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Families try to balance time, energy

The TV is running its daily marathon of cartoons. There's a pile of seemingly self-replicating dirty laundry to do. A master calendar, sticky notes and watches keep the momentum going.

This is what it's like at any given time inside the home of the average Northern San Joaquin Valley family, where the clock spins a little faster than normal.

6 a.m. -- The McCabe family

Lisa McCabe's alarm just went off. If she wants to meet her goal of being out of the house by 7:15, there's no time to hit snooze. Her husband, Sean, 43, already has left for his job as a city maintenance worker, so Lisa prepares herself for work, and waking, dressing and herding the four kids into the car.

7:30 a.m.

Ely, 2, is off to day care. On another day, he might be going to his grandparents' house. The other three are off to school with Lisa, who is a teacher.

The family car is a taxi when filled with a fam-ily the size of Lisa McCabe's, which is pretty common in the valley, where families are a little bigger than the average U.S. family. While about 55 U.S. women out of 1,000 gave birth in 2006, more than 75 gave birth in the valley, according to the Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey that was released this week.

"It definitely takes two parents," McCabe said.

That's not always the case. Single parenthood is a little more common in the valley than the United States as a whole.

9:30 a.m. -- The Martin family

Mom Andrea Martin, 23, a single mother of two, is running late.

"Something comes up every day: a missing shoe, spilled juice, something. But my boss is a single mom, too, so she understands," Martin said.

Her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter stay with their grandmother while Martin works.

10 a.m.

Martin will be pressing hot water through espresso beans at a café in Merced for the next five hours. Then, she'll race to her second job as a waitress. Her curly brown unbrushed mane is pinned under a scarf. If she could, Martin would be in class, studying fashion.

"I did want to be a stay-at-home mom, but my boyfriend was only helping with the mom part. We aren't together anymore," she said.

Like most in the valley, Martin graduated from high school, but didn't go to college.

"I didn't even think about it until after I had kids. My mom stayed home. I thought I'd do that, too," she said. "If I had it to do over again, I'd focus on school more. Then I'd have the kids."

Martin said she has to work two jobs to pay the bills, which leaves no time for her education or relaxation.

"That's just the way it is. When you're a single working mom, there's no eating bonbons on the couch while the kids watch cartoons. You gotta hustle."

11:30 a.m. -- The Perez family

Ramona Perez, a college student and single mother of three, also hustles every day.

Perez, 29, of Modesto has been at work for about two hours. After dropping off her children at school and attending her own classes, Perez works for a college outreach program that focuses on busy people like her. After work, she'll pick up her children at an after-school program and they'll all head home to study.

Asked how she does it, Perez responds as though she hasn't slowed down yet to think about it.

"It's really hard."

Like a growing percentage of valley residents, Perez is Latino and the child of immigrants.

"It was a typical immigrant family. They stressed having a job. It was 'Work. Work. Work.' not 'Go to school.' I wish they had stressed education and birth control. I learned everything on my own."

Perez left home two years ago to create a life for herself that no one else could give her. She wants an education, a career and to be an example of self-reliance to her children. To some degree, Perez is glad not to have family to lean on.

"I'd be too dependent. Now, I look at my kids and I know what I have to do. I tell them we're doing it on our own, and it's going to work out."

1 p.m. -- The Diaz family

Jesse Diaz, 38, is finished with nursing class at Modesto Junior College and is off to work at a hospital. His two children are with the baby sitter.

Diaz's day is broken into five main parts: get himself and the kids to school, go to class, to work, go to class again and get himself and the kids home and to bed.

"I'm tired most of the time," the divorced single father of two said, before quickly adding, "but single moms have been doing it forever."

"When I got married, I thought I was going to have the 'Leave it to Beaver' life," he said.

Divorce is more common in the valley than the United States as a whole. While 10.5 percent of U.S. families are divorced, 11 percent of Stanislaus County families are divorced.

3 p.m. -- The Arviso family

Linda, 29, and Armando Arviso, 30, married eight years ago, planning on having a large family. They have four girls, who are in various stages of play and nap by this time of day.

"I definitely think we make sacrifices to have this many children, but that's something we decided to do," Linda Arviso said.

"People ask if they were all planned, and if they all have the same daddy. Some people give you dirty looks. They assume we're poor," Arviso added.

The Arvisos feel about average and know how to stretch a dollar. When one girl grows out of an outfit, it's passed on to the next. The kids bunk together, as in most families interviewed for this article. Because day care is pricey, Linda stays home. She's not alone. Married mothers in the valley are more likely than most U.S. women to be homemakers.

5:45 p.m. -- The Montoya family

Paul, 38, has picked up the kids from school. Between dinner and herding the kids into the family taxi for soccer practice, Rose Montoya, 39, takes a quick shower.

Like many other parents, the Montoyas say they couldn't do it without help from family, friends or outreach programs.

"My mom and dad live in town and help me out quite a bit. But I still do a lot myself. It's hard to find a baby sitter for four," Rose Montoya said.

The Montoyas' four children do chores as well, but there always seems to be more work than time and energy.

"It's a balancing act," Montoya said.

7:30 p.m. – The Scoffield family

At least three nights a week this family of eight takes a break from the balancing act to spend time with each other.

“It’s difficult with teens and jobs, but we make a point,” said Tammy Scoffield, 45.

On a cool summer evening, the family eats together in the backyard where there are no schedules or clocks. Time slows down there.

“As my kids grew up, I made sure I knew their friends and what they were doing and thinking about. They knew they could come to me with whatever and I wouldn’t react. We’d just deal with the situation,” Scoffield said of her six children who range in age from 22 to 8.

Openness is important to the Scoffields. Because the Scoffield children know about their parents’ finances, for example, everyone is proud to chip in when it’s needed.

“If we want to go out for ice cream, we just say ‘Hey. Does anyone have a 20?’ and someone will. No one feels like anyone owes anything to anyone. The money is all of the family’s money.

“Whether it’s the right thing or the wrong thing, I don’t know. But it works for us,” she added.

9 p.m. – The Montoya family

Julianna, 10, and Marcello, 7, are falling asleep in their room, where outfits are laid out for tomorrow. Lorenzo, 4, and Leonardo, 2, have been asleep for a while now. Their outfits are ready to go for tomorrow’s busy day, too.

All is quiet except for the kitchen where Rose and Paul, 39, are preparing tomorrow’s lunches.

10:30 p.m. – The McCabe family

The TV is off. The chores are finished - mostly. The drier is humming its high-pitched hum. Clocks tick in dark rooms.

Asked how she feels in comparison the average American family, Lisa says she doesn’t make comparisons.

“We’re hard-working parents and are proud of what we’ve accomplished. We try to teach our children the value of hard work through our own example.”

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

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