by Meredith O’Brien
WEtv recently kicked off a brand, spankin’ new TV series with a very familiar premise: Their cameras are following a set of parents who have sextuplets – three girls, three boys – who are 16 months old. The dad works full-time and is gone from the house for the vast majority of the daylight hours, while the mom works part-time as a nurse. The husband struggles with some weight issues and the mom requires a tummy tuck in order to repair the substantial abdominal damage caused by carrying six babies at once. And while this may sound EXACTLY like the premise of another show about sextuplets which first premiered in April 2007 -- you might have heard of it, Jon & Kate Plus 8 , starring Jon and Kate Gosselin – I have to throw in a caveat here, it’s like Jon & Kate the early years.
When I watched the first three episodes of WEtv’s Raising Sextuplets , which follows Jenny and Bryan Masche and their six toddlers, it was impossible to not think of Jon and Kate. Jenny -- a perky, energetic woman with long blonde hair and a big smile -- says the same exact things Kate first did when explaining how infertility treatments led to a sextuplet pregnancy, observing, "Nobody goes out and tries to have six kids. That’s ridiculous!" Over the course of the episodes, one notices that Jenny and Bryan, as laid back as Jon, don’t approach parenting the same way and this becomes a source of conflict. (Bryan says she’s "better" at some of the onerous baby-related tasks so he tries to get Jenny to do them while she gets annoyed, particularly when he doesn’t do things her way.) With their heavy work loads and omnipresent exhaustion, Jenny and Bryan barely have a moment of quality time with one another, which they say they desperately miss. "We’re like two ships passing on a sea of babies," Jenny said, noting that on top of his job in pharmaceutical sales, Bryan is also working on getting his MBA. "Unfortunately, sometimes we’re living two different lives," Bryan echoed.
Is this what happened to Jon and Kate? Parenthood – they have two more children than Jenny and Bryan – was so overwhelming that they lost one another in "a sea of babies?" They had no energy left to devote to their marriage? A tidal wave of day-to-day obligations smothered them? "The most important thing is that it doesn’t weigh on our marriage," Bryan said, of the amount of work he and his wife put into parenting their toddlers, working and taking care of their home. "We’re in this together," Jenny agreed. Wait, I’d heard that line before . . . on Jon & Kate, when their sextuplets were but 16 months old (they’re 5 now) and their reality show commenced, first in one-hour specials which then morphed into a series. Are the same tabloid-fodder marital woes facing the Gosselins in store for the Masches?
After watching the first three charming episodes of Raising Sextuplets featuring the Masche family – the parents truly seem down-to-earth and real – I was compelled to go back and watch some of the early Jon & Kate episodes to see how they stacked up and it was stunning how similar the two families were at the beginning of their TV careers. In season one, Kate had a dark, short, "regular mom" hairdo (as opposed to her current glam look) and wore sweatpants. While Jon was working as a "government IT administrator" and was out of the house from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (he thoughtfully brewed coffee for Kate before he left in the morning), Kate worked as a nurse every Saturday, pulling double-shifts every other weekend which she said they had to do because of their financial situation. (Neither Jon nor Kate do office-related work outside the house anymore, according to media reports . Kate is busy working on promoting the show, giving speeches and writing/selling the two books she’s written about raising multiples.)
What was most striking about watching the first two Jon & Kate specials  was what went unspoken. Watching the two of them sitting next to each other while being interviewed, it was hard not to notice that Kate was frequently nestled in tight under Jon’s arm and would lovingly touch him as she spoke, placing her hand on his leg or leaning into him. (Now they’re interviewed separately or, if they’re together, they have two to three feet of space between them.) They repeatedly said that they were cognizant of how much stress the work and child-rearing – times eight – was putting on their marriage. Jon complained he didn’t get to spend time alone with Kate and said he realized, when she was recuperating from her tummy tuck alone with him in a hotel, that they hadn’t spoken to one another at length in a very, very long time. Kate decided to get her hair dyed blonde "for Jon," after Jon waxed nostalgic about the long, curly blonde hair Kate had when they got married. She said things like, "It’s obvious that we love each other." Jon added, "I can’t imagine a different life."
The Jon and Kate whose faces are now plastered all over the tabloids and national magazine covers adjacent to screaming headlines about affairs, child abuse and child exploitation are definitely not the same people who appeared in their first sextuplets special years ago. Those people acted a lot like the Masches, who represent the shiny, fresh faces of America’s super-sized families who we voyeuristically watch on TV in an attempt to comfort ourselves with the thought, "If they can do it with six toddlers, I can do it with just two (or three) kids." We look at their circus-like lives, their gargantuan grocery bills, massive loads of laundry and planning worthy of a military invasion in order to just venture out of the house, and think, "By comparison, we have it easy." We criticize and we tsk and we laugh but I don’t think we can really imagine what it’s like to be them, Raising Sextuplets, in front of national television cameras and know that people are watching and judging. When I saw Raising Sextuplets, I started to become fearful for the Masches. I hope they can avoid what’s now happening to the Gosselins, a family that once seemed as happy and innocent as Jenny and Bryan.
A writer in Philadelphia Magazine noted in a story the Pennsylvania-living Gosselins , "If Jon and Kate Gosselin have sold their children’s privacy, we the viewers are the guilty buyers, even as we find it harder and harder to see the pair as the guileless, relatable-to, in-over-their-heads parents we once knew and adored." Jenny and Bryan, you’ve been warned.