By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Triplets Ally, Victoria and Gabby Arabio got in trouble on their very first day of kindergarten. A boy on the bus was teasing Victoria, so Ally and Gabby teamed up and started to kick the little boy. The bus driver promptly sent all three to the principal’s office, where none would rat out the other two. They all took their punishment together.
“When we first moved here, in kindergarten, we all ended up in the principal’s office on the first day. We all had red dresses, big red bows in our hair. A boy on the bus was making fun of Victoria and made her start to cry. So Gabby and I got mad, so we started kicking him,” Ally said. “The bus driver told on us, but didn’t know which one of us was guilty, so she reported all of us. We sat there in the principal’s office and didn’t give any of each other up. We all ended up getting in trouble, but my mom was so proud that we stuck together.”
Sticking together always has come naturally for the triplets, who are now seniors at Egg Harbor Township High School. Ally is a member of the field hockey team, while Victoria and Gabby are on the cheerleading squad. They know all about the value of teamwork, which is why they were able to adapt when their family became something they never expected five years ago.
Amy Arabio and Mike Arroyo — a sergeant with the Atlantic City Police Department — both were divorced parents of three when they got together. Dating was one thing, but when they decided they wanted to take things to the next level and get married, that presented a whole new set of challenges. How were they going to blend six kids into one family and make it work? Not only did they have to figure out how the kids were going to react psychologically and emotionally, but they had to figure out the minutiae of daily life — how to get so many kids up and ready for school, how piles of laundry would get done, how they would get around to all the sports games.
It was going to be a challenge, to put it mildly.
“There were a lot of concerns for us. They were friends before, so I think that made it a little bit easier because they enjoyed spending time together. The teenage years became normal teenage years, where everyone is fighting over the best spot at the table, or getting into the shower. When they were younger was the best time to blend them because they went to the same school and they were involved in a lot of the same things. They looked after each other and Kylie became sort of an additional triplet. But it’s hard to blend a family. Being they are all such great kids made it easier,” Amy said. “We decided that the house didn’t matter, they mattered. As long as they were happy, we were happy. In a couple years, after they are out of high school, we’ll have a quiet house with nice furniture and no spills on the rug, but for right now as long as they are happy in what they are doing, if there is a spill on the rug that’s the least of our worries. We are really blessed. They are all doing great in school and they are great kids.”
When Amy and Mike got married, the triplets were 14 years old, as was Mike’s daughter, Kylie. Mike’s older son, also named Mike, was 17 at the time and nearly done with high school, while Mike’s youngest son, Vance, was just 11 years old.
Ally, the oldest of the triplets by a few minutes, said the kids didn’t necessarily share the concerns of their parents. They just thought it would be really cool to have more kids around.
“I’m sure they must have been (nervous) because adults worry about everything, but we were still kind of young. We weren’t old enough to completely grasp what was going on, so I think we were more looking at the fun aspects of everything,” Ally said. “Now there were more people to go on vacation with, more people to hang out with, bigger birthday parties.”
“We were all in the same classes in middle school. Imagine having friends in your class, and then one day you are living in the same house with them,” Kylie said.
Vance added, “I was younger when it happened, so I didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t anything bad, though. It was a little bit of an adjustment.”
Said Victoria, “It was a smooth transition for us. We just all blended, and it worked. It just became a new normal. It happened right away.”
The triplets have been involved in competitive cheerleading for most of their lives, and Vance is now a three-sport athlete as a freshman at Oakcrest, competing in football, wrestling and lacrosse. Kylie was a member of the Falcons’ crew team her freshman year before turning her attention to theater. Kylie and Vance live mostly with their mother, Renee, which is why they attend Oakcrest, but still spend a few nights a week in the EHT home of their father and the triplets. The triplets’ father, Chris, lives in Pennsylvania and Mike, the son, is away at college.
“It’s fun. Since all the girls are the same age, we’ve gotten along pretty well,” Ally said. “It was more of a friendly dynamic and more happy, because both of our parents were happy together. It was kind of weird at the time because we were about to go from middle school to high school, but because it made everyone happy it wasn’t that difficult of an experience.”
Amy has a bit of a different viewpoint on that. She remembers just how difficult it was to blend six kids into one family. But she recalls a moment when she knew she and Mike had made the right decision, and that eventually it would all work out.
“There are days when everything is great and there are days when we are like, what were we thinking? They are all so different and going in so many different directions. It does take daily work, but the outcome is worth it. There are peaks and valleys, like with everything else. They know when push comes to shove, they know nobody is going to say anything about them because they all have each other’s backs, which is nice. At the end of the day, it’s working,” Amy said. “Early on, when we were trying to blend the family, we took a vacation to Lake George. We were thinking it was going to be beautiful, but it was a long ride in the car. Here we were taking this newly blended family on a long drive, and we were like, ‘this is just not going to work.’ Then, we took them on a ropes course and they were so supportive of each other. We were able to stand back as parents and see kids who were at each other on the long drive up and here they were saying to each other, ‘you can do it, don’t quit. We’re here and you got this.’ That was kind of the turning point. The last two days of the vacation ended up being the best. It was the ultimate test of a family bond. That was the test.”
Divorce is never an easy thing for any family to deal with, and it can be something that has a huge impact on young athletes. That’s why Amy and Mike were so concerned about how their children would react to a completely new way of life. But, one thing athletes learn from an early age is that success is dependent upon the ability to adapt, and work together.
The Arabios and Arroyos definitely bring a team mentality to the table — figuratively and literally. Amy and Mike will sometimes have what they call “team meetings” among the family members to discuss any issues that are affecting any of the kids.
“The way we grew up, my mom would always say we were a team and we always had to work together and help each other. There is no ‘I’ in team for anything. We try to look at the positive things and stick together,” Ally said.
“I always think of my sports teams as my family, and this is the same kind of thing,” Gabby added. “My mom will call ‘team meetings’ in the kitchen, and we will all come down and huddle up, get our game faces on.”
“Kylie and Vance have a supportive mom, and the triplets have a supportive dad. And (the triplets) have a very supportive grandmother and great aunt who live locally, so that helps them stay in touch with that side of the family,” Amy said. “I think being involved in sports contributes a lot. They want to see each other succeed, and knowing that you’re only as strong as your weakest link — all those things they say in sports, we say at home in our ‘team meetings.’ That’s actually what we call them, team meetings, because there are times you have to huddle up as a family.
“I’m happy we are together the way we are. It’s challenging for them, because I’m sure it’s different than any life they saw for themselves. Kylie, Vance and Mike might have gotten more than they bargained for, but at the end of the day I think it’s worth all the effort.”
Mike said he agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment.
“Most important, for both of us, was too keep them focused in school and be a big part of their sports. We didn’t want to change their routines too much. With the triplets doing cheerleading and field hockey, Vance doing three sports and Kylie doing theater, we just try to be as much involved in their lives as we can. From a father’s point of view, I try to be as involved as I can and be a part of their lives,” he said. “I think it’s really neat to see everyone doing so well in school. I always tell them to do as much as they can in school, because you’ll blink and the four years will be over. It’s going quickly, and the girls will be going off to college soon.
“It’s hard work. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s easy and everybody gets along all the time. You’re going to have your ups and downs, but it is rewarding for us as parents to see everybody together and succeeding.”
Ally said she and all her siblings just try to look at the positive side of things. With the triplets’ mom and Kylie, Vance and Mike’s father getting together, they all have doubled the support they have at home. There’s always somebody around to talk to when you’re having a bad day, Ally said.
“I think it just shows that positivity can go a long way,” Ally said. “Depending on how you look at a situation affects everyone else. If you smile at someone, it’s really hard for them not to smile back, so we kind of have that philosophy.”
“The coolest thing is that people know me who probably wouldn’t know me if I wasn’t related to Kylie and Vance. I have a lot of Instagram followers now,” Gabby said with a laugh.
While there are still daily challenges for the Arabios and Arroyos, they wouldn’t have it any other way. A crazy house has become the new normal.
“Aside from all of the kids in the house, we also have five dogs, a cat and a bunny,” Ally said. “All the dogs and the cat, of course, have their own stockings at Christmas. And Thanksgiving is crazy. We always have a bunch of different food because everyone likes different things aside from the traditional dinner. The tables end up going from the kitchen and connecting into the dining room. It’s always so crazy. It’s always fun, though.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN