When dual-enlisted coastie couple Petty Officer 1st Class Charlie Willis and Petty Officer 2nd Class Tae Willis found out they were pregnant naturally with twins in 2019, they felt an equal amount of first-time parent nerves and double blessing excitement. Nothing could prepare them, however, for the emotional overload they would face when discovering they were going to do it all over again.
On Dec. 12, 2019, twins Aria and Bryson came into the world, and on Nov. 18, 2020, twin brothers Cayden and Dakari joined in on the fun.
The Coast Guard rallied for its shipmates, creating an Amazon wish list and doing some fundraising through the Chief Petty Officers Association. Support for the parents spread far and wide, with the military community throughout the country jumping in to help. It was amazing to see, the couple said.
Charlie and Tae also credit their local church and close-knit family for their success in wading through the challenges of raising two sets of twins under 2 at the same time. When Charlie changed duty stations in the summer of 2021 and was assigned to a cutter, frequently underway, the family needed the help more than ever.
“It’s definitely tiring, but you find your groove and it’s not so bad. We’ve definitely been fortunate that his [Charlie’s] mother came to help, and then mine did as well,” Tae shared. “When the cutter pulled in, and Charlie returned home, the four babies ran right for him.”
And when Charlie had to take care of the kids alone while Tae pulled an overnight watch, he said managing them was more challenging than being underway, and he didn’t know how his wife did it. But being away isn’t easy, either.
Charlie has been in the Coast Guard for 13 years, and this is his first cutter assignment since getting married to Tae and having children. Leaving was much more difficult than he had imagined it would be, he admits.
“It’s probably been the toughest thing I’ve ever had to endure just leaving her and the kids,” Charlie said. “Luckily her [Tae’s] mom and mine stepped in. We are big on trusting God and prayer. It’s what’s gotten us [through] so far.”
The parents are also deeply grateful for the in-home daycare they found for all four babies when the Child Development Center had no openings. With Tae having to pull overnight watches and Charlie underway, both agreed knowing the babies are being cared for by a loving provider has made all the difference.
“We feel like we are part of their family,” Charlie explained.
As for the naysayers or probing questions regarding the double set of twins, they shrug them off. Their advice to other couples battling commentary on family size is simple.
“It’s between a couple on how many children they want to have or how they live their lives. This is my family,” Tae said.
“Ignore the outsiders. They aren’t going to come over and take care of your children. Live your life and love your family,” Charlie added.
And despite the obvious challenges, both firmly believe the twins times two have been a huge blessing in disguise. When they navigated two unexpected tragedies, they say the newest babies brought them through both.
“Tae lost her dad, and then I lost mine right after she lost hers. Then the new babies came out looking like each of our fathers. We were battling terrible grief and they [Cayden and Dakari] helped us through it so much,” Charlie said.
In the midst of the diaper changing, feedings and lack of sleep, watching each baby develop a personality has been fun, they say.
“Cayden is an observer; he’s quiet, but he’s just everywhere. You’ll leave him somewhere, and next thing you know, he’s gone. He’s my little ninja,” Tae laughed. “They can all be such Sour Patch Kids, too. One minute they’re all driving you up a wall, and the next they just give you a big smile, changing completely.”
As for what the older twins think of the newest ones –– the couple said it’s mixed. Aria enjoys being the center of attention and dislikes sharing her father with her brothers, often pushing them away. And none of the babies want to share food of any kind, especially graham crackers.
“They take each other’s snacks. They’ll fight over graham crackers … and those veggie pouches? Forget about it,” Charlie laughed.
Food fights aside –– the sweet moments when they play together or hug each other make it worth it, the parents agree. Envisioning the future and watching them grow is exciting, they said, and creating Christmas traditions is at the top of the list for anticipated moments.
Charlie and Tae both plan to make a full career as operations specialists for the Coast Guard. As they maintain their current roles in a high-operation district of the Coast Guard –– while raising all four toddlers –– Tae and Charlie credit a manageable schedule, a supportive family and their church with keeping everything and everyone flowing.
And the Crockpot slow cooker, of course.