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Grant and Laurie Gibbs of Petaluma like to call Thursdays their "perfect-storm nights."

That's when their work commitments collide most profoundly with the busy schedules of their two children — Noah, 7, and Julia, 10.

Grant, an English teacher at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, has been off for the summer, but he also directs the contemporary band at Elim Lutheran Church in Petaluma.

Laurie, a partner in the Ranch7 Creative Graphic Design firm, also does graphics for the church, and she creates and sells homemade desserts on the side.

So far this summer, the children have been involved in swimming, volleyball, flag football, vacation Bible school and a couple of different camps.

On Thursdays, it all comes together in the late afternoon, requiring some complicated tactics.

"We do some amazing choreography on Thursday nights," Grant explained.

"I bring Noah over to flag football practice at 5:30. Laurie follows about 15 minutes behind. She takes Julia, stops at the Mi Pueblo restaurant and picks up burritos, drives over to Noah's practice. Julia then walks across the street to her volleyball practice."

That's just stage one.

"Laurie and I eat for 15 minutes on the football field watching Noah's practice. Then on the nights I have to go to the church, I leave at 6:20 or so. Laurie takes Noah and the remaining food across the street to Julia's practice," Grant said.

For parents with active children who are still too young to drive, it's a common story.

"We are a family of two working parents, working full-time in two different counties, with three kids (ages 10 to 15) going to three different schools, in Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa," said Anastacia Mott Austin, a social worker who lives in Cotati.

"Summer means camp, and during the school year, there are commutes to choir practice and school events," she added.

Her husband, Kevin Austin, is a software engineer in Terra Linda in Marin County, so both parents spend a lot of time on the road.

"We keep track of it all on a calendar, and we text each other a lot," Anastacia said. "And the kids will let you know if someone doesn't show up to pick them up."

<b>No big plan</b>

The Gibbs family manages without a written schedule or master plan, but Grant and Laurie spend a lot of time on their cellphones.

Communication and planning are the keys to managing a busy family schedule, said psychologist Bert Epstein, Assistant Director of Student Health Services for Mental Health Programs at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Epstein, who has two sons, ages 8 and 12, keeps track of the week's activities on a whiteboard posted at home.

"We recently moved from one house to another in Petaluma, and lost track of the whiteboard for a while, so we tried using a calendar, but that didn't work as well.

"Then we found the whiteboard again, and that helped," Epstein said.

With many parents following their careers to new communities far from extended family, often living in neighborhoods where neighbors don't know each other well, families need to make an extra effort to seek help with their children's busy schedules, he added.

"We've found it helpful to set up carpools with parents of friends of our kids," Epstein said.

But that can be a challenge, too.

"We get into very detailed carpool negotiations with other parents," Anastacia Austin said.

If parents wonder if it's all worth the effort, they only need to ask their kids.

"I kind of like being busy, and having something to do," said young Julia Gibbs.

<b>Setting limits</b>

And parents can set limits.

"What I say 'no' to, so far, is traveling teams," said her father, Grant.

"We have friends whose weekends are just gone, with trips out of town every week."

Juggling busy family schedules has become a fact of modern life, psychologist Epstein explained.

"Times are trying for parents who feel either the financial necessity or the drive to further their careers, and still offer their children opportunities for development beyond the basic school programs," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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