A few months ago, I had coffee and cake with Sue and Jimmy Marchetta and their three 12-year-olds. I wondered: What's it like being a triplet, or parenting them? Their short answer was that it is completely normal. They've never known any other family configuration.
Here above are Jaclyn, James, and Christine, back in 1996. (The picture below is from 2007.) Since kindergarten, they've always been in the same class. "That was to make it easier for me," Sue says. "Tests weren't on three different days." But the kids never clung to each other, and have their own sets of friends.
Their personalities varied from the get go (not surprising since they are as genetically different as any other siblings are to one another.) "The oldest, Christine, was always waking up in the middle of the night. She's still feisty. I really believe kids are born the way they are going to be. These are three people who did the same thing, ate the same thing, and slept in the same bedroom. And they are so different."
James sees the humor in situations. Christine's a gregarious explainer. Jaclyn is a quiet observer. "Jaclyn cleaned her pencil case every day for three years," James said.
I asked James if he wished he'd had a brother. "No, I wish I were an only child," he said. "Jaclyn and I get along. But me and Christine don't."
"It's getting worse every day," Sue said.
"I get dragged to their friend's birthday parties," James went on.
"James was at a party out in the Hamptons, and he was the only boy," Sue said. "I told him, ‘One day, you're going to appreciate this.'"
Christine offered up a positive point: "We're never bored. We have friends who are only children, and they don't have anyone to hang out with." Is she competitive with her sister and brother when it comes to grades? "Sometimes I don't even ask what they get on tests," she answered.
"For a long time," Sue said, "I wouldn't let them look at each other's report cards."
"You'd leave them right on the couch!" said James. "I'd always go look at them."
"What about this year?" Sue said, looking around the table. "Did everybody look at each other's report cards?"
"Yes!" said Jaclyn, Christine, and James, in unison.
Having same-aged siblings close by can be helpful, annoyances aside. Last year, the Marchettas moved to Garden City, Long Island, from Queens. "When they were new to the school," Jimmy said, "James had a problem. A kid jumped out of nowhere and put him into a headlock. He's not a fighting kind of person."
"I went and told a teacher," said Christine. "I didn't want him to get hurt."
The best part of having triplets, said Jimmy, who is a hospital pharmacist, is that all three children are on the same level, meaning he never has to tailor conversation to different reasoning capabilities. "We were in the car one day when they were 7," Jimmy said. "Jaclyn said, ‘I don't understand this Santa Claus thing. How could he get inside all of the houses in one night?' And James turned to her and said, "Jaclyn, it's magical. Just leave it alone.' It really let us off the hook."
Looking back, Sue regrets not giving each child more "alone" time with his or parents. "We were always a unit. I remember one day, when Jaclyn was just four, she stayed home from preschool because she was a little sick. I took her shopping and it was very memorable for her. She kept talking about it. I realized it was because her siblings weren't there."
As close as the family is, these children are—by necessity—not coddled. "We had a party when they were toddlers, for our friends and their families," Jimmy said. "One of the mothers called Sue and said, ‘What are you making for the kids?' Sue didn't understand the question, because our kids always ate what we ate; salmon or shrimp, what have you. We just didn't have time to cater to them, to make them separate meals."
"And whenever we went to someone else's house," Sue added, "they weren't the type to sit in our laps. They jumped right in and mingled. I remember their grandmother always wanted to pick them up, and I would tell her, ‘Don't do that too much, I don't want them to get used to that. I can't hold three babies all day!'"
The Marchettas were getting ready to go to the Triplets Convention in Niagara Falls, their fourth time attending the event. "It's nice to see the same families year after year," Jimmy said. "We may not know them that well, but we all relate instantly. Whereas, when some father of a single child complains to me about how hard it is to have a newborn, I think, ‘You're talking to the wrong guy.'"