Quintuplets reach 12 - 'all different'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OLNEY -- Pam and Dan Pisner vowed to raise their four boys and one girl as individuals. As the quintuplets celebrate their 12th birthday today, the Montgomery County couple seems to have done just that.

The Pisner quints, one of an estimated 30 living sets born in the United States, don't look, dress or sound exactly alike. Their personalities range from witty to introspective.

There's playful Devin, the eldest by a few seconds. Logical Ian just invented an automatic breakfast-maker. Shira, the only girl, is the diplomat. Michael is artistic. And Elliot's known as "Mr. GQ" for his natty dress.

The quints have been "five distinct individuals from the day they walked into the school," says Barbara Cronin, principal of Belmont Elementary School in Olney. "It would be easy to lump that many children together, but as they keep growing they're becoming more and more individuals of their own."

Or as Elliot puts it: "If we weren't all different, then things would be pretty boring."

Life hardly has been boring for their parents.

Having survived 1,200 diaper changes a month and wrestling with five car seats at a time, the couple now faces five preteens.

Adolescence will be a real test, says Dr. Elizabeth Bryan, director of the Multiple Births Foundation in London: "The times that are most difficult are when they are 2 and when they are teen-agers, both times when they need individual attention."

The potential for emotional conflicts will be high, says Dr. Juarlyn L. Gaiter, an Atlanta psychologist who studied the Pisner quints until six years ago. "They're going to have to realize . . . that they can't do everything together," he says. "It may be a crucial milestone."

Chaos theory

Adds their pediatrician, Dr. Marvin N. Tabb of Silver Spring: "One thing is for sure: Things are going to be chaotic with five teen-agers in the same house."

The chaos already has begun.

The Pisner's five-bedroom colonial house in a middle-class subdivision is filled virtually round the clock with shrieks and laughter. At any given moment, at least two quints can be found in their backyard pool. Three basement couches are favorite jumping spots. A steady stream of neighborhood friends -- more children -- ring the doorbell after school until bedtime. Every 15 minutes or so, the phone rings.

Unceasing is the steady chatter of voices in the family room, beeps from Nintendo games, din from the television and the nightly homework during the school year.

The quints -- split between two sixth-grade classes last school year -- were loaded down with schoolwork. Almost every night was spent in front of one of the family's three computers. One book report a month per child isn't so bad, but multiply that by five. That's 45 projects each school year -- for just reading, not math, science or history.

"I get home from work," Mrs. Pisner says, "and that's all we do during the school year, homework, homework and more homework."

But that doesn't really bother the Pisners. "We have always given the kids all of our time," says Pam Pisner, 40.

She gave birth to the quints at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, an event that was reported in newspapers around the world and the "Phil Donahue" and "20/20" television shows. She had taken a fertility drug, Pergonal.

"I remember telling Dan, 'Honey, it's a litter,' " she recalls of viewing a sonogram showing five fetuses. The children were born two months premature, but healthy.

Donors across the country chipped in cribs, diapers and baby formula. More than 20 volunteers took shifts feeding the babies. A local construction company knocked down a wall in the family's townhouse to make room for five cribs. The family received free passes to Walt Disney World.

But 12 years later, the gifts have long ended, and the volunteers have been replaced by a paid helper and a gaggle of neighborhood preteens eager to hang out with the Pisners.

For now, the quints share the same group of friends and a common love of baseball. But each has started to show signs of going his or her own way. "Now the center of their universe is changing," their mother says. "They each have their own activities and friends to hang out with."

Devin still plays baseball, but he's showing more interest in girls. "Some girls are pretty cute and cool to hang out with," he says. "They're just hard to talk to sometimes."

Ian's dreaming up his next invention. "I usually get most of my ideas . . . from reading and looking at pictures in magazines," he says. "When I see a picture of a computer or something, I think, hey, I could make that, too."

Shira likes the telephone

Shira likes talking on the phone -- and playing softball. "My parents make sure that we each get to spend time with them," she says. "Sometimes they bring me a teddy home or just a trip to the store that the others don't go on, and those things make each of us feel like we're the only child for a second."

Michael will go to a drawing camp at Montgomery College this summer. "Maybe someday I'll be an architect and build buildings and houses for people," he says.

Elliot wants to fly but first has to overcome his fear of heights. "My turquoise wall in my room reminds me of the ocean," he says, "maybe oceans I'll fly over someday when I'm a pilot."

Their parents are philosophical about the looming expenses of clothes, cars and college. Now, the cost of quints -- $600 a year for athletic shoes alone -- consumes their combined salaries. Mr. Pisner, 41, is a computer network manager at Global Management Systems Inc. in Bethesda. Mrs. Pisner is a secretary for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Rockville.

A family friend spared the family the cost of braces for four children. Each will have to get a job to pay for insurance if they want to drive at 16. The quintuplets' bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvah loom as a big expense next year.

"There's no money to put away," Mrs. Pisner says while stacking one of four daily loads of laundry. "Everything we make now goes into them to keep a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food on our table."

Mr. Pisner sighs, "We'll just do what we can.

"We look back in retrospect on the toddler years and say, 'Whew, we made it through those dirty diapers and bottles,' and we ask ourselves how did we do it. And then we look at the five kids again and realize that it's never over."

Understand pressures

The Pisner children say they understand the pressures on their parents and try to help as much as possible.

But as with any siblings, they often descend into arguments, and rubber bands, pens, socks and Nintendo cartridges end up strewn about the family room floor.

Some things are getting easier, though.

The quints' energy levels are starting to level out. They used to be in constant motion, the couple says. Now they at least will slow down to eat.

"Every stage has had its easy and hard parts, but the only year I wouldn't want to go back to is the first year," Mr. Pisner says. "So many people warned us about the terrible twos, but they weren't so bad.

"I think the teen-age years will be another warning time, and I think this time they will be right. Things will be chaotic."

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