Seven-year-old boys can be rambunctious, particularly on a beautiful afternoon at the beach as they head for the water's edge, running and laughing. But the horseplay stops when twins Hunter and Jake Martinez approach their mother, Niki Taylor. There's a tenderness in the way they stand near the 27-year-old model, an awareness that they need to be gentle with their mom, who barely survived an automobile accident in April 2001 and has since undergone more than 40 surgical procedures to fight infection and repair her damaged back and liver.
"They're my little gentlemen," the Miami-based model says of her boys, marveling at their ability to remain grounded and calm during her continuing recovery. Each time she enters the hospital, Taylor explains, "I talk with them about what will happen, and they visit my room and read to me or color. They're constantly asking, 'Can I get you anything?' Their love and support keep me going."
Niki has been a single mom since her marriage to the boys' father, football player Matt Martinez, ended when they were toddlers. But she's quick to credit her mother, Barbara, who lives nearby, and her longtime nanny for helping keep Hunter's and Jake's lives on an even keel. "My mom taught me that it's important to let kids be kids," says Taylor, who believes in maintaining discipline by taking away privileges such as a favorite toy or TV time. "They wouldn't want to miss Rugrats or SpongeBob," she says with a laugh. "But it's okay for kids to be silly sometimes, and natural for them to want your attention."
Taylor became the mother of twins at an age when most of her friends were still settling in at college, but she has no regrets. "I wanted to have kids young," she says. "I wanted to be young with them and learn from them. Twins are the greatest because they always have a buddy to play with. Hunter and Jake get along really well, which seemed to happen naturally; they were together all the time and learned to share by playing with each other. I think it would be much harder to have a toddler and a newborn than twins. God gives you only what you can handle, and I've enjoyed every age and stage."
The soft-spoken Taylor is too polite to point out that by the time she had twins, she had already been working for more than five years, having made the cover of Seventeen at age 14 and become Vogue's youngest-ever cover model at 16. A year after giving birth to Hunter and Jake, she wore a bikini on the cover of Vogue in the same month that her smiling face adorned five other fashion magazines. The babies posed with her for Harper's Bazaar.
And yet Taylor's success was tempered by personal hardships. Her sister, budding model Krissy Taylor, died suddenly at 17 from a heart rhythm disorder; Niki battled postpartum depression, became a single mom, and suffered devastating injuries in last year's car accident. But the future looks bright: Her recovery continues, and Taylor says she's planning to move with her sons from Miami to Tennessee over the summer. "We're going to live in a smaller place where the schools are amazing and I can give my kids a great childhood," she says. "I have someone special in my life now who loves the boys, and we're looking forward to making a change." As a parent, Niki downplays her fame and often reminds Hunter and Jake that she's just like the other moms. "I don't have any magazines sent to my house," she says, "but kids at school started telling the boys, 'Your mom is a supermodel.' One day I heard Hunter say to a stranger, 'That's my mom, Niki Taylor, the model.' I had to call him over and say, 'Hunter, we don't know that person. You don't have to tell him all that. Just say 'That's my mom, Nicole.'"
Though the boys are photogenic, they show no interest in following Taylor's career path, which is fine with her. "They can decide what they want to do as they get older," she says, adding with a smile, "I can hardly get them to sit still for a snapshot now." Her goal as a mom: "I just want them to enjoy their lives and choose their friends carefully. Luckily, they're well-adjusted, laid-back little guys who feel comfortable with themselves and with other people." She adds appreciatively, "I'm very blessed."
Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from the August 2002 issue of Child magazine.