Michigan couple ‘can’t imagine not having 14 boys’

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Rockford — When Teri Schwandt got pregnant last year, she and husband Jay did what they always do — waited until birth to learn the gender of the baby.

But deep down they already knew.

The Schwandt family poses for a portrait in February in front of their home in Grand Rapids. The only member not pictured is Brandon, 18. The Schwandt family has 13 sons and have welcomed a 14th into the family. The couple's latest addition was born on April 18.

Last month Teri had a boy, like the time before, and the time before that, and the 11 times before that.

For those keeping score, it’s a rout: Boys 14, Girls 0. Their ages range from 2 to 25.

“As crazy as it sounds, I can’t imagine not having 14 boys,” Jay said. “We really don’t know anything else.”

So what will life be like for Vol. 14, Finley Sheboygan Schwandt? (We’ll get to that middle name later.)

Let’s just say it’s a world that has enough testosterone for a Vin Diesel movie, where pink isn’t a color but a concept, where a piece of toast can be weaponized.

It’s a place where every meal features the gentle mayhem of a restaurant kitchen, where getting ready for school is a Byzantine ballet, where one needs a degree in aerospace engineering to chart the schedule of ballgames, school functions and doctor appointments.

But Teri and Jay Schwandt aren’t rocket scientists, Broadway choreographers or celebrity chefs. They’re just a homemaker and land surveyor with enough love to fill the universe.

They said the secret to corralling all those Y chromosomes is patience, prayer, patience, prioritizing and, of course, patience.

“There’s a lot of activity, a lot of commotion, a lot of chaos,” Teri said.

This will likely be their last child, they said. They’re getting older (she’s 42, he’s 43), the pregnancies are getting tougher and, you know, 14 is a lot of kids.

Then again, they said the same thing after No. 13 and No. 12.

The odds of having 14 boys in a row are 1 in 16,000, genetics experts said. By comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in one’s lifetime are 1 in 3,000.

The statistical anomaly runs in Teri’s family. Her sister has 10 children, all boys. The only group that produces men as consistently are the Marines.

Scientists have no idea why some women are more predisposed to have boys or girls. For most couples, it’s a 50-50 proposition.

The Schwandts were high school sweethearts who got married while attending Ferris State University. They live in Rockford, which is just north of Grand Rapids.

They both wanted big families but had different ideas of what that meant. Jay wanted three or four kids. Teri was thinking twice that many.

Then again, she comes from a bigger family. While Jay has one sibling, a sister, Teri is one of 14 children, seven boys and seven girls.

“We’re a super Catholic family,” Tyler, 25, the eldest son, told a newspaper. ‘The kids just keep a’comin.’ ”

Teri quickly got pregnant in college, and after the birth, the couple wanted to have another baby right away so their ages weren’t too far apart. By the time Teri graduated, she had three kids.

The sports-obsessed boys continued multiplying, growing from the size of a basketball starting line-up to a baseball line-up to a football team’s offense or defense.

When a friend asked Teri if she was trying to emulate her mom, she laughed and said she would never have that many kids.

Girl ‘would have been fun’

At first, learning the gender of the children was a happy surprise. Then it turned into a curiosity. Now it just feels anticlimactic.

Teri said she doesn’t mind the lack of a daughter, but Jay suspects otherwise. He has been rooting for a girl for quite a while.

But the later pregnancies weren’t attempts to have a girl, he said. If they were, the couple might be trying forever.

“A girl would have changed the entire dynamic of our household,” he said. “It would have been fun to see that.”

Naming all those kids took some work, the couple said. They called family meetings and had everyone drop names into a pot. Once a smart-aleck proposed “Elmo.”

Another challenge is remembering everyone. When asked the boys’ names, the family, to ensure they don’t forget anyone, lists them in the order of their birth.

It also helps to take a deep breath before reciting the names, which, in chronological order, are Tyler, Zach, Drew, Brandon, Tommy, Vinnie, Calvin, Gabe, Wesley, Charlie, Luke, Tucker, Francisco and Finley.

As for Finley’s middle name, it comes from a play on words involving Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Some people joke the city’s name comes from an Indian chief who thought his pregnant wife, after having all boys, was finally going to have a girl. When the newborn turned out male, the chief announced, “She is a boy again.”

The couple had toyed with using the name earlier but finally pulled the trigger with Finley.

They’re not worried about possible teasing. There are just two times in life when a middle name is mentioned, Jay said. One is at high school graduation.

The other: “When your mom is really angry with you.”

Boys will be boys

So that’s how the Schwandts got to this point, but what is their life like?

Come with us on a visit to Boys Town, where even the family dog, Boomer, is male. This province of princes is inhabited by a frenzied dad, saintly mom and 14 towheaded hellions.

Their brick home, with six bedrooms and four bathrooms, looks like it was hit by a tornado or, in this case, a bunch of whirling dervishes.

Boys are everywhere — draped on couches, hunched over computers, wrestling in the bedroom, throwing a ball in the yard, snitching brownies in the kitchen. Toy planes, trains and automobiles litter the floor.

Shoes are piled near the front door, mosque-like. The driveway looks like a used car lot. The toilet seat appears to be stuck in the up position.

One son wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love having such a large family,” said Drew, 20, who is a student at Central Michigan University. “Anytime we’re all together is a good time.”

If they’re not home, these hooligans in hand-me-downs are roaming their rural neighborhood like a marauding army.

Boys being boys, their lives revolve around sports — watching them, playing them, discussing them, dreaming about them.

Closets are bursting with cleats, basketballs, football helmets, ice skates, hockey pads. The pole barn lost all its windows to hockey pucks.

Groceries are bought by the shopping cartful. Sam’s Club isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.

Spaghetti night for the ravenous brood involves three pounds of pasta. One night, a shepherd’s pie weighed in at 30 pounds.

Ice cream and other treats tend to vanish as quickly as they appear, so the boys learn at an early age to strike fast.

Several of Lisa Garda’s children have attended school with the Schwandt boys (people refer to them as the Schwandt boys, never the Schwandt family) and is amazed how unfailingly polite they all are.

“They’re great kids. Their parents do a great job,” she said.

Looking to the grandkids

Teri has been reduced to an outlier among this burgeoning fraternity.

She is perpetually outvoted on what movies or TV shows to watch. “The Bachelor” is not a household favorite.

The lack of females feels vaguely discriminatory, like a corporate boardroom in the 1950s.

But the ragamuffins aren’t completely without feeling. They sometimes bring their mom dandelions from the yard, touching her heart.

“It’s special because they were thinking of Mom,” she said.

Also, the older boys help with the chores, even changing diapers. They begin doing their own laundry by the sixth grade.

Not as helpful is when they share fart jokes with their younger brethren, or teach them words you would never hear in church.

For the youngest boys, meeting an older brother’s girlfriend for the first time is an exotic adventure.

At first they stare at the interloper as if she was an alien. But, once they become comfortable, they compete with each other to capture the attention of the strange and wondrous creature.

One of those creatures, Bailey Thompson, is now married to one of those hooligans, Tyler.

Thompson had one wish for her new husband. Boys are fine and dandy, she told him, but please, please, please, give me at least one daughter.

Now she is pregnant and, unlike her in-laws, couldn’t wait until birth to learn the gender of the baby.

It seems the first grandchild of Teri and Jay Schwandt, those prodigious producers of boys, will be a girl.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell