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Five Years in One

Family: As the Quezada quintuplets approach their first birthday, it's usually their mother who's the one and only.

February 06, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Are they all yours?

Marcella Quezada is barraged with that question every time she ventures out into the world with her two strollers--a triple and a double--for a quick bit of shopping, a visit to a medical clinic or a TV talk show.

"Yes they are," this mother of quintuplets always answers with a smile, beaming with a sense of pride and a countenance that would make Job, in comparison, seem like a type A personality.

On Friday, the Quezada quintuplets--Andrew, Kimberly, Patricia, Raymond and Tiffany--will celebrate their first birthday. The cake, of course, should go to their parents, Marcella and Ramon, a West Hills couple for whom this has been a year of parental joys times five, but also interrupted sleep, intense media attention, teething, financial worries, a complete restructuring of their daily lives and all those questions from marveling strangers.

Don't you have help? "Almost none."

Have you gotten a lot of donations? "No."

Will you have more kids? An emphatic "No."

After spending even a short amount of time in the quints' 8-by-8-foot playroom--a carpeted former bedroom in their home where Marcella Quezada spends most of every day, alone, with the kids--all questions pale in comparison to:

How do you make it through the day?

Quezada, 27, laughs as she picks up a fussing Tiffany and simultaneously reaches over to grab a bottle cap Andrew has found.

"You get used to it," she says, "you really do. You just do what has to be done.

"My husband and I, we both wanted kids. Now we have them and we love them. That's what keeps us going."

Tiffany climbs out of her mother's arms and falls over her sleeping sister, Patricia, who does not seem to notice. Raymond demonstrates with a joyous shriek how he has learned to take the top off the toy box. Kimberly happily crumples pieces of notebook paper and Andrew heads toward Tiffany with the clear intent of pulling her hair.

And so it goes all day long: They stumble over each other. They shriek and grab each others' toys. They vie for mom's attention and crawl toward any item they can put in their mouths.

"Sometimes," Quezada says, "I think what it would be like if I had only three."

Not long after the babies came home, the Quezadas did get help from a couple of volunteers. "But they only came once or twice and then never came back," Marcella Quezada says. "I don't know if it was too hard for them, or if they just wanted to get in to see the quints and used this as an excuse."

Marcella's mother, father and brother lived with them and helped for several weeks, but they have since moved to Las Vegas. Ramon's sister lives with them now, but like Ramon she works all day. Most of the rest of his family is in Mexico.

Only on Tuesdays does Quezada stretch her family budget to hire a baby sitter. That's when she and the sitter pack up all the kids and take Patricia, who has some muscle stiffness problems, to a clinic for physical therapy.

More hired help is out of the question on Ramon's modest earnings as a truck driver for a delivery company. But this one-woman day care operator believes going solo is all for best.

"I actually wanted to take care of them myself," says Quezada, who before becoming pregnant with the aid of fertility drugs was a McDonald's manager.

"If the kids got used to more people always being around, they would expect that. This way they have to learn to share everything, including their parents."

Asked if she had any advice for the Hermosa Beach couple who had quints last month, she says that organization is key.

"Start a pattern, always doing the same things at the same time," she advises. "Eating, diapers, bed, baths, all on a schedule. Then they expect things will happen at a certain time."

She also advised the couple not to bank on a wave of donations. The Quezadas are grateful to have received a used van from a construction company, child car seats from a group of hospital employees, motorized swing chairs from a baby store and food from various baby food companies.

But the days are long gone when having quints meant instant fortune for a family. The Quezadas did sign a deal with a child talent agency, but little has come of efforts to get them appearances in commercials or on TV shows.

Marcella bartered with talk shows for a few items--most notably, they were given the strollers in return for a visit to the now-defunct Marilu Henner show.

In the weeks after the births reporters descended on the family in droves and Quezada says she and they welcomed the attention, hoping it would help them in getting commercial appearances.

Even though that didn't work out, she rarely turns down a request for an interview. "I didn't think it was fair to allow them at first and then not allow them to come back," she says.

But there is another reason she doesn't mind reporters interrupting the day.

"Sometimes," she says, "it makes the time go faster."

There is ample evidence in the home that whatever time she does have, she uses efficiently. The one-story house is immaculate.

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