PROVO, Utah — For a home where teenagers outnumber adults by a 2-1 margin, the Ruiz household is remarkably lacking in drama or angst. Gerardo, Leslie, Milagros and Salvador don’t argue over clothes, chores or whose turn it is.
Unlike lots of siblings, they say they'd rather spend time with each other than with almost anyone else in the world, whether they pal around or tackle homework and housework.
That has been true their entire 13 years, clear back to the days when they shared first a womb, then a room.
They still make a splash, because "quads" are rare creatures. In 2015, just 228 quad babies were born in the U.S., fewer than nearly 14 years ago when the Ruiz kids were four of 439 quads born that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Quads are less common, and they are such high-risk pregnancies,” says Dr. T. Flint Porter, medical director of the Intermountain Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital. He notes that fertility experts no longer routinely implant multiple fertilized eggs in a woman's uterus in hopes at least one will lead to a healthy birth.
Mirna Tabarez, then 35, and Salvador Ruiz, then 39, had been married for 17 years without getting pregnant when they invested their savings in in vitro fertilization. All three fertilized eggs took, then one split in two. By the time she'd been pregnant six weeks, Tabarez knew she was expecting quads and was soon put on bed rest. Carrying quadruplets is arduous and risky.
Six months later, the babies arrived two months early, but without serious complication, though they were small and would spend some time in the newborn intensive care unit.
Milagros was born first. Her name means “miracles.”
Teen times four
Raising quads provides the challenges one might expect, not least of which is approximately 30,000 diaper changes before all four kids are potty trained. Tabarez learned to breastfeed the quartet in shifts.
There were also unexpected challenges. When you ask Tabarez what was hard, one thing comes up several times: Shoes. Helping four little people figure out the intricacies of putting their shoes on is a time-consuming process that gets worse when it's time to figure out how to tie the laces.
Most parents don't have to teach four kids to ride bikes at the same time. Nor will they face four kids learning to drive together, at some not-so-future date.
By the time the kids were in school, they had developed a rhythm, but the family had to get up earlier than with a single child or even kids of different ages. Four kids the same age can't help each other out the same way an older sister or brother can. Just think about the usual preparations for the first day or week or month of school: Getting dressed and fed and brushing hair and teeth. Then multiply it all by four.
Next, ponder the expense of school supplies and clothes and books and food. And multiply that by four, too. While you're at it, multiply the amount of time it will take to go over homework and listen to a child practice the alphabet and recite colors and read and do all those other tasks that require individualized attention.
The Ruiz quads spent their first five school years in the same classroom, and the school provided a little extra academic help at first. Now seventh-graders at Centennial Middle School, they still share some classes, but in different combinations.
Many people can’t tell the boys apart, although Salvador wears glasses and braces and Gerardo does not.
In fairness, there may be reasons for the who’s-who part of the confusion. For one things, the boys dress like each other, down to their shoelaces. So do the girls.
It’s an artifact of childhood, when one child would choose a shirt and the other one would complain, “No, I want to wear that one!” Gerardo explains. Mirna Tabarez solved the problem by buying two of everything, and now the kids, already strikingly similar in appearance, look even more alike in identical clothing.
Their natural similarities are strong, and Leslie and Salvador think people don’t really look closely at each other, so they have trouble telling apart others who are similar. Milagros reports some of her friends are hesitant to talk to her brothers because they don’t know who is who.
The girls, too, have distinct differences set amid similar features and identical clothing. Both have long, thick brown hair and the same skin tones, but Leslie is a little bit shorter than Milagros and their eyes are different shapes.
In other ways, the four are not at all alike. Their talents and interests are very individual. Leslie especially likes helping others and she loves to paint. She thinks she’d like to be a dental hygienist when she grows up, because that helps other people.
Milagros loves fashion, reads a lot and hopes to become an interpreter for the United Nations. Like her siblings, she speaks English and Spanish fluently, but she’s also studying French. And when it comes to passion, nothing compares to how she feels about "my boy band." She calls herself a fan girl of Why Don’t We, a young musical group Gerardo waggishly refers to as “the better One Direction" — a reference to a now-defunct but madly popular earlier boy band.
The room Leslie and Milagros share is covered with Why Don't We posters, and Milagros has memorized the lyrics to all their songs. She’s infinitely sad that when the band played in Utah, she couldn't afford to go with some of her friends. “I’m in love with them. I cried for five days when they came in concert and I couldn’t go,” she says.
“When she’s older, she will go see them,” Leslie offers confidently, as sisterly comfort. While she doesn’t share her sister’s degree of passion for the band, she says she likes talking about it with Milagros. She agrees the band members are good looking.
Gerardo is happy to indulge Milagros’ passion, too. “I like their songs," he says. "But I’m not obsessed.”
What interests and absorbs the boys is changing. They like video games. They loved Minecraft for a while, and two old posters from that period are the primary decorations on their walls, which are largely blank otherwise. It’s a contrast to the busyness of the girls’ poster-burdened walls.
Tabarez describes Gerardo as very loving and a tiny bit rebellious. He likes math and science and has a girlfriend. He thinks he’ll be a doctor or lawyer one day, but hasn’t decided which.
Salvador likes figure drawing, wants to be a graphic designer and spends more time on the phone that he and his brother share, carrying it on alternate days. He also exhibits an independent streak. The week they went to fifth-grade camp, the others were homesick. “Not me,” he says. “I liked it.”
That was the only time they've been away from home, and they all missed their folks. The ghost stories scared them, and somebody stole items, including candy, from fellow campers. They found the experience unsettling.
Tabarez felt the same, longing to go to the camp and bring them home after a couple days.
"Let them explore," her husband said.
Four times the reality
“I can’t even imagine" raising quads, says Porter, who has seen more than a few new parents struggle to find a rhythm and manage the logistics of raising a single child. “One new baby can be challenging. “ Four babies at a time, he thinks, would require “a lot of support.”
Most parents will never find out — including those who, like Tabarez and Ruiz, opt for fertility treatment. It is also possible to have quads without fertility treatment, though far less likely, Porter adds. But getting through an entire pregnancy when there are four is a feat.
So is raising them.
Tabarez has stayed home with the children their entire life, while Ruiz, a skilled carpenter who needed steadier employment to support his family, works long hours at a manufacturing plant.
They were married in their native Mexico, though Ruiz has lived in America since he was a teenager and speaks English like he was born in America. Tabarez understands most of what people say in English, but it’s definitely a second language for her and she lets her children, native English speakers all, translate for her. She gently strokes Milagros and Gerardo, who sit on either side of her as they translate, sometimes negotiating over the exact word they need to get her points across.
While they talk, a mother canary and her now-adult baby are just through a doorway in the kitchen making cheerful chirping and rattling sounds.
Being an older mom helped Tabarez be mentally prepared for the job, she says, and she had wanted to be a mom for a long time. She also said the diapers and feedings of the past may be easier than challenges that lie ahead as the teenagers enter an age where some young people are attracted to drugs and alcohol and it’s harder for a parent to know what the child's future friends might be into, she says.
Tabarez doesn’t know what mistakes her children might make in the future, and it worries her, she says, adding that’s one reason she stayed home with them as they were little. She wanted to protect them from those around them who might lead them into dangerous things.
“I want them to explore, but stay close. I don’t want them to explore too much,” she says in Spanish, patting Milagros’ face gently and stroking her hair.
Tabarez encourages her kids to bring their friends to the Ruiz house, an environment she knows is safe. When the kids play outside, it’s often in the big back yard or somewhere nearby. If it’s warm outside, they may play soccer or ride bikes, the four of them and sometimes a friend or two.
Their house is simple but spotless. Household chores divvy pretty easily when there are two adults and four capable kids. In the morning, says Salvador, the kids call out which chore they’d like for the day: dibs on vacuuming upstairs, or downstairs, or mopping, or sweeping. Done daily, it’s no big deal. Tabarez does most of the cooking and cleans up from that chore. If one of them cooks, they clean their own mess. Everyone washes his or her own dishes. It’s simple and very efficient.
Their parents have tried to teach the quadruplets to be responsible with money. Every month, each sibling gets $20, with the caution to spend it wisely, because there’s not much extra. Raising four can be costly. Gerardo always saves his money with something special in mind. Right now, he wants to be sure he can go on his class trip to Lagoon, which will cost $50. Coming up with $200 for a day at the amusement park is a big task with that many same-age kids. It takes time to save up money.
The cost of milestones like birthday parties and quinceaneras also stacks up fast.2 comments on this story
Tabarez tells her children to save so they can buy the things they want that their parents can’t afford. “I try to get them to look ahead. If your dad can’t work, you have to know how to manage money,” she warns them.
She hopes her children will study hard and be able to get an education. More important, though, she wants them to be good people.
“She says she and our dad will have our backs until they can’t any more,” Salvador says. “She tells us to study hard so we can get a better job.”