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Amy Kate Chinn

Amy Kate Chinn runs her household like a well-oiled machine, kindly but firmly leading her five kids through the grind of homework and activities. Even dinner is an orchestrated event; she created a seating chart in an effort to reduce mealtime bickering. From 14-year-old May to 6-year-old Tyson, each child pulls his weight by cleaning their respective areas after meals and completing daily tasks such as taking out the trash or sweeping the kitchen. When a chore has been mastered, the child graduates to a new age-appropriate job.
 
Amy Kate and her husband Bill seek to mold their children into happy, healthy and responsible kids by providing an upbringing that stands in stark contrast to the childhood Amy Kate once knew. Motivated by her own far-from-perfect childhood – years of abuse and family instability – she admits to pushing for perfection, professionally and in the home. Yet Amy Kate accepts that life is a work in progress, and no family – especially not a family of seven – will attain anything resembling perfection. So along with the buttoned-down routine come weekly “family home nights” and boisterous rounds of “Shirt Tag,” a Chinn-original backyard game.
 
When Amy Kate isn’t busy instilling responsibility, she’s growing her recently launched business, Amy Kate Gardens. She collects whimsical items fit for miniature fairy and gnome gardens – which have seen a resurgence in popularity – before hosting home gatherings akin to the wildly popular Tupperware parties of the ’70s and ’80s. What started as a hobby has evolved into a thriving business. Children and adults clamor to make their own gardens, and Amy Kate is training other ambitious moms to host their own parties so she can accommodate increasing demand.
 
The entrepreneurial gene is nothing new for Amy Kate. Miniature gardens are just one of many business models she’s pitched to her husband over the years. In the past, she says, he’d shake his head and smile. This time, something stopped him in his tracks. “He said, ‘Maybe you have something here,’” Amy Kate says. “I saw something different in his face.”
 
The flexibility of owning her own business allows Amy Kate to continue her supermom act. Organization is key, she says. Amy Kate relies on her weekly task sheet; Bill relies on his whiteboard.
 
Routine and responsibility are imperative to maintaining the Chinn family machine – along with big doses of laughter and love. Removed from an abusive home only to be placed in an abusive foster-care situation, Amy Kate didn’t grow up knowing the comfort and contentment her children are accustomed to. Instead, she lived through the horror of being physically and sexually abused for years.
 
When she struck out on her own after finishing high school, Amy Kate says she dreamed only of independence. “I didn’t want to depend on anybody,” she says. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to depend on a man. Men are unreliable.’ I wanted to be able to rely on myself, so I decided business had to be it.”
 
Amy Kate found she had a knack for it. After graduating from college, she immersed herself in her career and took a position with Babbages (now GameStop). She helped open a Bakersfield, California, store before receiving a promotion that took her to the San Francisco Bay area. There her ambitions were briefly derailed when she met her future husband, who worked for the same company. Ultimately, Amy Kate opted to explore the relationship in lieu of staying with Babbages. “It worked for me, but I would never recommend getting involved with people at work,” she says. “But it worked for us. He’s my soul mate. He’s my best friend. He’s a champion of mine and respects me.”
 
After the birth of May, the Chinns’ first child, Amy Kate decided to turn her focus to the home front. She fell in love with being a mother and couldn’t be peeled away from the home. “I had waited my whole life to be a mom,” she says. The new parents made the decision to sacrifice certain comforts so Amy Kate could stay at home. When Baden was born just a few years later, she found herself busier than ever. Amy Kate says she puts everything she has into motherhood. She erred on the side of overzealousness in the early years; subconsciously, she says, she was working out her own childhood issues through her kids. She pressured herself to be the perfect mom, even going as far as ironing her daughter’s sheets to ensure “she had the perfect bedroom.”
 
“It was the way I showed them I loved them,” she says. “I wanted them to have everything I didn’t have. I wanted them to have the sweetest mommy that was always sweet.”
 
Birthday parties were elaborate events, and Amy Kate dressed Baden and May only in the finest. She exhausted herself trying to maintain the façade of perfection. When the Chinns adopted their third child from Russia, Katarina (“Kitty”), Amy Kate was overwhelmed. She knew it was time to reassess her priorities; there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to continue the pursuit of perfection. She says she realized that they were a family, and “that’s what matters.”
 
A baby at the time of her adoption, Kitty blended in seamlessly. Bill assumed the family was complete, but it wasn’t long before Amy Kate felt the familiar tug to adoption. She pitched the idea to her husband once more, and they agreed to meet in the middle by pursuing adoption through the foster-care system. Brothers Brigham and Tyson came home in 2011. Amy Kate remembers sitting at a dinner table during the adoption process. “I look down the table and think, ‘Gosh, that’s a lot of kids,’’’ she says. “Then I realize, ‘Oh my gosh! Those are all yours.’”
 
Since the boys were older at the time of their adoption, the transition was a challenge for the family. Everyone adjusted over time, however, and each of the Chinns has an important role today. Amy Kate embraces hers as the family matriarch – though she’s still learning to cut herself some slack. For a house with five children 14 and under, the Chinns’ Southlake home is remarkably tidy. But Amy Kate knows her kids will never remember perfect sheets and over-the-top birthday parties – they’ll remember rounds of Shirt Tag. “Everybody does have a fluffy comforter and clean sheets, though,” she says. “But they are far from ironed.”

Published August 2013