LINCOLN, Maine — Pairs of small boots line the garage entrance of the house — pink, purple, green, navy blue with sea creatures — each pair as unique as the child they belong to. Similarly, red, orange, green and dinosaur-themed toothbrushes sit in a haphazard pile on the bathroom counter. Life is busy in this house. But the parents of seven children, Joel and Crystal Stanley, wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s Hannah and Hailey, 6; Joel and Johanna, 4; then Olivia, 3; and finally Adilynn and Elise, two months. That’s three sets of twins, plus one — which adds up to seven children under age 7 — and equals a lot of mouths to feed.
Days are lively at the Stanley house, full of imaginary play, children running up and down basement stairs carrying toys and dress-up clothes. But there’s a schedule, too, and for the most part, it stays relatively static.
The first children start stirring around 5:30 a.m., then it’s a breakfast of bagels, waffles, cereal or whatever everyone is in the mood for that day. Joel Stanley takes off for his job as a quality control manager at Lincoln-based FASTCO Corp. around 7 a.m. Then, during the school year, it’s into the walk-out basement turned home school classroom for school by 8:30 a.m.
Between recess, physical education, lessons and lunch, the school day lasts until about 2:30. Then it’s play time until dad comes home for dinner, followed by bath time, teeth brushing and off to bed.
Each week, they go through three to four gallons of milk and they make a trip to Sam’s Club in Bangor three times each month for groceries — buying in bulk is key.
It’s an organized chaos, but it’s worked so far and everyone’s happy.
Starting with a love story
The Stanley’s haven’t always been the family with all the twins. Back in the early 2000s, Joel and Crystal were just acquaintances.
The pair started dating in June 2004 and by December, they knew they were meant to be, so she said “yes” to his marriage proposal. They wed June 25, 2005, and began dreaming of starting their family — though at the time, there was no plan for it to include nine.
“We’d talked about kids, actually really early on,” Crystal Stanley said as she sat between two baby bouncers feeding one tiny bundle with one hand, and eating a bagel with the other. “But, we never talked about having a family this big.”
It may not have been their plan, but Crystal Stanley handles it all with grace, something her husband coincidentally finds quite attractive.
“She really has a passion for kids, she enjoys being home, teaching them,” he said.
By early 2007, they were eagerly anticipating their first, or actually, their first two.
“We didn’t expect twins at all, so it was quite a shock,” Joel Stanley said.
Keys to success
Since Crystal Stanley home-schools the children starting around age 2, she has a lot of flexibility when it comes to organizing the year and her days. It’s just one of the many ways the family balances newborns plus five busy preschool and school-aged children.
“It actually works really well,” Joel Stanley said. “For example it’s OK if (Crystal) or the kids are having a morning that’s off, or someone’s sick.”
Organization is key, Crystal Stanley says. That’s why there’s color-coded boots, toothbrushes and an order to the day.
“It really helps to have a routine,” she said explaining that while the older twins are a little more flexible, the 4-year-olds definitely “do better” with a regular schedule.
And then, there’s the fact that there’s always someone to play with.
On a recent morning in the Stanley basement, there were at least five different activities going on at the same time, and each child would flit from one to the other — one was playing dress up with dad, another practicing numbers on a chalkboard and still others had taken out musical instruments from a box and were having a “parade.”
“They really all entertain themselves,” Joel Stanley said. “But I guess that’s the thing with twins, they always have a playmate.”
Crystal and Joel Stanley also rely heavily on their faith for comfort through the tough days and joy during the good ones. The family attends Bangor Baptist Church every Sunday and both parents believe there’s a plan for their family and all these twins.
“Faith keeps us going,” Joel Stanley said. “We both believe that God has a purpose for our life and for our children, (after all) we didn’t have any control of having this many twins.”
A rare situation
Since a story about the Stanley children ran on a local television station around Mother’s Day this year, the family has received a few other requests from media. They’ve also been recognized in public.
Their situation occurs in only one out of 500,000 naturally-conceived twin births from mothers who don’t have twins run in the family, according to Dr. Joe Benoit. Benoit, who was Crystal Stanley’s doctor throughout all seven of her labors and pregnancies, said the likelihood of another mother giving birth to three sets of twins at Eastern Maine Medical Center wouldn’t occur for another 285 years.
“After everyone is done with their career, they have a few special things they remember,” he said. “This is certainly one for me … so I’m rooting for them to have a few more.”
Benoit was quick to add, however, that aside from their twins, what makes the Stanley’s special in his mind is their love and passion for their children and each other.
“It’s unusual that a family have the amount of responsibility of not just twins, but seven children, so when that happens and it’s the right family, it’s special,” he said. “The bond between Joel and Crystal, how they put their kids first, they’re in a situation financially where they can provide for them … it’s just an amazing thing to see.”
The Stanley parents know their children fall into an abnormal category of siblings, but when asked about being twins, the Stanley children don’t point out that their family is different. Although, they are quick to tell anyone who will listen who is paired up with who and that Olivia Stanley “doesn’t have a twin.”
“I don’t think they realize how unique they are, to them it’s normal,” Joel Stanley said.