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It's a family affair

When Gregory Potter's family goes out, they get a reaction

To the surprise of some, left-leaning Seattle is downright traditional when it comes to families.

Seattle is the No. 1 city in the nation for kids living in a nuclear family. Nearly three-quarters of the 100,000 children in Seattle live with two married parents, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

Still, families here aren’t big. In Seattle, the average family size is 2.88 people. That’s smaller on average than the rest of the state and the country.

So while it’s routine to see two parents strolling through Whole Foods with a toddler or maybe two, it’s a bit more unusual to see a family like Gregory Potter’s.

The Renton warehouse manager is the father of five girls under 5 years old, including two sets of twins. His wife La’faye Johnson, who works as a craft store manager, gave birth to the youngest little ladies a few months ago.

During the baby boom, a family of four or more kids didn’t raise an eyebrow. Nowadays, when Potter’s family goes out together, they get a reaction.

“Everywhere we go, jaws hit the floor,” he said.

Potter always wanted a large family. Sometimes it’s no picnic caring for two infants, potty-training two toddlers and making sure his eldest daughter gets the attention she needs. It’s tough to keep the house tidy. He and his wife surround the girls with positive people, and they lean on their church for support and guidance. His daughters don’t have all the latest doodads, but they have what they need.

He doesn’t regret it. His voice warms when he talks about his daughters, how he learns from them daily and relishes time spent with each.

“It makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing, even when you’re stressed out and trying to make ends meet,” he said.

Matina Fresenius, a former software entrepreneur, is raising her five children alone. She, too, feels the reaction from Seattleites not used to seeing a big family. For some reason, people can’t help but make a comment: “Are they all yours?” “Boy, you’ve got your hands full.” “I’m sure glad it’s you and not me.” “Are they natural?” “Didn’t you read the instructions on the birth control?”

Matina Fresenius doesn't think that it's any more difficult to parent five kids than one.

People say kind things too — that her children are beautiful and well-behaved. And once a woman told her: “It make be hard now, but wait until you see your Thanksgiving table later.”

She doesn’t want anyone’s pity. She loves being a mom and doesn’t think it’s any more difficult to parent five children than one. Other parents think it must be so much more difficult to care for so many children, but she just sees exponential love. In fact, she finds some things easier. For instance, her kids often entertain themselves. When her twins were babies, she could sit each in high chairs facing each other with a handful of Cheerios — and the two would happily entertain each other tossing them back and forth.

She loves the warm, joyous, relaxed feeling of a larger family. She used to not want any children at all, and it surprised her how much she loves being a mom:

“I love the interaction, being able to be a part of helping a little one see the fun and different things in the world.” For her, that might mean taking the kids to the park to examine bugs or crawl through the sand.

Her children may not have all the material advantages of their peers, but they have other advantages. Through sheer necessity, her kids have learned self-sufficiency. They dress themselves, pack their own lunches and take care of their own things. Because money has to stretch, her kids have learned to do without the fancy gadgets many of their friends own. Instead, they invent their own games, shop at the thrift store and help with housework. There’s a routine, or nothing would ever get done.

She said she’s become a better person — a person who knows when to ask for help and is ready to offer it, too. She relishes the small things in life and takes one day at a time.

“I’m going to make today happy,” she said. “I’m going to make today work, and we’re going to wake up tomorrow and make that a new day.”

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