IT’S A CHILLY Saturday at the First Assembly of God church in upstate Marcy, New York, but the commotion seems more like Christmas morning. And from the looks of it, the turnout is better. Jon and Kate Gosselin, the darlings of Jon & Kate Plus 8 — the TLC reality show chronicling their lives raising a set of twins and sextuplets — aren’t scheduled to appear for another hour, but the parking lot is already packed.
The crowd is more than 500 strong: silver-haired matrons, stroller-pushing moms, college girls in sweatshirts, kids in tees emblazoned with photos of the Gosselins, the occasional unlucky boyfriend or husband, dragging his feet like it’s the first day of school. Many have traveled for hours, paying $10 to snap a fuzzy picture, get an autograph, and adore America’s Favorite Parents in person; many will buy up Jon and Kate’s best-selling book, Multiple Blessings: Surviving to Thriving With Twins and Sextuplets, from an impromptu Barnes & Noble kiosk.
The pastor delivers a blustery introduction about how marriage and family are under attack, and how Jon and Kate represent our political mantra of the day, hope. In flawless makeup, stylish jeans and a gray sweater, Kate takes the stage (no Jon today, turns out), looking more like a 20-something headed for a date than the 33-year-old mom whose brood has made her a cable phenomenon. Perched on a stool and looking down at the sea of wide-eyed fans below her, she launches into the practiced spiel: how she and her IT analyst husband from Wyomissing, two miles west of Reading, just wanted a family, and ended up — through fertility treatments, luck and prayer — with a modern Brady Bunch. She describes her resolve not to selectively abort any of the embryos; how Jon’s miserly employer laid him off because he didn’t want to insure all those kids; and the early days in survival mode, trying to feed eight mouths and standing in line for heating assistance. “We had no van … no car seats … no cribs, we didn’t have room in our house, we had no income,” she sniffles, and her fans nod in sympathy. They’ve watched. They know.
Well, sort of. What they know is the reality-show version of the Gosselin family, the funhouse-mirror reflection of what life is like for parents who suddenly find themselves with eight children and cameras rolling. Because there is another story behind the 80-plus episodes of family vacations, potty training and amusement park escapades, and it’s not so warm and cuddly.
JON AND KATE were an ordinary couple thrust into an extraordinary circumstance: six babies in three minutes. When the sextuplets were born on May 10, 2004, at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the media swooned, dubbing the tiny babies the “Hershey Kisses.” Kate’s well-worn sob story on the speaking circuit notwithstanding, neighbors and businesses donated diapers and strollers and gift cards to Sam’s Club; before the whole family went home, the NBC remodeling reality show Home Delivery did over the couple’s small Wyomissing house to make room for six more.