By Linda Andrade Rodrigues
Special to The Anchor
TAUNTON, Mass. — Six siblings sang and danced their way into the hearts of the folks at Marian Manor on the Holy Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Performing classic Christmas songs in the “Kids Christmas Spectacular” were Cami, 14; Tucker, 12; Hollis, 10; Stuart, seven; Celia, four; and Quinton, one, who made a cameo appearance in his sister’s arms, dressed in an adorable Santa suit.
“This is a Christmas gift to their great grandmother and the other residents,” said Michelle Tuffile, their mother. “It is no coincidence that they are performing on this day, as my grandmother’s name is Mary.”
Sitting in a wheelchair, Mary Westgate, 89, wept.
“I’m just so happy and proud of them all,” she said through tears. “They brighten my day. They are so beautiful.”
All homeschooled — the talented children live with their parents, Chuck and Michelle Tuffile, in Swansea and have been doing this community service for a couple of years now at Raynham Senior Center, Longmeadow of Taunton and Marian Manor. They are members of Holy Family Parish in Taunton, where Cami is a lector/cantor and Tucker, Hollis and Stuart are altar servers. All are in the choir.
“This is their social justice: To share the gifts that God has given to them with people who cannot get out to see a performing arts show,” said Michelle. “It’s important to give back, and they just love all the kids.”
At the end of the performance, resident Pam Chambers spoke to the children on behalf of the appreciative audience.
“We thank you very much for coming and giving us this joy,” she said. “You will never know how lonely it gets here.”
The children visit their great grandmother once a week.
“We bring her favorite things for lunch or dinner, like pulled pork, stuffed quahogs and fish and chips,” said Michelle. “The children watch TV with her, tell her stories, or listen to her funny stories; and they sing to her songs from whatever musical they are working on.”
Before the children were born, Michelle worked in the wealth management field. She did not plan to homeschool all her children. It just sort of evolved.
“Cami started to read at three-and-a-half on her own; she taught herself,” said Michelle. “So I decided to keep homeschooling her. In kindergarten she read ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”
Cami is currently a freshman and is studying the Greek tragedies, civics, economics, ethics, philosophy and writing college papers.
The others are following in her footsteps.
“My older children, elementary on up, have a very comprehensive classical curriculum: math, Latin, reading the great books, spelling, grammar, history that aligns with our Catholic faith, ‘Lives of the Saints,’ catechism, poetry memorization, recitation, Bible, art, composers and geography.”
Being homeschooled, the children have a free half-day every day, if they finish all of their schoolwork in the morning. In the afternoons, they visit Michelle’s parents, Barbara and Arthur Gauthier of Taunton.
“They have lunch, play board games and play on their grandparent’s iPods,” she said. “We also visit with Chuck’s parents, Conni and Fred Tuffile of Lakeville. They live on a lake so the kids have learned how to swim, fish, sail, ice skate and waterski.”
“It is a true blessing to have all of this time to develop these relationships with our family,” Michelle said.
There seems to be a stigma that homeschoolers are isolated, but Michelle disagrees.
“My kids are very much involved in the community and have many friends,” said Michelle. “It is not unusual for us to have 20 to 30 children at our home in the summer doing nature study, hiking and then playing tag or swimming in the pool.”
In addition to academics, the children excel in the theater arts. Performing with world-class professionals, Tucker is Fritz in “The Nutcracker” for Festival Ballet Providence at the Providence Performing Arts Center this year, and Cami is a candy doll.
“They were asked to audition for ‘The Nutcracker’ after dancing in a two-week summer dance intensive with Festival Ballet,” Michelle said.
Cami also has had lead roles as Flounder in “The Little Mermaid” and White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” and Tucker was Mishu, Mulan’s funny dragon sidekick, in “Mulan.”
In addition to dancing in “The Nutcracker” they all study dance and musical theater at On Stage Academy of Performing Arts in Fall River.
“They sing all day and not the same song,” Michelle said laughing.
Tucker and Hollis also take piano lessons, and Cami, Tucker and Hollis study art. They have won awards at the Bierstadt Art Society show, a very competitive children’s art competition. Hollis and Stuart are training in gymnastics.
Growing up in Taunton, Michelle still attends her hometown church.
“Father Kevin Cook is very supportive of large families and of homeschooling,” she said. “It helps to have a pastor who makes sure the kids have social experiences. Those things are very important to him.”
According to Michelle, homeschooling keeps the family intact and rooted in Christ.
“We pray for the priests and seminarians and the pope and bishop,” said Michelle. “We want our children to grow in charity toward one another and toward people outside the home. We also want them to do their tasks joyfully. Our home is a gift from God, and nobody likes to clean; but we have to take care of the gifts we are given. Christ is in everything we do.”
With so many interests Cami has no idea about a future career, but the other children have made their minds up.
“I want to own my own bakery,” said Stuart, who has a sweet tooth.
Tucker anticipates a military career as an Air Force pilot.
Hollis wants to become a chef.
“He can cook a whole meal,” said his mother. “He has made spaghetti and meatballs since he was seven, and he makes any kind of egg.”
“I want a pink car when I grow up,” said Celia. “My job will be playing.”