As the mother of triplets born at 32 weeks, Mary Boden uttered the first sigh of relief when her daughters, weighing 4 pounds, 3 1/2 pounds and 2 1/4 pounds, sat up and walked on schedule.
The DeKalb mom gave her second sigh of relief when the trio started first grade and kept pace with their classmates. But Stephanie, Lauren and Allison didn’t keep that pace for long.The girls have sped past most of their peers — on the sports field and in the classroom.
Accomplished athletes in baseball, softball and golf, the 17-year-old Boden triplets have now won another distinction. They are the highest-ranked academic graduates this year at Lakeside High School in DeKalb County.
Lauren — the first girl to ever make the Lakeside High baseball team — is valedictorian; Stephanie and Allison — who have led their school golf team to several titles — tied for salutatorian. Had it not been for a grueling Advanced Placement calculus that gave Stephanie and Allison their only B’s, the three would have tied for the top slot in their graduating class of 300.
Their academic accomplishments have inspired their two younger siblings and created a bit of legend around them in their DeKalb community where word is that if you need homework help at 2 a.m, call the Boden sisters because one of them will be up.
In fact, says mother Mary, at least one of the triplets is up until 1 a.m. most nights, working on homework after sports practice.
The trio will graduate from Lakeside with nine AP courses apiece, including the five courses they are now taking. Bypassing such top colleges as Emory and Duke, they have all agreed to attend prestigious Pomona College in California, where they plan to play softball. Allison will also play golf.
To learn how parents raise such superstars, I talked with Mary and Scott Boden, both physicians who met at the University of Pennsylvania medical school. (Scott also received his undergraduate degree at the university.)
With five children, Mary spent most of her medical career in health administration since the family schedules couldn’t accommodate two doctors on call.
A Stanford graduate, she worked as a primary care doctor for several years before becoming medical director and vice president of Cigna Healthcare for Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Scott is an Emory professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. He is also Lakeside High’s assistant softball coach, a byproduct of watching and helping his own children over the years.
Obviously, the triplets come from a household where academic achievement matters. Both parents ranked around sixth in high school graduating classes of 600 students, placing them in the top 1 percent of their peers.
But with five children, how do you avoid getting a single slacker in the mix? Susanne, 15, and Michael, 13, are also strong students and avid athletes. The triplets and Susanne — the second girl to make the Lakeside High baseball team — also play on the Chicago Pioneers women’s baseball team that won the first Roy Hobbs World Series in 2007. Lauren pitched the entire game, striking out 20 players and allowing only one hit.
Scott Boden says he and his wife created the expectation in their children that they would excel and that a grade of 91 was not acceptable if they were capable of a 98.
“The message was to always do the most you could do rather than the least,’’ he says. “We figured out what they were capable of doing and then held them to that.”
Did he ever worry that he was badgering them when he expressed disappointment at seeing a 90 on a test?
“Pushing them beyond their capabilities is badgering and unrealistic,” he said. “The issue is figuring out what your kids are capable of and setting the bar at that point. You have to make sure kids are performing at whatever level of their capabilities and that they are always being challenged.”
Eventually, the girls themselves sought out greater challenges, asking for extra credit from their teachers. For example, their mother counseled them against taking five AP classes this year, feeling that senior year ought to be more relaxed.
“They wanted to do it,” she says. “We talked about it and I told them that once you sign up, you make a commitment. But they are the ones dragging us along.”
Is that drive born or bred in a child?
“I think parents have a lot to do with it,” says Mary Boden. “One thing I notice is that a lot of parents step back in the middle school and high school years and I didn’t.
“I still wanted to know who my kids were hanging out with. I asked a lot of questions, went over their decision-making with them. We would go over things in the news and discuss the consequences of people’s mistakes,” she says.
Mary Boden credits sports with teaching her daughters how to prioritize and organize their lives. “They figure out what homework they have to do. I do not,” she says. “They are the ones who have to figure out how long it is going to take and they are the ones doing the homework.”
Between academics, extracurriculars such as yearbook and sports, the triplets didn’t have time for part-time jobs. “School was their job,” says Mary Boden.
“But we didn’t pay them for good grades,” says Scott Boden. “Our feeling was that their job was to get good grades. If they did that, they were able to participate in sports. But if they were struggling in a class, the clear message was that if you didn’t pull this up, you won’t be finishing softball and you won’t be playing basketball.”
While Mary Boden is delighted that her daughters’ hard work has paid off, she says, “I am happy they got an excellent education and did the best they could. If they were graduating number 10 or 20 in their class and still had done this level of work, I would be just as proud of them.”