Call it Grand Central Station, a juggling act or a sleep-deprivation experiment. Chris and Vivian van Gorder prefer four names for the massive upheaval their northwest Waco home has undergone.
The van Gorder quadruplets, Clare Raquel, Grace Helen Sophia, Tristan Markus Peter and Erik Timo Rieley, have moved from temporary quarters at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center to their permanent address, an 1,850-square-foot house in a neighborhood that now bustles with well-wishers, friends from church, remodelers and drop-ins bearing gifts.
Eleven people were claiming space in the three-bedroom abode Tuesday, including Chris and Vivian van Gorder, their four new arrivals, and three school-age siblings. Michael van Gorder, Chris’ 22-year-old son, was holding one baby, then another, as was Vivian’s mother, Charity Ezeike, originally from Nigeria, who does what grandparents do when little ones need attention.
That tally did not include carpenters Randall Hodges and his son, Shannon Hodges, both with Tender Loving Home Care. They are creating much-needed additional space for storage, a washer and dryer, a laundry room and a half-bath. They started the project about two weeks before Vivian raced to the hospital expecting to deliver triplets, only to have a fourth baby join the party.
The Van Gorders said they priced larger homes in China Spring but postponed a move, in part, because they love their neighborhood.
Their babies are healthy, gaining weight and bathed in love and attention. They sleep and sleep some more, oblivious to puppies frolicking on the big-screen TV, conversation, birds hopping on a well-worn wooden deck, and the polite volunteering of their siblings, eagerly awaiting instruction when they are unsure how to help mom and dad.
“Our biggest challenge is finding time to sleep,” Vivian van Gorder said.
She met Chris while he was on a mission trip in West Africa. Chris van Gorder hails from Pittsburgh, moved to Waco about 15 years ago, and teaches in the religion department at Baylor University. He is writing his 10th book, this one about Muslim immigrants and their impact on Germany.
“I don’t see how she does it,” Chris van Gorder said, nodding toward his wife.
She smiled for a photographer while embracing her child, dispelling any notion she had grown weary of the pace or the many visitors.
“We’ve been touched by everyone’s gracious hospitality,” Chris van Gorder wrote in a letter. “Countless Baptists, Mennonites, and neighbors have lent a helping hand. Some days someone will drop off a meal or take one of our kids out of the house, or hold babies, or some other task. One person mailed a gift card that arrived just as we had run out of formula. … Diapers are being changed at a cartoonish-pace. Someone brought over a plate of chocolate chip cookies at the exact moment we thought we were going to pull out our hair.”
The Van Gorders attend Hope Fellowship, a Mennonite congregation, and already had children ages 11, 9 and 4 in the house before learning of Vivian’s unplanned pregnancy. The head count proved to be yet another shock.
Vivian and Chris find themselves sleeping in three-hour shifts. They rouse from slumber to tend to the babies’ needs. Volunteers, acquaintances and Sunday school classes all fill gaps in time and energy. They arrive with laps and shoulders and supper at the ready. Chris said he and his wife marvel at the hospitality they have been shown.
Chris van Gorder said his research shows the quadruplets will have gone through 18,000 changes by the time they graduate from diapers. The daily rate for stays in the neonatal ICU was $3,000 per child, but the Van Gorders have insurance.
“We are beginning to receive bills, but I’m not in any hurry to open them,” Chris van Gorder said. “As I said when the quadruplets were first born, God does have a sense of humor. But I’m laughing a little less at the continuous jokes. We’re taking things one day at a time, one evening at a time.”
Meg Wallace, with Hope Fellowship, has taken a hands-on approach to assigning tasks to volunteers.
She prepared an assignment sheet, which says, in part, “The babies are fed every three hours, at 2, 5, 8 and 11 a.m. and p.m. Volunteers will come 15 minutes before the feeding time and stay up to two hours, depending on how long it takes to top everyone off. Once the babies are fed and changed, please say your goodbyes so the family can rest before the next round.”
The Hawaiian Falls water park in Waco has issued the Van Gorder family summer passes. The religion department at Baylor University is taking donations to buy Walmart gift cards. James Kruth, a salesman with Don Ringler Automotive in Temple, made sure a gleaming, jet-black 2018 Chevrolet Suburban was available to pick up the Van Gorder quads when they were released from the hospital. He also made the vehicle available in trade for an eight-passenger van the Van Gorders had bought when expecting triplets.
Eventually, Vivian van Gorder will resume her pursuit of a master’s degree in business administration from Tarleton State University. Chris van Gorder is teaching this summer but hopes to take a break during the fall semester.
“I’m not complaining, but I do ask for your prayers,” Chris van Gorder wrote in his letter. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. What is most amazing to me is how Vivian stays on her feet. I cannot imagine how she can handle this without depression and with no sound sleep, other than cat-naps or breaks when visitors shoo her to bed instead of talking. Looking into the faces I know the ‘right thing’ to say is we are grateful to God, and that is true. But that is also a big-picture feeling. Mainly, we are just tired.
“Only 18 more years to high school graduation.”