Three of a kind

Scott Swanson

Katrina Long was told she couldn’t have children, so she was delighted when she learned, in 1992, that an attempt at en vitro fertilization had developed into a pregnancy – triplets.

She’d already had a son, Jason, four years before, but she and her husband Gilbert were interested in a bit larger family.

Little did they know what they were in for.

“Life has never been the same,” Katrina said, as her 17-year-old triplets Matthew, Patrick and Kaitlyn prepare to graduate this week from Sweet Home High School.

The three are headed to Oregon State University in the fall, where they will enter ROTC programs – Matthew in the Air Force, Kaitlyn in the Navy, and Patrick in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“We’ve grown up around (the military),” Kaitlyn said. “Our dad was a veteran and we always watched those war movies.”

Gilbert served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and Katrina says his biggest regret was that he got out when he did.

“That’s probably rubbed off on them,” said Katrina, noting that Jason is also in an ROTC program, headed to the Air Force where he will train to be a fighter pilot.

When they graduate and move to an apartment in Corvallis, it will be the end of a big job, she said.

“You have to do everything in triplicate,” said Katrina, a bookkeeper based at their home in Crawfordsville, where they moved from Southern California when the triplets were 2 months old. “When they register for school, you have to do it three times. When you pay for all of it, you do it three times. We knew it was going to be expensive, but you tell yourself not to worry about that – it’s way in the future. It was kind of scary, but like any parent, you do what it takes to get what they need. You kind of sell your soul to the devil.”

When they were little, she said, they went through 528 jars of baby food per month and $100 worth of diapers.

“Now it’s just $70 tennis shoes,” Katrina said.

It’s been a group effort, though the triplets say they aren’t necessarily as close as some multiple-birth children, who seem to be able to read each other’s minds.

Still, they’ve had their moments.

Kaitlyn remembers the junior high test in which she and Matthew missed the same questions – exactly.

When they were 3, they had their own language – unintelligible to the rest of the family, but apparently making complete sense within their own little circle.

“They knew what they were saying, but we didn’t have a clue,” Katrina said. “They would talk back and forth to each other and one would get what the other wanted. They could communicate.”

They stand up for each other too.

When they were in kindergarten, a boy named Zach Jackson decided he wanted to sit next to Kaitlyn.

“The boys came home and said, ‘Mom, some boy’s sitting next to our sister and we don’t like it,’” Katrina said.

The three said the fact that they’re the same age has helped them stick together.

“We go through the same things and we help each other out,” Kaitlyn said. “Most kids have older or younger siblings so they don’t understand. But it’s also easier not to get along very well.”

Being the same age can pay off at crunch time in school, Matthew said.

“When we all have a test on the same day, we sit down together and study,” he said. “It gives us more motivation – you have your partner right there.”

“The competition between us helps us to excel,” Patrick added.

At school they tend to associate with their own friends, though they do have a common group.

“You usually don’t find us together a lot at school,” Patrick said.

“I think we have the same group of friends, but we also tend to have friends who are just ours too,” Kaitlyn added.

They said that their relationship with their older brother is really not much different than with each other.

“Usually, he’ll get two of them with him and gang up on one of us,” Patrick said.

“One day, two of us will be best friends and then the next day we’ll switch around.”

When the three of them “get going at each other – and they do, the arguments get a little intense,” their mother said. “Some days they love each other and other days they don’t.”

She said the boys are still “extremely protective” of their sister.

“She’ll say she’s going to the movies with some boy and they’ll say, ‘Nope, you’re not going with him; he’s no good.’”

When they were young, there was the sleeping issue – if they weren’t together, it wasn’t happening.

“Kaitlyn would go to her Grandma’s to spend the night and the boys would say they couldn’t sleep without her. They were used to hearing each other breathing. It was weird.”

“They would all sleep at the same time, all eat at the same time. It wasn’t too bad until they started walking.”

Things were never dull.

“Matthew was Houdini. He could escape from anywhere,” she said.

When they were little, they would get into cabinets, like any other toddlers, and pull the contents out onto the floor.

“We’d get two and one would be loose,” their mother said. “What one couldn’t think of, the other two would. Throw Jason into the mix and you can forget it.”

One of their favorite tricks was to hide in a wood storage cabinet.

“I’d look for five, 10, 15 minutes, go outside, then I’d hear a giggle,” Katrina said. “There was a lot of butt-paddling going on.”

Though they are a little younger than most of the rest of the graduating class, because their late-August birthdays allowed them to squeeze in behind the cutoff date, when they got older they decided they were interested in sports. Neither parent was big into athletics, though Katrina played tennis and basketball when she was in school, and Jason stuck to soccer.

Patrick, in particular, wanted to play football and started with the Boys and Girls Club when he was in fifth grade. He and Matthew both played through high school.

“They tried baseball and wrestling, but football was it,” Katrina said.

Kaitlyn got interested in dance and pursued that in junior high and high school. As juniors and seniors in high school, they all competed in track and field, which was the first sport they participated in together, they said.

They have three very distinct personalities, “three separate goals,” their mother said.

Patrick, the most athletic, is very stand-offish, socially.

“If he gives you a hug, it’s on his terms,” Katrina said. “When Patrick was about 3, he was sitting on his great-aunt’s lap and she wanted a kiss. He hauled off and punched her in the face.

“Matthew’s the exact opposite. He can’t go to bed if he’s in trouble without getting a hug first.”

Kaitlyn is a “social butterfly” who “really cares about other people.”

She plans to study medicine and be a doctor in the Navy.

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since I was little,” Kaitlyn said.

All three have GPA’s above 3.00, with Patrick on top at 3.5, they said.

“Patrick likes to rub it in that he has the best GPA, but I took all honors classes, so that made a difference,” Kaitlyn said.

Patrick has been a member of the county Search and Rescue youth program for two years and he and Matthew were involved in the Civil Air Patrol before that, Patrick for several years, he said.

Katrina said she expects them to do well.

“I just tell them to get stationed in really cool places so I can come visit,” she said, noting that the three got a chance to talk to former Sweet Home football star Jerry Farnsworth, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army, when he was in town last week to speak at the Senior Sports Awards Banquet. “It’s nice to see people come from a small town and blossom like that, go far. I have no doubt that these four will do the same thing. They’re very motivated.”

She says they’ve also been careful to steer clear of some of the pitfalls of teenage life.

“They’ve been good kids. They don’t party. We started with them really young about drugs and alcohol and what it can do to you. Oddly enough, they listened.”

She said Gilbert “thinks it’s going to be great when they all leave at the same time.”

Jason will graduate from OSU and head off to fighter pilot training this weekend, the day after the triplets graduate from Sweet Home.

They’re planning a “big old barbecue” Saturday to celebrate, their mother said.

“They are going to live in an apartment over at OSU. They have ROTC, so they’re going to get jobs and be busy. They’ll come home on weekends when they’re hungry.

“They told me I’d never have children. Matthew’s favorite saying is ‘Go big or go home.’ Well, I went big. I can’t even remember life without them.”