WILMONT - For rural Wilmont residents Rob and Gina Newman, it doesn’t really seem possible that more than 18 years of hands-on parenting their fraternal triplet daughters is nearly over.
On Oct. 8, 1999, when Gina safely delivered the three girls - Kelly, Jamie and Brianna were a collective 16 pounds, 15.5 ounces at birth - the parents were more focused on surviving the next round of diaper changes and feedings than how they’d get three children out the door to college simultaneously.
But that day is now in sight. Many parents find it challenging, both logistically and emotionally, to navigate a single child’s senior year of high school. So how are the Newmans coping with three seniors at a time?
The same way they’ve managed at each step of the way: Very carefully.
“My philosophy when they were little was ‘Always be prepared,’” revealed Gina. “That used to mean making bottles the night before and keeping up on laundry.
“The second part of it was ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ So we’d load them up in the van and drive to Colorado to visit relatives, and we’d think, ‘If it’s horrible we’ll just turn around and go home,’” she continued.
Translated to the triplets as teenagers, that meant not waiting until the summer prior to senior year to begin considering college choices, for instance.
“We started looking at colleges before their junior year because with three children, we knew we needed to start early,” said Gina.
The non-stop march of senior year decisions and deadlines - college and scholarship applications, cap and gown orders, senior photos, etc. - also demanded attention when viewed in triplicate.
“We’ve done our best to stay on top of deadlines, but another side to that is learning to control less and letting them figure some things out for themselves,” said Gina.
The journey from the triplets’ birth to young adulthood has been both short and long for the Newmans, who can readily recall details from the girls’ 16 days of hospitalization during their first two weeks of life.
All along that path, the couple has felt supported by friends, relatives and community members who recognized the unique nature of their family unit.
“We’d had them home about five days as newborns when someone from our church - Our Lady of Good Counsel in Wilmont - called and asked, ‘Are you ready for help yet?’” smiled Gina.
“Rob said yes, even though I wanted to handle as much as I could by myself, and then people from church and the community came in twice a day for a while.
“Mostly, I wanted to be sure the girls were held enough, and Rob wanted to make sure I’d take naps,” she added.
“Deb Vaske came and stayed overnight to help with nighttime feedings once in a while, my mother-in-law came at times, and it seemed there was always an extra set of hands available when we needed it.”
The Newmans also recall how area residents have observed their daughters progress from one stage to another.
“They’d be saying, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until their first communion,’ or ‘I can’t wait until they’re confirmed,’ and now it’s ‘I can’t believe they’re seniors already!’” related Gina.
These days, the Newmans are more likely to need a hand towing one of the three girls out of a roadside ditch when ice- and snow-covered highways occasionally slide their cars off course as they scurry to and from Worthington, where they are busy students at Worthington High School.
All three have been in the WHS band (Kelly as a flutist, Jamie as a percussionist and Brianna as a trumpeter and band commander) throughout high school, and all have participated in the WHS musicals in various ways (Jamie was a chorus member through her junior year and portrayed Cinderella in the recent “Into the Woods”; Brianna was a student production assistant and Kelly was a tech crew leader).
Brianna has run with the cross country and track teams for several years, while Kelly and Jamie focused on tennis. Jamie is also a Stingray Swim Team member who will swim in her last regional meet on April 7-8.
Other activities in which the triplets have been involved in various combinations include robotics, student council, jazz band and choir - and they’ve each held part-time jobs, too.
“We figured it’s better to let them be busy than get bored,” laughed Gina. “We’ve just tried to get to their activities and support them as much as we can.”
Through it all, the Newmans have continued their farming operation (Rob, a retired National Guard veteran, shares management of about 800 acres of cropland and 400 head of cattle with his brother Craig), enlisting their trio of girls when needed.
“The kids always helped, especially when it was time to haul grain in the fall, and it will be different without them here; they helped a lot on the farm,” confirmed Gina.
But next fall, the girls have personal plans that will take them away from Wilmont and Worthington.
Two will head to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis (Jamie will study computer science within the College of Science and Engineering, while Kelly intends to major in biology within the School of Liberal Arts), and Brianna will drive west to the South Dakota School of Mines to pursue a degree in civil engineering.
“It will definitely be a different time in our lives, too,” admitted Gina, “but we’re looking forward to a little more ‘date’ time.
“We went to a movie last weekend, and it was the first one we’d been to in about three years, so we’re getting a taste of the freedom to come.”
The Newmans have kept their sanity through all the fun and hassle of raising triplets by remembering that they were “all in and all out at the same time,” as Gina put it.
And there are some benefits of economy that come with having three children in the same place at the same time; instead of three separate graduation parties, for example, they will have only one.
“We actually put up a large garage/machine shed last fall because we needed the storage and figured it was a good time to do it,” said Gina. “We call it our ‘party venue.’”
With a simple party menu in the works, and advance cookie-baking already taking place, the Newmans are sticking with the mottos that have stood them in good stead for the past 18 years: be prepared, and what’s the worst that can happen.
“The anxiety level has risen in the past month, but we know from experience we can get through this, too,” said Gina.
“It’s been a learning process all the way, but we’ve been very blessed to have three really healthy kids - and we know they’ll find their way.”