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A Palin first: All the kids in one photo. (L-R) Piper, 9, holds her brother, Trig, 2. Track, 21, was in Iraq with the Army. Willow, 15, played football until seventh grade. Bristol, 19, holds son Tripp, 16 months.
A Palin first: All the kids in one photo. (L-R) Piper, 9, holds her brother, Trig, 2. Track, 21, was in Iraq with the Army. Willow, 15, played football until seventh grade. Bristol, 19, holds son Tripp, 16 months.
Piper, waiting with birthday cupcakes

The Palin Principles

Sarah Palin says hers is “just like most American families. Both parents working, juggling kids.” Judge for yourself:

On who does the household chores: “We do the cooking. We do the cleaning. We all do the laundry.”

On teaching her children “Alaskan skills”: ”I think it’s very important for the kids to learn the hunting and the fishing and the four-wheeling and the gold-panning — all those things that I grew up doing. That’s the spirit of Alaska.”

On computer use: “I do not like my kids reading the blogs that are so often very, very negative and untruthful. Todd and I tell the kids: ‘Don’t Google this stuff. You know it’s going to ruin your day.’ ”

On not giving the kids any allowance: They are “expected to work if they don’t have a sport.”

On raising girls: “I don’t want them to believe they can’t do something because they’re a girl.” All three girls played football.

Family life goes on while Palin is on TV, live from the backyard.
“If I didn’t have Todd, perhaps I would be more worried” about Trig, standing, who has Down syndrome.
At the kitchen door: Sarah Palin and daughter Bristol tend to their toddler sons. “They’re best buds,” Bristol says.
At the kitchen door: Sarah Palin and daughter Bristol tend to their toddler sons. “They’re best buds,” Bristol says.

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"This is the first time we’ve had all the kids together in the same picture!” exclaims an amazed Sarah Palin, flanked by her five children and baby grandson in her Alaskan home.

The occasion for this Palin first: helping USA WEEKEND Magazine mark Mother’s Day 2010.

Even for one of the world’s most famous mothers, wrangling six kids — including two squirmy toddlers, a rather-be-elsewhere young veteran and a birthday girl impatient to light the candles on mini-cupcakes that Mom baked — makes reforming health care seem easy.

Welcome to Palin Central, a remote lakeside outpost where, for one recent afternoon, the woman in the headlines opened her home for an up-close look at her life.

What we found during three harried, uncensored hours was a working mom who gives new meaning to the term “multitasking.” One minute Palin, 46, is making a baby bottle, checking the latest stream of e-mails on her BlackBerry and asking Piper, 9, if she wants a playdate; the next she’s dashing out the back door, taking off her dangle earrings and doing a live TV shot on, yes, health care reform for Fox News. And this is all during our interview.

Except for the fact that the entire brood is here, this is a typical Friday afternoon: half-clothed toddlers running around; Willow, 15, hanging out with her pink iPhone; a camera crew in the backyard; dinner getting cold; and Palin ever-ready for prime time in her curly updo, TV makeup, bell-bottom cords and clunky platform heels.

The house is a surprisingly simple A-frame that husband Todd, 45, built in 2002. About the only wall decorations — other than a magnificent view of the lake through floor-to-ceiling windows — are deer and caribou heads and a rack of moose antlers mounted above the flat-screen TV in the all-purpose living-dining-family room. So far, the one visible sign of Palin’s burgeoning income (by one estimate, at least $12 million since she resigned as Alaska’s governor 10 months ago) is a two-story office under construction with an adjoining hangar for Todd’s small plane. A driveway strewn with eight pickups and cars makes the small compound’s entrance resemble an auto-repair lot more than the home of a political superstar.

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Inside, the barely controlled chaos flows over a hectic household in which each member is expected to do and make do. “We do the cooking. We do the cleaning. We all do the laundry,” Palin says.

Adds Todd, as he feeds Trig a bottle in his lap: “It’s kinda hard to explain our lifestyle. It’s not traditional.”

For Palin, the juggling act is evidence of presidential bona fides. “I think this country would be served very well by a woman president, someone who has raised a family,” she says, stopping short of saying she wants to run in 2012. “We just want to get from point A to point B and get the job done. I don’t waste time; I’m too busy.”

In fact, Palin is busier than ever. In addition to being a Fox News contributor, an eight-part TLC TV documentary series she hosts will start filming this summer. She spends much of her time in the Lower 48, as Alaskans call the rest of the mainland U.S., campaigning for conservative causes and raking in six figures for paid appearances. She also has signed up to write a second book; her first, Going Rogue, sold 2.6 million copies last year.

As she promotes a growing Palin empire, her family is held together by trim, blue-eyed Todd, a man’s man who can cradle a baby bottle as well as a hunting rifle (yes, he shot both that deer and that moose hanging on the wall).

Having him man the home front “is the biggest change” of Palin’s new life as full-time “celebutician,” as she’s been dubbed. For years, she says, she was a single mom every other week while Todd worked 850 miles away in Alaska’s oil fields. “Practically speaking, it’s easier now that he is home.”

Still, “he works harder than any guy that any of us will ever know,” Palin says, shooting a smile at him a few feet away. “He gets up at 4:30, changes Trig, feeds him in the high chair,” then drives Willow to high school 14 miles away, only to come home and ferry Piper to grade school. “Todd doesn’t sleep much!” Palin says, interrupting herself and offering to make a bottle to help Bristol, a visibly exhausted and exasperated young mom. Palin opens a bottle of formula and continues to talk, while Bristol stands at the kitchen sink with Tripp, eating a taco her mom made.

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Only two weeks earlier, Bristol moved into her first-ever apartment in Anchorage, 45 miles away, where she works as an assistant in a dermatologist’s office. There, she is learning to cope as a single working teenage mother.

Inevitably, Palin concedes, not everything in a family works out as planned.

“It’s tough,” she says. “Some days you feel like it’s a crapshoot. You raise your kids as well as you can, you teach them as well as you can, you think everybody’s on the same page and, well — look at our situation,” she continues, motioning with her hand to Bristol and Tripp and lowering her voice slightly. “One day she comes home and says she was pregnant. And it’s like, ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen!’ ”

Palin goes on to tell how she and Todd learned that Bristol, then 17 and a senior in high school, was expecting a child. Bristol arrived at the house with Levi Johnston, her then-boyfriend and now very estranged father of the baby.

“We knew something was wrong because Levi was in the house, and he’s not a very social kid,” Palin says. “Levi didn’t say anything. ... Bristol said, ‘Mom, what do you think is the worst thing possible that can happen in our family?’ ” Bristol couldn’t go on. Finally, a girlfriend of Bristol’s blurted out the news. For perhaps the first time in her life, Palin says, “I was speechless. It took some time for us to get our arms around that one.

“But, anyway, that too has turned out to be a blessssing,” she adds with a mock grin, as if to say, “as I keep reminding myself!”

Palin makes no apologies for the impact her frenetic lifestyle and fame has had on her children. “They’re quite independent, and they’re thick-skinned,” she says proudly. “Those are some attributes that any parent would want for their kids.

“We can see the blessings in every step that we’ve taken and in everything that has happened to us. There’s a been a tradeoff [but] Todd and I are strong believers at the end of the day things do work out for good.”

Speaking of day’s end, it’s still Piper’s birthday. For her real party the next day, Track’s girlfriend will teach her and her friends a dance. Plus, Palin says hopefully: “Her older cousin, who’s a little hunter, could teach the girls how to target-practice with the BB gun.”

But for now, it’s getting late, and those birthday candles still haven’t been lit.

Photographs by Robert Hanashiro for USA WEEKEND

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