During her first pregnancy Jean Wolf was so small that people used to ask if she was sure she was really pregnant. Of her second pregnancy, which was while she and her husband Donald were in London waiting to move to Paris, she says with a laugh, "I was so big that people would walk up to me and say, 'You really are having more than one, aren't you?'"
Obviously, it was no surprise when doctors gently placed not one, but four squalling beauties into father Donald's waiting arms. Last weekend the family, now of Cleveland Park, celebrated the event with first-year memories and tales of their subsequent adjustment.
"I went down to the (hospital) nursery," Jean recalled Sunday, a year and a day after Andrew (4 pounds, 5 ounces), Katharine (3 pounds, 10 ounces), Jeffrey (2 pounds, 15 ounces), and John (3 pounds, 10 ounces) made their collective appearance, "and the entire nursery was my babies. I couldn't believe it!"
Londoners were impressed as well: The London Times, The London Evening Star, The Evening Standard, The Guardian and The Financial Times all carried the news of the first quads born in London in years, and on the first birthday of the first royal grandchild, at that.
The only one who wasn't exactly thrilled, it seems, was the Wolf's older son James, now 3. His reaction was a kind of panic. "When they came home he ran around yelling, 'Too many babies! Too many babies!'" Jean recalls.
Quads are as rare elsewhere as they are in London. The odds on delivering four babies at once hover around one in a million, although the chances increase tenfold if a woman uses a fertility drug, as Jean did. The petite mother learned several weeks before the births that she was carrying several children, but she worried, as many expectant parents do when fertility drugs are prescribed, that all of them might not survive.
Only around 1,000 U.S. births each year result in three or more live infants, but only about 80 sets of quads live in the United States. Two sets lived in Washington before the Wolfs brought their family back to their Northwest Upton Street home in August.
Donald, 36, a Harvard-trained land development and real estate lawyer with a MBA from Stanford, vetoed the move to Paris. He had nightmares about finding an English-speaking Parisian Doctor if the need arose in the middle of the night -- an acute concern, since the quads arrived almost two months early. Also, Jean added, "Paris is expensive; we figured we could never find a big enough house close to the city," and fulltime help, too.
But more immediately, after the statistics books had been closed and the news cameras disappeared, the Wolfs had to deal with the easily overwhelming task of multiplying by four the care of one infant -- from calming the oft-stormy soul to dodging an obstacle course of squeak toys and washing an Everest of diapers. Their detour from Paris back to D.C., where they were married in 1971, was only the first of many changes they made to accommodate their newly mushroomed family.
Jean Wolf, a Harvard grad herself with a fortuitous master's degree in childhood development, was able to plunge into the task with the cool precision befitting a naval officer's daughter. But the couple's other organizational secret, both readily admit, is being able to afford an environment that makes it all work. They have not only added a "six-figure" two-bedroom quad's wing to their five-bedroom home, they also employ two fulltime nurses and housekeepers, and bring in part-timers when needed.
"We've had to hire people to help us," Donald explained, "or we'd both be in St. Elizabeths. They'd be wards of the state."
Jean, 33, eldest daughter of the late Adm. James C. Dempsey and a Norfolk native, quickly whipped a crew into shape. She and Donald say the assistance is indispensable.
"To take them out I need at least two people," Jean said, "myself and at least one other person. I have two double strollers, but I need one person just for Jamie." At a rambunctious, sibling-jealous age, James has been known to inflict a bite or two on his new rivals, and needs one person just to keep him occupied so he won't hurt his brothers and sister. The quads alone can be a terror: they entered a spotless playroom Sunday to pose for a photographer, and within 20 minutes transformed one corner into a incombatible mix of plush bunnies and Cheerios.
"My parents came for a visit about a month and a half ago and they stayed with us," a bemused and harried Donald reported. "They raised four children, but they were absolutely overwhelmed. They said, 'We know we raised four but at least we did it one at a time.' They couldn't take it."
Jean shops twice a week for $300 worth of food for the whole family, and prepares all the baby food herself. "I just couldn't handle all the jars," she said of commercial baby food, although productivity watchers from General Motors would be inspired by Jean's smooth lunchtime operation.
Among other things, the quads -- Andrew is now about 16 pounds, Katharine 15, Jeffrey, 15, and John a hefty 17 -- eat a half pound of meat a day, along with a pound of carrots and a pound of pears. They also put away three 32-ounce cans of formula, 21 cartons of vanilla yogurt for dessert, and a big box of Cheerios each week. And they dispose of, as it were, 24 Pampers a day. She uses cheese or Cheerios to quiet the other three while she spoons the main course into one mouth at a time.
The quads' wing of the house has its own kitchen. Cribs line the walls of the two bedrooms and there are a dining room and a living room.
"This area is very important to them," Donald says, glancing around the room. "It's a safe for play, there's the kitchen . . . Although we may have overreacted a bit." Not necessarily: the green-carpeted suite stands in child-cheerful contrast to the upstairs adult world of polished colonial breakfronts and Oriental rugs. One quad wing wall holds a cabinet full of toys, the shelves lined with stuffed teddy bears, turtles and bunnies, grouped, of course, in fours.
Keeping the family organized requires the logic and discipline of a military strategist; a typical day begins at 7, with activities planned at hour long intervals. Breakfast is at 7:30, followed by play, nap, a walk, lunch, a nap, a walk, dinner, playtime and bedtime -- "everything planned -- snap-snap-snap," noted a weekend helper.
But even the organized family life and a spacious, well-appointed home cannot solve every problem of quadruple parenthood, say the Wolfs. The real job is in giving affection and attention to every child when the arms can hold but one at a time.
"It's a lot of fun to have healthy children; it's frustrating to be unable to give each one what he needs," said Donald, who feels especially frustrated because, like many Washington professional parents, his long work days keep him away from the children except on weekends. He rises early to breakfast with James in an effort to ward off sibling angst, but he often returns home after Andrew, Katharine, Jeffrey and John are asleep.
"I wouldn't mind having an additional day or two at home," Donald said, pulling one quad onto his lap, finding a toy car for another one, and stopping James from smashing his toy bus into a visitor's foot. "They're putting together their entire personalities right now -- their curiosity, their intelligence, their need for stimulation. Right now they're old enough to recognize their parents and to prefer their parents to any other help we might have. And I have just few minutes with them."
"It's really hard emotionally because I can't hold them all at one time," added Jean, once a staffer in the congressional research office, but now probably busier at home. "They're very clinging; they all want Mom all the time. They're almost better behaved when I'm not here. Sometimes they're playing happily and I come down here," she gestured around the wing, "and to see them all come crawling toward me at once . . .," her voice trails off at the thought of the easily overwhelming sight.
The Wolfs are being careful to record the babies early years. Donald frequently pulls out a massive sound and movie camera so that such momentous events as precious first steps and first words can be captured, and he plans future camping trips for his private scout troop -- or tennis team, starting five, lightweight crew or spare-time rock singing group. "I don't have any worries about how each will be educated," he says, "It's too far away. We just take one thing at a time."