It is Christmastime at the Dilleys, home of America's first surviving sextuplets. As one could imagine, the holidays at the Dilleys are more like the "Nutcracker" on fast forward than "Silent Night."
The "Dilley six-pack," Adrian, Brenna, Claire, Julian, Quinn and Ian, turned 9 on May 25, and ABC visited the family a few days before Christmas to see how they're all doing.
The success that parents Keith and Becki Dilley are having with their six 9-year-olds has a lot to do with teamwork. The theme of the Dilley family could be all for one and one for all — sisters and brothers to share with and play with and cheer for you when it really counts.
As with all 9-year-olds, the Dilley kids are developing their own unique personalities. Of course, along with their developing interests and ambitions, comes some sibling rivalry. And the Dilley kids have more than their share of it. Ian seems to be particularly adept at aggravating his three brothers and two sisters. "He taunts everybody in our family," Brenna said. "He just bugs me most of the time" said Quinn. "He makes fun of people," Adrian said, adding, "Sometimes I hit him on the shoulder and say, 'Stop.'"
Ian is sensitive, artistic and loves to dance. And he may have sharpened his teasing skills by being teased himself, and coming through a very frightening illness. A few summers back, Ian was suffering from what at first was a mysterious ailment. He began losing weight. At first, the Dilleys thought their sensitive little boy was simply unhappy. Ultimately, he was hospitalized and doctors learned that Ian had contracted a viral infection.
But that frail, sensitive boy has definitely bounced back. And he's got a defense when his siblings say he's the big teaser in the family. Ian says that sometimes, when he's having a bad day, "They mess with me."
Child psychologists say sibling rivalry, including taunting, happens in all families with more than one child. But when you have six children all the same age, there are 30 potential rivalries for the kids — and parents — to plow through.
Discipline is tricky for most parents, but imagine how exasperating it must be in the Dilley household. Keith and Becki Dilley tried just about everything, including "timeouts" but rejecting spanking. It took a bit of brainstorming for them to come up with the right strategy. They came up with something they call "the discipline ladder."
The kids climb up or tumble down the figurative ladder based on how good they've been that day.
"Ten and six and eight are my favorite ones," said Quinn. "Three is you can play with action figures. And four is you can play in and listen to music up in your room," said Claire.
"If you're really, really bad you have to move down to a zero, it's where you have to go outside and clean up dog poo," Adrian explained.
Ian said, "Five is you can go downstairs and then you can go outside and play. And six is watch TV." Troublemaking Ian knows the lower rungs pretty well. He said when he's bad, he usually goes down to a two.
But Becki said the kids are pretty well-behaved. "Most of the time, they're all at a 10," she said.
During this "season of peace," Becki and Keith rely on another innovative tool to keep the peace in their home. It's something they call "Dilley Dollars," which are minted on their desktop printer. Each day every kid has a chance to earn or lose the precious currency depending on their behavior.
The kids can cash in their dollars for privileges or they can swap a Dilley dollar for 50 cents and buy something at the store.
For the holidays, Keith and Becki have another smart parenting tip. They've decided to have the kids play "Secret Santa," and they've matched up the kids who are getting along the worst.
The kids are usually good at keeping the secret, but sometimes "a few will let it slip out, Keith said.
The Dilleys Meet Their Match
The Dilleys no longer hold the unique distinction of the only American family with sextuplets, and some of the newest sextuplets live in Kansas. Sondra and Eldon Headrick of Rago, Kan., have their own "sixpack."
With a population of approximately 20, the Headricks' tiny hometown of Rago grew by a third when the sextuplets were born in January.
Once upon a time, the Headricks, with their daughter Aubrianna, were an ordinary family of three. A wish for a second child and powerful fertility drugs turned them into front page news.
Eldon recalls the day he and Sondra learned that they'd be having a multiple birth. "Sondra was having an ultrasound and … I was holding Aubrianna. When he finally started counting the fetuses, he counted, '4, 5,' and the room kind of spun a little bit. And all I could think of was … 'Don't drop Aubrianna. Don't drop Aubrianna.'"
The human body wasn't designed to carry sextuplets, and only one in 10 mothers actually carries all the babies to term. Even if the pregnancy is successful, the babies are preemies and are prone to a higher risk of brain hemorrhage, cerebral palsy, even death.
Sondra Headrick carried her babies for 31 weeks, longer than any other sextuplet pregnancy in America.
The Headricks are now going through what the Dilleys went through years ago — 70 diaper changes a day, endless loads of laundry, wailing babies, and, of course, lack of sleep. This is the sort of stress that breaks apart an estimated one-third of the marriages of parents of multiples in the first five years of the babies' lives.
Sondra and Eldon are getting help from dozens of volunteers, who are donating time, food and baby supplies. For now, the Headricks are getting by on Eldon's $27,000 a year salary, but things are tight for this new family of nine.
Fun, But Noisy
For Keith and Becki, the scene at the Headricks' home is a sight they never thought they'd see again. For the Dilley kids it was a rare opportunity for them to see how busy their parents were — and to be big brothers and sisters to the Headrick clan — Ethan, Danielle, Melissa, Sean, Grant, and Jayce.
"The best is when they're really quiet and like to sleep on you, "Adrian said. Brenna liked holding a baby and feeding her.
Adrian wasn't too crazy about messy diapers, and Quinn it wasn't too fun "when they're puking on you."
Claire said, "It was fun, but it was kinda noisy.
The Dilley six-pack has made a connection with six other, who, just like themselves, came into the world all at the same time.