Becky Merchiori is a mom, a nurse and a student.
"I don't really know that there's a time when I'm not busy," said Becky, 36, of Belleville.
It's certainly not at dinnertime Friday when work and home worlds intersect.
By 5:30, she's dressed in hospital scrubs, serving her three sons bowls of homemade chicken and dumplings. Dad Marco, an architect with Korte Design, is due any minute. By 6:15, they'll all be on the road in the mini van, taking Mom to work.
"My shift starts at 7. I try to be there at quarter till."
She'll work 12 hours at Barnes-Jewish Hospital as a staff nurse managing the care of adult patients with a wide range of medical conditions on the acute medicine floor.
"It's really busy, and hard physically. You are really moving nonstop. I am too tired in the mornings (to drive home). He insists on driving. I don't refuse. I am so lucky. Most of the nurses I work with say the same thing. I drive myself on Sunday nights.
That extra hour last night? Becky worked it.
"We get paid for 13. Somebody has to pick it up."
Busy nurses rationalize it's another hour to get things done.
"Try the noodles, guys."
The guys, Thomas, 9, Adam, 7, and Max, who will be 6 on Wednesday, were more interested in telling Mom what went on at Cathedral Grade School that day. That kindergartner Max finally got his "jewel" for good behavior, that they had cupcakes as a treat. And, would it be OK to light the jack-o'-lantern that night?
Becky listened and encouraged.
"Adam, put that stuff down and eat your food."
"What's this?" asked Thomas, lifting a spoonful.
"Max, try a bite."
"I am just waiting till it cools down," he said.
"You boys are going to be hungry."
Becky is studying to be a nurse practitioner through Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish. She's taking bio statistics and health policy this semester.
"I knew pretty early on I did want to eventually get out of bedside nursing," she said. "I'm finding I'm more interested in public health and teaching. I'm not sure where it will take me."
An advanced degree gives her more options.
"When I'm finished, everything should be a little calmer," she said. "I'm in my second semester. I'll be done at the end of summer 2014."
Until then, days and nights are filled to the brim.
"I have a really supportive husband," said Becky. "He will make supper on the weekend. He does laundry for the school week. I leave him a list, but I don't need to. He does everything."
She was in nursing school when her children were young, but this is different.
"I didn't work three shifts a week. Now, I do."
She's not complaining. Nurse moms with young children vie for the hospital's weekend option schedule. Working 12-hour shifts Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights leaves the rest of the week open. Kind of.
"When I decided to be a nurse, I was hoping for a weekend schedule," said Becky.
She's home during the day. She's around when the boys are off school.
"Planning big meals, getting ready for school parties, I have time for that. I wouldn't say I am a great homemaker. I don't have a lot of decorations for the holidays. I don't keep up with the dusting. It works somehow."
She misses weekend activities, such as the school's Halloween trunk-or-treat last Saturday, but she gets the boys to activities during the week and makes sure homework is done.
"When the kids do homework, I do homework with them," said Becky. "We have a routine."
Grocery shopping on Tuesdays. Piano lessons Friday after school.
Last Tuesday, she picked up the boys, took the cat to the vet, made supper, had them practice piano, do homework, got showers and got ready for bed.
"We don't let a lot get in the way of going to bed at 7:30," she said.
Becky's sleep schedule is a challenge.
"Monday I am worn out," she said. "I sleep 3 or 4 hours during the day Monday. I have trouble falling asleep Monday night. Tuesday, I get up to get the kids off to school. I drink coffee, stay awake and feel normal again."
By Friday, she feels great.
"It's been a year now doing this," she said. "The first month, no matter how much I slept, it was so hard to stay awake."
And it was tricky to sleep during the day.
"We try to find things to do to stay away from the house," said Marco.
"Tennis lessons on Saturday morning, that takes a couple hours," said Becky. "They are often out of the house"
"We travel as a pack," said Marco. "if there's a birthday party, I have to bring everybody."
By the time Marco sat down for dinner, Thomas was ready for dessert.
"Can I have some more of your pie?" he asked his mom.
"We have to leave in 10 minutes," she said, serving him a slice of Oreo pudding pie.
Thomas figured that was his signal to begin shoveling.
"Thomas, do not eat like that."
Lots of giggles all around.
The couple's time together happens weeknights after the boys are in bed, through phone conversations and during an occasional dinner out.
"I guess it's all in the planning," she said. "We are already thinking of Christmas. I work Christmas Eve night. ... We do have grandparents who are happy to help out."
Becky looks forward to two weekends off in a six-month period.
"I will have a weekend off in December," she said.
She also looks forward to completing her master's, sometime after summer 2014, and a 9-to-5 schedule.
"I am at a hundred weekends (to go)," she said. "It doesn't sound so bad.
"Hey, boys, shoes. It's time to get in the car."