The 1970s animated, educational television show “Schoolhouse Rock” touched on many items taught in school. The number three was featured in an episode about math calling it a “magic number.”
Ron and Shawna Holmstrom say they have been blessed by the number three; their triplets Riley, Cloe and Gabe. All are members of the 2020 Clarinda graduating class.
Clarinda High has seen multiple-birth children through the years. Wayne and Nicki Morrison of Yorktown had quadruplets; Cole, Brooke, Jessica and Jeremy graduated in 2003.
Clarinda High had four sets of twins graduate in 2010; Katie and Kory Aldrich; Nick and Tony Card; Amanda and Jacob Walters and Julia and Nicole Lantz. This school year, twins Matthew and Nathan Barnes and Emilee and Ethan Haffner are all juniors.
“We knew it was triplets right away,” Shawna remembers early on in the pregnancy. “We were trying to have one more.” The couple already had son Celby, who was 6 at the time, and is a 2014 Clarinda graduate.
“I went to the doctor by myself for an ultrasound and the nurse said, ‘Oh, there’s two. Oh, there’s three.’ I was happy.”
When Shawna came home to tell Ron the news, “He stood there and looked at me. ‘What?’” she said about his shock-toned response.
One of Shawna’s grandfathers was a twin; the only multiple birth on either side’s family history, as far as they know.
Health-care staff warned the Holmstroms about the potential health complications having triplets including premature delivery and birth defects. It never feared them.
“I carried them to term,” Shawna said about that Jan. 24, 2002, birthdate in Omaha. “The floor nurse that day said in her 30 years of working, multiple births always had to go to the neonatal intensive care unit.”
Riley was born first followed by Gabe and Cloe all in a matter of three minutes. Intensive care was not needed.
Ron and Shawna said there were challenges at home during infancy as feeding them goat milk for two years was better than traditional formula.
“Gabe was first weaned onto a bottle, but that’s how we discovered the allergic reaction to formula,” Ron said. Goat milk was found in Maryville, Missouri.
Knowing the needs for three babies increased the demand and cost, Ron went shopping for bulk deals.
“Triplets weren’t special enough,” he said about purchasing items, like diapers. “If you didn’t have a litter, literally, you didn’t get a deal.” Shawna interrupted.
The Holmstrom triplets were five years after the birth of the seven McCaughey children in Des Moines which brought attention to multiple births and families.
“We had high chairs that turned into swings. Playpens converted into changing tables. It was like a daycare, but we stuck to a routine,” Shawna said.
The toddler and preschool years could see the development of personalities and relationships.
“Riley taught Cloe how to tie shoes. Riley was the mother hen,” Shawna smiled. “We had a thinker, who was Riley, a do-er, who was Gabe, and a lookout. Cloe just looks.”
The three had their occasional toddler moments including making a paste in the bathroom with water and talcum powder. There were also the arguments during childhood, where each one was against the other two.
“They said, ‘Santa is watching you,’” Riley said about her parents’ attempts to end the quarrels.
Preschool was virtually the first time the three were not under parental supervision. Opposite work schedules for Ron and Shawna consistently provided one of them to be home. Having all three leave the house for preschool was not an anxiety-filled moment for the parents.
“I thought I would, but no.” Shawna said.
“It was kind of an ahhhh moment,” Ron said explaining a sigh of relief.
When kindergarten started, the parents intentionally wanted the three in different classrooms. That strategy lasted through grade school.
“We wanted them to be their own person and not be distracted by the other,” Shawna said.
Cloe remembers learning to type her name in first grade.
“I would hold a letter down while thinking of the next letter,” she laughed. “I would then see on the screen a bunch of letter Cs.”
Riley wanted to be friends with Tatiana Schaapherder.
“She left town, but came back in a few years and now we are friends,” she said. Tatiana is also a member of the class of 2020.
Gabe exemplified his parents’ school strategy.
“I didn’t care what they did in elementary. They were girls,” he smiled.
Retired Garfield Elementary teacher Jolinda Gowing can relate to the triplets as her daughter-in-law is a triplet with two brothers.
“I thought it might be harder to have two sisters than two brothers because I heard many times from my husband about growing up the only boy with three sisters. Gabe never seemed bothered by it. I think he enjoyed and appreciated both of his sisters,” she said.
Ron and Shawna also saw how the three changed and interacted as they grew up.
“You notice how different they are and how they interact with each other,” Shawna said. “The girls are different than night and day. Gabe is very intellectual. Even as a little kid, he could care less about cartoons. He wanted the History or Discovery channels.”
Riley and Cloe became fans of “Hannah Montana,” a television show from 2006-2011 about a typical teenage girl during the day who doubled as a famous singer at night.
“I always got outvoted 2-1,” Gabe said about what to watch with his sisters.
The three were always told to collectively decide on how to celebrate the birthdays.
Cloe and Riley have continually shared a bedroom but never exchanged clothes.
“I’ve tried to get my own room over the years,” Riley said naming other places in the house while noting the past arguments she had with Cloe that would result in relocation. A move never happened.
The middle school years revealed even more personalities and demands on the family.
“We had all three of them in braces at the same time,” Ron said. “You have got to be creative over the years about how to get the things they need. There were times when we got things for them the money should have gone to something else.”
The three’s circles of friends would change every so often during middle school. At times, Riley and Cloe had common friends.
“I told Gabe with two sisters in the same grade, ‘You have a chance at a bunch of girlfriends,’” Ron laughed.
Clarinda Middle School teacher Andrew Harris also saw the relationship among the three.
“The Holmstroms each definitely had their own personality traits and interests. All three of them however shared the traits of being courteous, driven in their chosen interests and were all excellent students. They wanted to be their own kid while still embracing the fact that they were the Holmstrom triplets and everyone knew it. They cared about each other and wanted the best for each other,” he said.
The independence from each other continued with high school classes, but not as siblings.
Cloe was hoping Gabe would continue playing in the band in high school, like her and Riley, but he didn’t.
“I wanted us to have something we could all do together,” she said.
Cloe played softball, volleyball and was planning to run track this year before the COVID-19 threat canceled spring sports. The threat first suspended school for a month starting March 16, then the remaining school year was canceled last month.
Riley was a cheerleader and on the tennis team, a season also ended by the virus. Gabe’s interest was theater; something all three eventually did together during high school.
Knowing the different interests and schedules, Ron and Sharon at least wanted one them watching the events since they knew they both couldn’t be at the same places with simultaneous events.
The siblings’ relationship deepened, too, during high school.
“We’ve talked a lot more,” Riley said about the high school years.
Cloe said she has learned to better appreciate those moments.
“I try and take it all in,” she said.
The three plan to attend the University of Iowa in the fall. Although their settings will change in a four-year university town with 25,000 plus other students, their relationship won’t get lost in the crowd.
“I’m glad they are all going to the same place, that way one kid can get to the others before Ron and I can,” Shawna said.
Cloe had the same feelings about Riley and Gabe.
“I just want to know where they are. If we were not in the same town, it’d be weird,” she said.
Shawna admitted there have been times when the 18 years have felt more like 18 days and times when she thought the three would never reach this monumental stage in life.
“Keep them in a routine,” she would tell other could-be-parents of multiple birth children. “And enjoy them. Don’t sweat the small stuff. We’ve been blessed.”
Ron had similar advice as to keep composure as nearly every aspect of raising kids was multiplied by three.
“Cut your hair short so you don’t pull your hair out,” he smiled. “Show them a lot of love and let them be their own person.”
The kids feel the same way as their parents.
“Be your own person, but stay connected,” Cloe said if she could tell another set of triplets just starting.
Riley echoed the thought.
“Stay close,” she said.
“And learn negotiation skills,” Gabe said.