pair — collecting backpacks and then piling into the car an hour later.
It is roll call before the car moves.
“That works until they start barking like dogs or answering for one another,” Rick said with a laugh. “Then they have to ask me if I'm in the car, and they ask her if she's in the car. They're all comedians.”
Reality is four children in prekindergarten, two in one class and two in another, and another child in second grade.
Show and tell becomes a production.
“And they have color days where they're supposed to wear a certain color in class, and it's always different,” Jennifer said. “Like today, Griffin and Carson wore green, Preston and Claire didn't have to wear a certain color, but the other day they had to wear red.
“Our calendar has become very thick, but that's the only way I can keep up with what Parker's doing and what the quads are doing at school.”
Reality is activities, crafts and homework after school.
It is dinner, a bath and bed at roughly the same time nightly.
“And then we read to them,” Rick said. “We've found that reading to them gets their attention more than anything else. They love ‘The Boxcar Children' books.”
“And we sing a lot of songs,” Jennifer added.
Even with the routines, reality is that what might be a simple challenge for families with two or three children can quickly resemble leaves scattered in a strong winter wind in the Payne family.
“We went for pictures for the church directory and I think we wore that guy out,” said Rick, who farms and is a certified public accountant. “We had people backed up behind us like you wouldn't believe.”
But the biggest reality check of all, Rick and Jennifer said, is that they are blessed.
The Paynes, who are both 37, said they are blessed to have a house full of healthy children.
And they feel blessed that although the children have individual personalities and interests, they spend a lot of time playing together.
Five in one
Preston, an outgoing leader, loves playing games on the computer, whether the subject is making cakes or racing cars. Griffin, who shows off his dimples with frequent smiles, enjoys all things related to farming, including feeding a calf out in the barn. Carson, who's tenderhearted, prefers playing with cars when he's not coloring or painting. And Claire, who likes to dress up, loves not only playing with her dollhouse but also the toy farm village in the basement.
But despite the individuality, the quads and older brother Parker spend a lot of time together, inside and outside the Custer County farmhouse.
“Christmas isn't really hard on us, because they don't want a lot because all five children play a lot together,” Jennifer said. “They play a lot of imaginative play or things like hide-and-go-seek, things that don't take any toys.”
But sometimes everyone wanting to do the same thing poses a dilemma.
Take, for example, feeding their dachshund, Gretta.
“If you ask one to feed the dog, everyone wants to do it,” Rick said. “If you don't watch it, the dog gets four dishes of food.”
As Rick gave that example recently, Jennifer sat on the couch in the living room facing those seven Christmas stockings as “Jingle Bells” played on the stereo.
She smiled softly.
“I always look forward to December,” Jennifer said, still focused on the long row of stockings. “It kind of stresses me out a little bit, but I look forward to it, because it's an exciting time.
“It's a time to be thankful, and I am. We pray a lot together. Praying for others, thanking the Lord for what He has done for us, and asking for His guidance each day.”
Several people have asked me how we do it. I've decided that the Lord thought we could do it or He wouldn't have given us so many kids. I was in shock at first, but then we took reality as it came.”