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This mom takes charge

Meet Tammy Taylor, a woman who truly gives meaning to the term "multitasking."

Taylor is mom to 11 kids. Yes, eleven _ and two grandchildren _ and she's only 40. What's more is she appears to handle it with ease.

To make the rest of us organizationally challenged mothers feel even more humbled, Taylor somehow manages to homeschool three of her 11 children while working fulltime as a nurse at University Community Hospital. It's no surprise she works in labor and delivery.

We spotted her last month in a Great Clips waiting for back-to-school haircuts. She had one hand on the baby in her carrier, one eye on her 6-year-old son who played distractedly, and ears open as a daughter chatted about her preferred hairstyle.

Caitlin, her 12-year-old, offered to take the younger ones to look at the pets next door. "Call me on my cell when it's our turn," Caitlin said.

"The condition for getting a cell phone is that they have to pay for it themselves," Taylor explained.

How does she do it?

She says she is asked that all the time.

With a full-time job, homeschooling, two girls in competitive gymnastics, a special-needs son, a baby, a toddler and the task of just feeding all those people, how does she keep up with it all and still manage to fit in a date night once a week with her husband, Tracy?

The Taylors were a military family, moving around a lot until they settled in Tampa four years ago. Taylor's husband, Tracy, now has his own landscaping business. Their 19-year-old works full time with his dad, while their 21-year-old has followed in his father's footsteps by entering the military and starting his own family at a young age.

With her older boys, Taylor has been through it all, from drugs to getting in trouble with the law. But she's learned from it all and still enjoys each child so much that she hasn't entirely ruled out having more.

Between running from school, feeding a cranky baby with an ear infection and making sure another practices her piano, Taylor recently managed to answer a few questions.

How do you do it?

God helps me. I can't do it without my faith. We weren't given 11 all at once, we've gotten them one at a time, you just grow and adjust and change. When you get to three or four, adding one more really isn't that hard. It's all in your perspective _ I can get on a plane with three or four and it's a piece of cake because that's quite a cut from what I'm used to. It's like someone who has three kids only bringing one with her.

How do you deal with it when the kids are all sick?

One night, and one day at a time.

Do you ever have time to finish a full thought or a full sentence?

No. But I do make time for myself. It's either early morning or late at night.

What kinds of things do you for yourself to regroup?

I pray _ or exercise. I go to the Y. Exercise is my quiet time. But my prayer time is my best time. (They worship at St. Paul Catholic Church).

How do you and your husband find time for each other working alternating schedules?

We go out once a week. When we first moved here, we separated for four months. We'd had it with each other and there were a lot of issues on both our parts. We've been married for 22 years now. I think anyone who's been married a long time has had issues. This particular time, the counselor said, "When do you spend time together?" I said, "Never." The counselor said he didn't care what it took but we had to have one date night a week even if it was just to go out for coffee. So we implemented that about four years ago and it's been great.

Do your kids fight much?

They don't fight as much as they used to. Before, when they were in school, they'd come home and argue. The weekends were atrocious, they were horrible. I felt like we were all drifting apart. Then we started homeschooling. It took about two years before we started acting like a family again. It took away a lot of the attitude. I won't say they still don't have attitudes, but it's a lot less than it was.

What kinds of things would you do to temper their arguments?

Send them to their rooms together. Usually, if left alone, we let them work it out, and they have, as long as they're not physically hurting each other. This is how we handle fights in the neighborhood, too. It works for us.

How do you teach them responsibility?

Well, starting from the beginning, they're responsible for little things. Like Kylee, she's 5, if she does something, she's responsible for cleaning it up. Once they get older, they have a lot more responsibility. It's like the buddy system, I team them up to get ready. An older one helps a younger one. We delegate tasks and usually they get them done pretty well.

How do you keep them on task?

Make sure you follow through. You have to make the time to follow through. We have consequences when it doesn't get done, like they don't get to spend time with their friends, or we take away phone privileges or their cell phone. For example, they like to homeschool with another family, but if schoolwork doesn't get done, they don't get that privilege.

How do you fit chores into your busy schedule?

We just make it an essential. We get them up at 6:30 a.m. regardless. Even though they're homeschooled, we stick to a pretty strict schedule because if you don't, then things get lax. We make sure they're ready and they do their chores before school.

What are some of the chores they have?

With a big family, you get to experiment a lot. We tried each person having a separate chore then rotating, but that didn't work. We found it works better for us to give each child a chore that they're good at, even though it's not always "even."

What happens if chores don't get done?

If they don't do it, they get left. I've driven off and left them. You only have to do that once or twice before they realize that Mom's not kidding. And I can do that. Some parents can't because they have a 2- and a 4-year-old, but that's not my situation and I wouldn't know what to do if that was my situation. If you didn't do your chores and you're not ready, you're not going.

How many kids do you typically take with you to Wal-Mart or the grocery store?

The grocery store I don't do with kids at all, except maybe just the baby. I do errands with the kids, but the grocery store is not one of them.

I do take a group with me to Wal-Mart, it's nothing to have five or six with me. I have a lot of girls, and girls are easy to shop with. We'll go to the mall and it's fun. I don't know, we have fun. Jenny is 16 and she's just now growing into a young woman where she's very mature and she's level-headed. When my boys were 16, my gosh, I couldn't take them anywhere. They were really oppositional.

How do you deal with that behavior when you're out?

Go home. I just wouldn't deal with it. I'd go home.

That seems so much easier said than done. What if there's things you really need?

Wal-Mart is open 24 hours. I used to think sometimes you just can't go home. Yes you can. And I have left with a full buggy. It alleviates your stress. Yes, you're stressed because you didn't get your shopping done, but if you look at the long picture, you really only need to do that a couple of times before they get it.

How do you keep up with all their extracurricular activities?

We try to group their activities and do things together. Gymnastics is our big one. And singing at church. One just started piano and that coincides with Mass ... we group it together and decide what you can alleviate.

Do you all sit down and eat dinner together?

No. Because the girls are in competitive gymnastics, they train for three hours a day and that's right at dinner time. So we sort of eat in shifts. We feed the younger ones first, and the older ones eat later.

When do you all get to spend time together?

Sundays are family days. My husband takes them to the beach while I'm at work.

What is your most hectic time of day?

Afternoons, when school is done, and we have to pick up from school and we're going to the gym (for gymnastics).

How do you deal with stress when things get chaotic?

My daughter's a good help. And coffee _ and deep breaths. I try and make daily Mass and if I don't go, I notice I am more stressed.

What's your grocery bill like?

I usually spend $300-400 a week at Sam's Club. Then I'm at Kash N' Karry almost every day for something.

How do you cook for so many people? Is that a frantic time?

Once a month, I get together socially with some other homeschool moms and we usually try to make a night of cooking and freezing meals. That really helps. If I don't do that, it's usually spaghetti or crock pot dinners.

With this many people, how do you give them each their own space when they need it?

Their bedrooms are conducive to that. They can go up to their room and be by themselves. We have five bedrooms, but even though they share a room, the house is big enough that they can be alone if they want that.

We were very blessed when we bought this house. And honestly it was a blessing. We were living in a 1,600-square-foot apartment and we had a station wagon that didn't have air conditioning. We were actually looking for property because we were going to build. We found a rental home, but we knew it was still too small, so we kept looking.

When we looked at this place we didn't think we'd be able to afford it, but he got a settlement from the VA we'd been waiting for and it came at just the right time.

How do you manage working a full-time job and being a mom?

Being a nurse is really a great occupation for a mom. I work three 12-hour shifts (Friday through Sunday). Most people are shot by the time they work an 8- or 9-hour day. Then they have to do dinner, homework and put the kids to bed. That's five days a week. I did that and it was horrible. I only had two days a week to be with my kids. Now I have four full days to be with my kids. We homeschool, we have the time, we do what we need to do. Then the three days I'm at work, my husband is with them and does family outings. It works for us.

How do you stay connected with your older kids?

We have a lot of talk time. Like my 16-year-old is learning to drive; we talk while doing those things. When they get older, they don't want to be around adults much. Again, you just have to make the time. Jason is 14 and he really doesn't want to talk or be around adults, but I just try to go on the lighter side. I still kiss, tickle and hug him and kiss him in front of his friends.

That's another thing _ we check up on all our kids. Even my 16-year-old gets called at a friend's house so I can talk to an adult. It's just too scary of a world out there.

We used to not do this, but this is something that we've learned through experience. We've sent them to a birthday party and thought they're okay. But, oh my gosh, the things that are out there.

I always talk to an adult. And I make sure they don't do things just because others are doing them. For example, we just had an incident where my daughter wanted to go to the mall to hang out. Well, the mall, honestly, is not an appropriate place to go hang out if you're not shopping. They can go bowling or to the movies. If they have a plan, I'm not opposed to it, but if you're going just to hang out anywhere, then no. They can hang out here and play games or listen to music.

How many cell phones do you have?

They have to pay for their own cell phones and car insurance. Babysitting pays very well these days. We have four phones on our family plan. But they pay for their own portion of the bill. We've never had to take away a cell phone for not paying their bill.

How do you maintain a sense of control over your life with so much going on all the time?

That's back to God. I know it's taboo to talk about God these days, but God is such a big part of my life, I have to let people understand that without God I would not be this person. I would probably be divorced.

You seem like you have it together. Do you feel like you do?

Everybody thinks their own families are out of control. If I step back and honestly look at my family, I'd say we're good overall. We've had our run-in with drugs and with the law, but even when you have one or two kids, you're going to have those problems. But you deal with them and you move on.

In our family, our younger ones really learn from that because they know what they don't want to do, and we also learn from that because we know how to deal with the younger ones a little bit better.

Are you having any more kids?

We are still open to more. If you ask my husband, he'll say we're definitely done. But I don't know. Kids are such a blessing. I've cried at night for some of the things my kids have done. I don't want anyone to think we're a perfect family. We're not. But, oh my gosh, they're just such a blessing.

If you could pass on one piece of advice for parents just starting out, what would it be?

Trust your instincts. Don't be scared to exert your authority over your kids. They may not like what you have to say, but eventually they'll understand. It may not be until they're 25 or 30 or until they have their own kids, but they will eventually understand what you've done for them. We didn't understand that when we were younger.

Sometimes the older your kids get, you're worried about hurting their feelings. Kids are great manipulators, without really knowing it. They are just trying to get their way. But, as parents, we buy into the whole guilt thing. But trust your instincts. Make sure you stay well in their lives. Every time I see one of them starting to pull away, I'm very quick to pull them right back in.

I think every mom is amazing at what she does. I'm just open to a bigger family.

Tammy Taylor works with her daughters, Jessica, 8, left, Caitlin, 12, center, and family friend, Garrett Kouwenhoven, 12, during homeschool day at the Taylor residence in Northdale. Tammy Taylor is a working mother of 11 who homeschools three of her children. Only nine live at home, but sometimes other families join them for homeschooling.

Taylor works with Kylee while Kimberly rests.

Tammy Taylor says her children are only allowed to be homeschooled with other children when they prove that the school work gets done. Here she schools several of her own children as well as another family's. Working, left from Taylor, are Caitlin Taylor, 12, Garrett Kouwenhoven, 12, Kylee Taylor, 5, Blake Kouwenhoven, 5, Kimberly Taylor, 2, and Jessica Taylor, 8.