Please do not use doorbell. Babies are sleeping.
The message is on a piece of paper taped over the doorbell at the Gokey family home on Bellevue Road in West Toledo. Not a problem; no one s inside now anyway.
It s a minute or so before 8 p.m., and the family has just pulled into the driveway from Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where they ve attended preschool graduation ceremonies for their 4-year-old daughter, Lydia.
Minivan doors open and the occupants begin emerging: the graduate wearing her Precious People Preschool T-shirt; Amy, the mom; Bernie, the dad, and Lydia s siblings: Abigail, Caleb, and Daniel.
The bedtime hour is about to begin although hour isn t quite correct. It s hour and then some, and not just because Bernie and Amy are outnumbered, two to one. It s that Abigail, Caleb, and Daniel are triplets, just 6 months old.
And even two seemingly unflappable adults with a well-honed routine and mellow children can t be expected to get a preschooler and three babies fed, cleaned, and horizontal in just 60 minutes. Achieving world peace might be easier.
When they were 5 weeks old, we would start at 8:30 and go until 11, and that was minus the cereal, Amy says. So it s gotten better.
It helped, initially, that the Gokeys were able to adjust to their baby boom in stages. Born without complications at 34 weeks, the infants spent varying lengths of time in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Vincent Mercy Children s Hospital. They just needed to get their body weight up, Bernie says.
Abigail was the first one home, so we were able to get acclimated a bit. About a week later Daniel came home, and then a few days later Caleb came home, he adds.
But back to the action: Everyone troops into the house. The game is on.
Bernie lines up three bouncy chairs in the living room and straps Abigail and Daniel into two of them.
Abigail pulls her dress up and studies the bright red-print fabric. Daniel pumps his legs to rev up the bouncy chair. It begins to bob furiously; he beams, clearly delighted with himself. Life is good.
Meanwhile, Caleb has drifted off to sleep in his carrier in what used to be the dining room, now a staging area for diaper changes and baths. Amy wakes him and puts him in the third bouncy chair, where he sits quietly, still dreamy.
And Lydia inquisitive and chatty floats about, happily showing off her purple barn and collection of model horses, or playing at her pink card table in the corner of the living room, her back to the assembly line.
Very often she ll join right in, Bernie says. He and Amy might ask Lydia to fetch something for them, or plug a pacifier into a cranky baby s mouth, but we want her to know her responsibility is to be a kid.
Babies in place, it s time for food. Bernie and Amy prepare three bowls of rice cereal, and she returns to the living room to begin scooping it into the babies as Bernie prepares three bottles.
He s usually not home during the evening bedtime routine, he says as he moves around the kitchen, making up one formula for Abigail and a different one for the boys. Bernie works second shift at Roadway Express, but he has taken tonight off in order to attend Lydia s graduation.
When Bernie s at work, Amy gets help during the evening rush hour from her mother or one of her friends. If she s alone, she takes the squeaky-wheel approach: You deal with the crying one first.
Amy is sitting on the living room floor between Abigail and Daniel as Bernie arrives with the bottles.
OK. Who am I taking? Bernie asks.
Here, take Daniel, she replies.
They make the cereal/baby hand-off smoothly.
Abigail finishes her cereal and takes some of her bottle before Amy unstraps her for a bath. Amy has decided on a shortcut tonight because they re running a little late only Abigail will get a bath. She had the messiest diaper, Amy explains.
While they have an established routine, they know it has to be flexible. We look at priorities. What do we have to do? What can wait? says Amy, who is on leave from her job as a sixth-grade teacher in Rossford.
Abigail isn t happy about the bath, alternating between fussing and scowling at her mother. Amy tries to divert her attention by tapping the baby s nose and singing softly: I love you, a bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck!
As she dries and diapers Abigail, Bernie is multi-tasking in the other room. Seated between Caleb and Daniel on the floor, he s been doing bottle and burp duty and is reading a story to Lydia, who s nestled in his lap.
In a few minutes, he and Lydia will go to the kitchen to make her bedtime snack. She chooses fresh cherries and yogurt.
8:50 p.m.: Lydia is at her little table, eating and watching a Barbie movie on a portable DVD player. Daniel is in a walker, chewing on a blanket. Abigail is taking more of her bottle. Caleb is on his back on the floor, trying mightily to roll over. He s thwarted by a pesky shoulder that he can t manage the omph to overcome.
8:55 p.m.: Amy takes Abigail upstairs and places her in a crib. Soft lullaby music plays.
Contact Ann Weber at: email@example.com 419-724-6126.