Harried, hectic a common pace for 21st century family

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

VIDALIA, La. – It’s 6:45 a.m., and David and Charla Knapp are making the rounds of their Vidalia home, waking up each of their four children in turn.

The wakeup ritual is not an easy task; none of the children are “morning people.” But gradually, the lumps under the covers start to move sluggishly, with muffled groans.

And so begins a morning routine that perhaps every parent can identify with – the start of a new day filled with preparations for work and school.

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Like typical boys, Shayne, 12, and Darren, 5, take a relatively short time to get dressed and ready. The only blip in Shayne’s daily morning routine is the several-minute ritual of combing grooming cream into his hair and giving it the tousled look.

The morning routine of Chelsey, 13, is more secretive, but she eventually emerges from the bathroom with a towel turban on her head – and in her hand, a pair of pants for her father to iron.

Before he tackles the ironing, David Knapp gingerly removes steaming hot packets of heat-and-serve pancakes from the microwave, removes the pancakes, plates them and drizzle syrup across the stacks on each child’s plate.

“If we’re up early, we go by McDonald’s for breakfast,” he says, placing the plates on the kitchen counter, where the children sit and eat. “That’s like a treat for them. But we’re hardly ever up that early.”

Nearby, Darren picks up his fork and, too sleepy to notice, puts the fork in his mouth without even spearing a bite of pancake. A grumpy Nathan, 2, emerges from his parents’ bedroom, where he spent the night, and yells, “I&160;want something to drink.”

That is something his parents, pre-coffee, can probably identify with .

If Charla Knapp is absent from kitchen duty, it’s with good reason: Today is Shayne’s 12th birthday, and she must scramble to wrap his presents.

Just before he leaves for school, Shayne, with the help of Nathan, opens his presents -&160;a bottle of cologne and a camouflage hunting jacket – and a card from his grandparents. It contains money.

“Did I&160;get that much for my birthday?” Chelsey wonders out loud.

Today is not a typical day for the Knapps in one respect – Charla Knapp has a day off from her job as an emergency room nurse at Natchez Regional Medical Center, so she gets to spend the day at home with Nathan instead of taking him to the sitter.

That sort of job flexibility is how the couple says they are able to cope with their family’s hectic schedule, which includes a full compliment of team sports, hunting and other activities.

“We go by the seasons around here,”&160;David Knapp says. “First we have football and cheerleading, then hunting, basketball, T-ball and baseball. It’s always something.”

Perhaps most important, David Knapp’s job as a territory manager for Evans Oil allows him enough flexibility to handle many of the parenting duties.

“That’s what saves us, is that he does so much,” says Charla Knapp, herself the youngest of four children. “Otherwise, I&160;don’t know how we’d do it. And he’s really good about it.”

The children also pitch in when they’re not busy with extracurricular activities. Chelsey, for instance, likes to cook and babysits her younger siblings. Shayne takes out the trash, feeds the family’s three dogs and mows the yard.

Teamwork is the key to getting the job done.

If the hours before school are considered the “witching hours,” so are the hours between dinner and bedtime, and with good reason.

Homework waits for children to finish, under parents’ watchful and helpful eyes. Even with the break from homework that comes with a pending Christmas break, the Knapp children have a myriad of activities to occupy their time, and their parents’ time.

After woofing down a dinner of deer steak, Darren and his shadow, Nathan – both considerably more awake in the evening than the morning – take turns jumping on every piece of furniture in the living room and den.

“I’m naked!” Nathan yells, sporting only his underwear as he jumps off the recliner in the den. Charla Knapp, shaking her head, quickly gets Nathan dressed again and, with a few words, puts an end to the jumping.

Next, the boys retreat to their rooms to show visitors their sports trophies and toys, then assemble a toy train and push it through the hall, complete with train-whistle sound effects.

Shayne, on the other hand, occupies his time shooting baskets – not with an actual basketball, but a foam ball and a mini-hoop attached to the door between his bedroom and the dining room.

While Charla Knapp cleans out the refrigerator, making room to store the night’s leftovers, her husband fields several calls for Chelsey, who is babysitting at another house.

At about 9 p.m., Charla Knapp runs a bubble bath for Darren and Nathan in the bathroom that adjoins her and David’s room.

It’s playtime for the two boys, who play with nearly every bath toy in the tub, especially the toy sharks, as their mom keeps a watchful eye on the pair.

“Sometimes there’s more water outside the tub than inside by the time they’re through,”&160;said David Knapp, who was nearby in the den, checking his work e-mail on a laptop computer.

Meanwhile, Chelsey comes in from babysitting and makes a beeline for the refrigerator, gathering a bit of deer steak, mashed potatoes and green beans and microwaving them. But as soon as she has dinner, she makes another beeline for her room and begins returning telephone calls.

“She’s always on the phone,” Shayne offers.

Thirty minutes later, she emerges from her room to help her mother get sleepwear ready for Darren and Nathan, who are ready to towel off.

Then Chelsey and her mother have another task – dipping candy and fruit in melted chocolate to give to Chelsey’s friends as Christmas treats.

And they don’t have any time to waste -&160;it’s already 9:45 p.m. and the next day is the last day of school before Christmas break.

They are almost halfway through their task when what Charla Knapp has warned Shayne about several times actually happens.He tries to make a basketball shot across the living room and breaks a candle holder on the wall, scattering small pieces of glass across the floor.

“Oops,” Shayne says.

“He finally did it,” Darren says matter-of-factly.

Charla Knapp takes a deep breath and, sighing, helps the family tackle their next task — sweeping up glass and checking with flashlights to make sure no slivers ended up in the candy.

It’s about 10:30 p.m. when the Knapp children make it to bed. Nathan, dressed in an Elmo-and-plaid ensemble, sleepily asks his mother to read him a story.

So she tucks him into her bed once again, and by the faint light of a bedside lamp, she reads him a book about Clifford, the big red dog, as Nathan cranes his neck to look at the pictures.

Then he wants another story. “Can we read it tomorrow?” Charla Knapp asks. “Mama’s really tired. I’ve got to go to work really early tomorrow.”

Nathan holds fast and his mother relents. As they embark on the story of a baby alligator, she holds Nathan tight and a moment of peace envelopes the family.