Military father of 10 enjoys the ordinary pleasures of big family
Stars and Stripes June 17, 2007
Pacific edition, Sunday, June 17, 2007
SEOUL — Lowell Travis knows the order of the questions before they come: Are these kids all yours? Are there any twins? And, finally, just how many are there?
“They’ll start counting the kids, and one of my youngest kids will say, ‘We have 10,’ just to help them out a little bit,” said Lowell, a U.S. Army captain who has been stationed in Seoul for a year and a half.
This Father’s Day, he’ll go to church with his family, then maybe a picnic, and eat a cake baked by his children — ordinary activities with an extraordinarily large family that, to him, are the best part of being a dad.
“Family time is the best thing — enjoying the children and seeing them growing up and mature,” he said.
He and his wife, Kiu, always knew they wanted a large family, like their own families, with an even mix of boys and girls. But they didn’t plan on having 10.
“We were trying for a girl, and then the boys kept coming,” he said.
Final tally: Seven boys, three girls, no twins. The oldest, Lowell Jr., is 15 and will get his driver’s license during the family’s stay in Seoul. The youngest, Labin, 3, will start kindergarten here.
In between them are Chynna, 14; Luke, 13; Levi, 12; Lemuel, 11; Lance, 9; Cherish, 7; Lazarus, 6; and Cheyenne, 5.
Kiu named all the children — the boys after biblical characters whose names start with “L,” and the girls with names starting with “C.”
“It’s tradition,” Kiu said — Lowell and his siblings had names that began with the same letter.
Lowell and Kiu met when he was 13 years old and she was 12, and lived one house apart in Minnesota. Lowell was the second-oldest of seven siblings, and Kiu was the oldest of six.
They became good friends, and started dating when Lowell joined the U.S. Army. They married a year later when Lowell was 21 and Kiu was 20.
In the 17 years since, the couple has moved around the United States and the Pacific at least a half-dozen times. Travis left his family behind when he came to Seoul in 2005, and they joined him just three months ago.
That meant he spent last Father’s Day alone, working and talking with his family at night by Web cam.
That day, along with all the missed birthdays and anniversaries, was tough. He flew back to the United States twice to see his family while they were apart.
“It was worth it to pay the money,” he said.
Today, the Travises live in a five-bedroom apartment at Hannam Village that is half the size of their house back in Brooklyn Park, Minn. The three girls share one bedroom and the boys share three.
The household runs smoothly, with almost military order.
“Everybody acts as a unit, because if everybody does their own thing, the unit won’t function,” the captain said.
At the Travis household, weekends mean family time, often spent outdoors at the pool or playing kickball, with Lowell acting as pitcher to two teams of five. The parents try to spend at least 10 minutes a day talking with each child, and say the key to correcting bad behavior is to find out why a child is misbehaving.
Like any military unit, the children know where they stand in terms of rank — or in this case, birth order. As punishment, Lowell switches their birth orders for no more than 30 minutes. That means that Number 4 becomes Number 5, or Number 6 becomes Number 7 and has to obey what the younger sibling tells them to do.
“It really gets to them, to be demoted,” Travis said.
The family goes through at least two gallons of milk a day — one at breakfast, and one at dinner — and one trip to the swimming pool means 20 dirty towels. Kiu prefers to take the family out on the subway, because it’s hard to squeeze their 15-passenger van into Seoul’s Hyundai- and Kia-sized parking spaces.
They don’t worry about the children getting lost. Each child is buddied with another sibling, and the pair are responsible for keeping track of one another. When the family leaves the apartment, they line up by height, from youngest to oldest.
“It’s kind of like ducks in a row,” Lowell said.
The Travises say their children have few fights. But there is one strict house rule, rigidly enforced by the females: The boys are forbidden from using the girls’ upstairs bathroom.
“If they see the toilet seat up, war just breaks out,” Kiu said.