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.