SCOTT SIMON, host:
Mother's Day may be a little lonelier for Cheryl Torline this year, if no less joyous. Twenty years ago, February 9, 1989, she gave birth to three daughters and a son on the same day. Years before all the publicity and public moralizing about Octomom, the births of Cheryl and Joe Torline's children made the news in nearby Louisville, Kentucky.
Unidentified Woman: The Torline quadruplets came a little early - about two months - but the Scottsburg, Indiana family doesn't mind. The babies are all in neonatal intensive care at Coshare(ph) Children's Hospital. Their names - in order of their arrival - Eric, Allison, Vanessa and Melanie.
Ms. ALLISON TORLINE: Okay. I'm Allison Torline.
Mr. ERIC TORLINE: Eric Torline.
Ms. MELANIE TORLINE: Melanie Torline.
Ms. VANESSA TORLINE: Vanessa Torline.
SIMON: But the media just can't get it right, can we? Actually, Melanie entered the world just after Eric. They were perilously small at birth, each weighing just below or above two pounds, and spent their first three months in intensive care. Once they were home, the Torline living room became a nursery.
Cheryl developed a color code system to keep track of the 12 to 14 bottles of infant formula that each baby had to drink every day. Friends and neighbors helped out, but Cheryl Torline remembers getting exactly one free box of diapers per child. No (unintelligible) freebies from diaper or toy companies, no free station wagon from a local car dealer.
Cheryl and Joe already had a six-year-old daughter named Amber. Joe recalls…
Mr. JOE TORLINE: She said, you know, I've prayed and prayed and prayed for a little brother, little sister. She said, I think I prayed too hard.
SIMON: The Torlines declared a family-wide National Amber Day several times a year to lavish attention on their oldest daughter so that she didn't get overlooked next to the multiple demands of quadruplets.
(Soundbite of kids playing)
SIMON: Watching a home movie of the Torline quads on an indoor teeter-totter surrounded by dazzled and adoring relatives gives a glimpse of the closeness and chaos of growing up as a quartet.
(Soundbite of kids playing)
SIMON: Twenty years later, the Torline quads are completing their freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington - a great state school with a diverse student body of 31,000, where the Torlines are persons of interest because of the remarkableness of each being one of four.
Do you ever feel like you're just melting into a group and not counting for anything individually?
Mr. E. TORLINE: I don't think so much. You know, we all have very different interests, we all don't look alike at all.
Ms. A. TORLINE: I think we personally, like, each of us fought against that and made sure that didn't happen. You know, we stood out for whatever personality traits or interests we had, you know, fashion, politics, whatever it is. There's always a time where we disagree, so we just make sure that we would never melt into, like, one being. We're all individuals.
SIMON: The Torline quadruplets are not identical in appearance - three have dark hair, one is a blonde - but they have the same bright, cheerful, tooth whitener ad smile and they're often dressed alike as children, because it as easier for their mother to buy four shirts in one style than choose four different ones.
Still, the children squirm to recall when their mother dressed them in matching sailor suits or as different colored M&M candies on Halloween. The quadruplets share a love of musical theatre, but at school in Bloomington, Allison says she's interested in political science and possibly law. Vanessa is an English major and has been writing theater reviews for the Indiana student daily newspaper, most recently the college production of "Oklahoma."
Ms. V. TORLINE: The often-performed well-loved musical is embraced by this production. Director and choreographer George Penny does a lot to give an "Oklahoma" that is fresh and still remains true to the simplicity implemented by the creators.
SIMON: Melanie is studying visual art and sculpture. Eric studies music and has recently been accepted into the university's prestigious Jacob School of Music.
(Soundbite of voice exercises)
SIMON: He studies voice privately.
(Soundbite of voice exercises)
Unidentified Man: Good. (unintelligible) bottom, go all the way up and over.
(Soundbite of voice exercises)
SIMON: The Torlines live in Madison, Indiana now. Cheryl is an administrative assistant at Hanover College. Joe Torline is an operating partner at the Baby Back Blues Barbeque in nearby Columbus. Their oldest daughter, Amber, had left home years earlier, so one day last fall the Torlines went from having a house brimming with rambunctious, friendly, musical children to a quiet empty nest in a single day.
Ms. CHERYL TORLINE: It was a really quiet for a little bit and it's still quiet. We really look forward to them coming home.
SIMON: When you say it's really quiet, is that a way of saying it's really sad?
Ms. C. TORLINE: Yeah, it's kind of sad. But any time I feel sad I just think about all the things that they're learning and doing. And we worried for so long about how they would get to go to school. We neither one went to college. And we didn't want them to graduate with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans.
Ms. C. TORLINE: And that kind of thing. So it's…
Mr. J. TORLINE: And you think of, yes, four went to college, but imagine four of them, each of them have anywhere between one to four friends over at the house at a time, so do the math on that. You know, so we really went from an empty house.
SIMON: Torline children are able to attend college because of Indiana's 21st Century Scholars Program. They keep their scholarships to Indiana University or any state school as long as they maintain good grades and good behavior, which includes not drinking or using any drugs. Allison, Eric, Melanie and Vanessa have signed pledges agreeing to abide by those rules every year since the eighth grade. They know that just a single curious sip of alcohol could lead to paying for a mighty expensive drink.
Perhaps because their children now seem so healthy and happy, Joe Torline remembers the anxieties he and his wife had almost 21 years ago. They wanted a second child but couldn't seem to have one. They received treatments at a fertility clinic and learned that Cheryl Torline was pregnant.
Mr. J. TORLINE: The story goes, their doctor was in Indianapolis, and when you first went back to the doctor, came back and said how many?
Ms. C. TORLINE: Yeah, three the first time. Every time I went back they increased it by one, but…
Mr. J. TORLINE: And I finally went on, what, the third trip? I made a trip up and told the doctor, I said, we're not coming back if you keep finding more kids.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. J. TORLINE: That's enough. But they also talked at that point in time about what they call selective reduction.
Mr. J. TORLINE: Where they could've went in and we could've just said, yes, let's reduce it. No. At no time did we ever consider that.
Mr. J. TORLINE: Well, it's just we did want children. If we were blessed with the fact of having - whether it's one, two, three, four, it's God's will. Who would you have eliminated: Eric, Allison, Vanessa, Melanie?
Ms. C. TORLINE: I probably entertained the thought more than he did, just because our first child was premature and I thought there's no way I can carry four. But I look at them now and I think what if we would've got rid of that one?
Ms. C. TORLINE: You know? But we are just really blessed and fortunate they're all, that they all turned out healthy. They were not supposed to be.
SIMON: The Torline children have spent their lifetime singing together. Now that they're in college, they feel out of practice. As we interviewed Cheryl and Joe Torline in the lounge of Vanessa's dormitory, the children were upstairs rehearsing a surprise.
Mr. E. TORLINE: One, two, three, four…
TORLINE CHILDREN: (Singing) 525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? How about love…
Mr. E. TORLINE: Oh, I can't say it, either.
Unidentified Woman #1: What'd you do?
Mr. E. TORLINE: Is it me or is it you?
Unidentified Woman #1: It's you.
Mr. E. TORLINE: I don't know.
Unidentified Woman #2: Just be confident and do it.
Mr. E. TORLINE: No, I got it.
Unidentified Woman #1: Okay, fine.
Mr. E. TORLINE: I got it.
Unidentified Woman #2: Are you sure?
TORLINE CHILDREN: (Singing) In 525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? How about…
SIMON: Allison, Eric, Melanie, and Vanessa Torline, just finishing their freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington. You can see a photo album and home movies of the Torlines at our Web site, npr.org.
TORLINE CHILDREN: (Singing) Measured in love. Seasons of love. Seasons of love.
SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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