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Just the 10 of Us: TV's Biggest Mixed Family

KoreAm Journal, Feature, Michelle Woo Posted: Jul 04, 2008

Editor's Note: As parents of twins and sextuplets, the stars of the hit reality show Jon & Kate Plus 8 get eight times the laughs and tears.

Come heeere! Kate Gosselin squeals giddily, as the tiny feet of a toddler scamper toward the spectacle du jour. Is that your poopie right there? Oh my goodness. Sit there. Im gonna go get the camera.

Its a day of intensive potty training at the Gosselin home and TV production crewmembers are there to capture what turned out to be an unexpected milestone. Theyve been documenting the daily happenings of this young family in Central Pennsylvania, which have included visiting the zoo, taking formal portraits, and in this smile-inducing episode, lauding little Alexis entrance into a diaper-free world.

Its ordinary stuff that normally might not make for good TV, but as fans across the country know, this is no ordinary family.

Sitting side-by-side on a couch in the small set built into a corner of their basement, Kate and her husband Jon review the events of the day in an intimate, Real World-esque interview session. When prompted, Kate defends her eagerness for getting that first poop snapshot, citing what seems to be a household tradition: I got Cara sitting by her potty. I got Leah and (now) Alexis. Ive missed Hannah and Mady so far, but dont worry Ill get all the boys.

Jons take? I think its gross, he scoffs.

Jon and Kate are the stars of TLCs hit reality series Jon & Kate Plus 8, which provides an uncensored, barely scripted glimpse into their lives with eight children. Yes, there are eight Gosselin offspring. One set of 7-year-old twin girls and a set of sextuplets three boys and three girls who turn 4 on May 10. And with Jon being of Korean and French/Welsh descent (his mom is Korean), the clan is also probably the most recognizable multiracial Asian American family on prime time TV.

How they wound up with eight is summed up in the cheery introduction of every episode: It all started with the two of us. Then we had our beautiful twin girls, Cara and Madelyn. We were so thrilled, we decided to try for just one more and ended up with six. Now, viewers get to watch in awe, in amusement, in pity as this parental duo sets out to create a sense of order amid the never-ending chaos. From the look of things, theyre doing just fine.

KoreAm had the opportunity to chat with Jon and Kate separately over the phone (during naptime) about their romance, their views on family, and how they manage a very full house.

Hold on. Im trying to do Jell-O math, says Kate in the middle of the interview. OK. Sorry.

Meet Kate. Shes known for her short blonde do, Type A personality and self-diagnosed germaphobia. The 33-year-old, stay-at-home supermom does up to five loads of laundry and rips through two rolls of paper towels each day.

I liked kids, says Jon, 31. I loved being around them. I loved hanging out and stuff like that. I just never dreamed of having eight kids.

Thats Jon. He loves to snowboard and travel, and hes undeniably more laidback than his wife. He recently started working at home as a web developer.

Both Pennsylvania natives, Jon and Kate met in 1997 at a picnic hosted by the hotel where Jon was working. Kate was tagging along with a friend. The two exchanged glances all afternoon until someone finally introduced them. Where I lived was a small area, so I was like, I never saw her before, Jon recalls. In one episode, Kate admits that shes always been attracted to Asian guys.

We hit it off really well, Jon says. She was older than I was, so I really thought I had no chance because of the age gap. I just thought wed see how it goes.

Soon, they were in relationship bliss. We used to make people sick, Kate says. People were, like, you two are disgusting. We were ridiculously adorable.

After marrying in 1999, Kate wanted to try for a baby right away as she always had a nagging feeling that shed have trouble getting pregnant. Hospital tests confirmed her hunch and she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which prevented her from ovulating on her own. So she turned to fertility treatments, which worked almost instantly.

In 2000, Madelyn (Mady) and Cara were born. Jon says life was challenging he was holding down multiple retail/service jobs, while Kate worked as a pediatric nurse but filled with love and joy.

Everything was Mady and Cara. Mady and Cary this, twins that. We just did normal family things. Went on vacations. Went to the beach a lot. We were basically living the American Dream, Jon recalls.

Then Kate wanted one more.

She had this burning desire, Jon describes. She always said she wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant with one baby. When she gets on a roll with something, you never hear the end of it. For a long time, I was, like, no, a family of four is perfect. The world is designed for four people cars, everything. But I just really felt like she wanted to have a baby really badly. I basically gave in.

They went back for another round of fertility treatments, but this time, they got more than they bargained for. An ultrasound revealed Kate was pregnant with seven. When doctors showed them the screen, Kate sobbed. Jon started shaking and had to turn away.

Though reduction was out of the question. We dont believe in you know, Jon says. We believe in life.

That weekend, they cried for all their unanswered questions. How would the babies affect the lives of Mady and Cara? How would they pay for this? Why did this happen?

But when the news spread throughout their church community, they experienced an outpouring of support with dozens of friends and strangers offering help once the babies arrived. Over time, their sorrow turned to hope.

After a closely-monitored pregnancy, the big day had finally come. On May 10, 2005, Kate gave birth to six small (the biggest weighed 3.05 ounces), but healthy, babies: Alexis, Hannah, Aaden, Collin, Leah and Joel. Delivered by a team of more than 75 at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the Gosselin bunch became the second set of sextuplets born in Pennsylvania and among fewer than 30 sets born worldwide. Jon and Kate were thrilled. Local media had a field day.

But when the babies came home, the real chaos began. Volunteers worked around the clock in shifts. Jon says he didnt sleep for four months straight. Kate once recapped the rigid schedule of those early months like this: We got them up in the morning, changed them, fed them, played, changed them, fed them, played, nap, changed them, fed them, played, changed them, bed.

One day, Kate received an e-mail saying that the folks at Discovery Health were interested in filming their daily lives for a documentary. The couple was hesitant at first, wary of letting a big media outlet magnify and chisel their interactions for television, but Jon says they both felt a real good connection with the producers after speaking with them. Plus, the insanity of parenting eight kids left no time to whip out a video camera. Itd be great if someone else could capture these memories for them, they thought.

In 2006, the network aired the one-hour special, Surviving Sextuplets and Twins. Viewers loved it. So did Jon and Kate, who let the crew continue filming the family for a follow-up special to air the next year. When that became a hit, Discovery Health proposed the idea for a full-fledged series. To Jon and Kate, the thought of it seemed rather natural. This would be a chance to show the world how ordinary, yet extraordinary their world really is.

To prepare for filming, their home was installed with permanent light fixtures, so the kids wouldnt trip on stands or cables. Filming would take place three days a week (Its not Big Brother, Jon explains), with one day reserved for the Jon-and-Kate interview session.

The show, which debuted in April 2007 on Discovery Health and later moved to TLC, documents the good, bad and ugly of life with multiples. Jon says a typical day for him usually starts at 6:30 a.m. when he wakes up, gets the twins ready for school, makes coffee for Kate, and lays out outfits for the six little ones. Youll hear us say stuff like, Wheres Aadan? Where are the boys? Where are the girls? Who do we have? he says.

The household runs on a system of strict rules and extreme organization. Think buddy systems, color-coded bibs, sippy cups. Potty training, which began for the little ones last year during Season 1, involved charts, stickers and lots of M&M rewards.

Still, disasters can arise at any moment: a flood in the laundry room, gum stuck on teddy bears, destructive behavior and, yes, lots of screaming, crying and fighting by kids and grownups. Its not glamorous, Kate says, but always real.

What you see is what you get, says Kate. And yeah, there are days when Im extra grouchy and Ill think, oh crap, now Im going to have to see this and so is everybody else. But were very honest, almost to a fault. Weve got nothing to hide.

From the time the sextuplets were born, the couple has been the center of much controversy: for pushing for Medicaid assistance beyond the government-granted limits, for the shows use of product placement, for the dynamics of their relationship (remarks made by Kate to, or about, her husband include: He takes longer than I do and thats really irritating. Hes frustrated with himself because hes so disorganized. Can you please help me instead of playing with toys?). In online communities, Kates parenting and marital tactics are dissected so intensely youd think she was running for president.

You just get to the point where you dont pay attention, Kate says. You dont read, you dont watch, you dont care, really. We did get upset at first, saying, If you had to walk in our shoes. Now I dont really care. Those people are never going to walk in our shoes. You can try to imagine it and say, well, I would do this or that, but the truth is youve never had a shot at it, let alone day after day where youre exhausted and you have to do it the next day, and do it again and again and again.

But for many watchers, Kate is a modern-day heroine of sorts, a bearer of hope for any mom or dad whos ever felt overwhelmed. Fans watch and think, hey, if she can do it with eight, I can surely do it with one or two or three.

Kim Lee, 30, of Reston, Va., was first intrigued by the racial background of Jon and the children her two daughters are three-quarters Korean. My toddler used to see the little girls on the Jon & Kate commercials and tell me that shes on TV, Lee says.

Lee is now a devoted follower of the show: Seeing a fellow stay-at-home mom handle the typical day-to-day issues of raising kids in a very human way keeps me tuning in. I see our own battles, milestones and developments mirrored in Kates interactions with her sextuplets. I watch in awe as Jon and Kate navigate the difficult, but rewarding waters of parenting multiple multiples.

Jon has received e-mails from fans saying that hes a role model for Asian American dads, who arent well-represented in the media. He says a key to good parenting is teamwork, and that he and Kate work in ways that compliment each other. Since my wife is the Type A personality, its easier for me to just follow her schedule. If we were both Type A personalities, we wouldnt be on TLC. Wed be on, like, FX.

Kate adds, [Jon] is the fun parent. Im definitely more of the disciplinarian. Cara and Mady will actually say that. Hes the fun parent and I am the boring parent. Im the one whos always thinking to the future as to how this will affect them. Jon thinks about now. If were having fun now, then everythings good. But hes also very helpful. He loves being with the children. I couldnt do it without him, without a doubt. And a lot of the reason why I do what I do is because hes here.

Although the show isnt scripted, series producer Jen Stocks works closely with Jon and Kate in deciding the themes and events for each episode, which have included visiting the dentist, hiring a nanny, carpeting the house and taking a family vacation to Park City, Utah. Over the years theyve been doing the show, Jon and Kate say the production crew has become part of the family.

Jon and Kate do not hide a thing, Stocks says. That still amazes me. For a lot of people, their natural instinct would be to present something they think everyone wants to see, and want to hear. Thats not the case with them. They never tried to paint a pretty picture of their lives. They show that their situation is not always easy, but its something thats always worth the struggle.

As for their rising celebrity status, Kate says the little kids dont understand that theyre on television and the twins dont mind the circumstances so much, although Mady sometimes complains when the kids talk about the show at school. Just like with everything else, shes either hot or shes cold, Kate says.

One of the most challenging aspects of raising multiples is making sure each kid gets enough attention and knows he or she is loved. (There are days when Im like, wait, did I even hug Aaden today? Kate says on the show.) In Season 3, the show introduced special days, where each kid got to spend a whole day with just Mom and/or Dad.

Mady got her ears pierced. Cara went to the roller skating rink. Alexis visited a reptile museum. Aaden got a tour of a dairy farm.

[The special days] have really been great for me and Kate because now were getting to know our children as individuals, Jon says. They have so much to say when theyre by themselves. I want to know my kids. I want them to be able to come to me with anything.

As for the show, Jon and Kate say theyll continue as long as it remains healthy for the family. Theyve been offered a new season, but havent officially signed on. During their time away from the show, the couple does speaking engagements at churches across the country. Kate also finished writing a book with her friend, Beth Carson, titled Multiple Blessings: Surviving to Thriving With Twins and Sextuplets, which will be released in November. Its about us learning that our lives are not in our hands, but in Gods hands, Kate says.

She adds the show has an underlying message: It brings hope to families who thought, hey, when the going gets tough, Ill split. Ill be out of here. But thats not always the answer.

Each week, viewers become a part of the Gosselins ongoing journey.

Today, I can very well lose my mind, Kate says in the shows intro. And although the stress of having two sets of multiples may not bring out the best in us, were a family.

And were in this together.

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