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Robin Hart in studio

The Breakfast Club

Meet the Moms Who Rise Before the Sun to Take the Early Bird Shifts.

Some moms truly spend more time in the dark than others; rising at 4 a.m., 2 a.m. or earlier to head in to work. In 2004, the last time the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked shift work, one in five Americans worked outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workday—and women covered these jobs almost as often as men. It creates unique family schedules, but for these local moms, it’s business as usual to be at work when the rest of the world is still snoozing.

Longtime 9NEWS reporter TaRhonda Thomas hears her first alarm at 2 a.m. “The second one goes off at 2:03,” she says, and she’s up by 2:21 to be at the station at 3. There, it’s go-go-go, covering breaking news and anchoring the midday show. And there’s no rest: Thomas recently accepted a position as a weekend anchor, too.

“On weekdays, if I’m really on track, I”ll get out of the studio by 1 p.m.,” Thomas says. She usually hits the gym before switching into mom mode just in time to pick up her three school-aged children at 3 p.m. “I’m with kids in the afternoon, and we do all of the normal stuff,” Thomas says: snacks, homework, practices, and rehearsals. On a good night, Thomas is in bed early enough to catch six full hours. “Usually I get about five,” she says, adding, “I can’t go to sleep until the kids do.”

Thomas” superpower is organization, and she manages by multi-tasking—prepping the next day’s lunches while the kids do homework, for example—and keeping a schedule that’s so precise it’s often laid out in 15-minute increments. That schedule gets hairy when Thomas has appearances and events, and she relies on neighbors and friends for help. “My husband does a lot, too,” she adds. Thomas sets out clothes and combs her girls” hair at night, but in the morning, her husband gets the kids off to school. This has been their routine since Thomas began working morning shifts, shortly after their youngest daughter was born.

Don’t let Thomas” picture-perfect appearance fool you. She’s human, just like the rest of us, and sometimes she struggles with being a working mom. In those moments, Thomas is comforted thinking about her mother and grandmother. “They always worked with kids and still had dinner on the table every night—which I sometimes fail at,” Thomas says. “When I’m tired, I think of them, and then I suck it up and get through it.”

Christine Van Diest

Trainer at Project Rise Fitness and CrossFit Greenwood Village

“I’m always the first one up in our house,” says Christine Van Diest. That’s because this naturally perky mother to four rises at 4:45 a.m., and is out the door by 5:15 to coach 5:30 and 6 a.m. group exercise classes. “On the bright side,” Van Diest says, “I get to wear my workout clothes and tennis shoes.”

The former collegiate athlete has worked the morning shift for more than five years, since relocating to Denver. Van Diest is done coaching group classes and private clients by 1 p.m.—some days earlier. “As a mom,” she says, “I like being home with my kids after school.”

Van Diest’s husband—a small business owner—doesn’t have to get to the office until 10 a.m., and can supervise their children, ages nine to 18, before school. He helps with breakfast, and makes sure they”re out the door on time. “Without that, my hours would be really challenging,” Van Diest says.

“Food prepping is huge,” adds Van Diest, who’s also a nutritional guru and Shaklee distributor. Van Diest starts dinner at 4 p.m.—then it’s off to practices or Young Life activities. “I have bigs and littles, and they have very different needs,” Van Diest says. Her husband doesn’t get home from work until 7:15 p.m. or later. “Sometimes the kids will do a second dinner with Dad at 9. That’s when I’m getting ready for bed,” Van Diest says.

She and her husband of 23 years have opposite schedules. But, Van Diest says, “We communicate well and often.” At night, they”ll debrief over a walk, or cuddle up in bed to catch the latest episode of their favorite TV shows.

To avoid mom burnout, she prioritizes self-care. “I have to make strides to get my own workouts in, and I have to think about how I”ll fuel my body when I”ve been up since 4 a.m.,” Van Diest says. “Sometimes when I’m exhausted, it’s mind over matter. Sometimes I”ll read a devotion or listen to great music,” she adds. “Sometimes I have to just sit and pray and realign my heart and mind.”

Robbyn Hart

Reporter, Anchor, and Personality at 97.3 KBCO, 103.5 The Fox, and KOA News Radio

Robbyn Hart rolls out of bed at 4:30 a.m. most mornings—and that’s an improvement from some of the earlier years in her decades-long radio career. To save time, Hart showers at night, and she always has coffee ready to brew at dawn. The silver lining? “Nobody sees me on the radio,” she says. “Nobody but my work husbands,” she adds, “So I don’t have to get up and look good.”

Hart is on air at 6:10 a.m., and she”ll spend the next four hours toggling between 103.5 The Fox and 97.3 KBCO. When her kids were younger, Hart worked until noon; last month, though, she switched to split shifts. The radio host wraps up her first shift at 10 a.m., and is back in the studio by 3:30 p.m. to anchor KOA News Radio’s afternoon show from 4 to 7 p.m. “Typical with parenting,” Hart says, “just when you think you”ve got everything locked down, something changes.”

Hart says she’s ‘still trying to figure things out, parenting-wise.” One thing’s for sure: “I couldn’t do this without my husband,” she says. Her husband has handled the morning hoopla since their 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old twins were in diapers. “It’s very hard to give that up to someone,” Hart admits. “But you have to trust your partner is getting everything done.” Missing out on morning hugs and extra sleep has been a small price to pay. “I spent a lot of time with my kids when they were little, even though I worked,” she says.

What’s the secret to being a mom who works outside of the home? There isn’t one, according to Hart. “You’re always going to be trying,” she says. “With parenting, my husband and I—We”ve never done this before. We”re just punting.”

Marina Duran

Certified Nursing Assistant

“My permanent hairstyle is a bun,” says Marina Duran. It makes sense, considering this mom works the graveyard shift at an area hospital three nights a week, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. She also picks up a couple of night shifts a month at another hospital.

Duran has worked nights for close to 15 years—almost as long as she’s been in the nursing field. But, she says, “I like working night shifts because it works out with my family.” After twelve hours on her feet, Duran, on workdays, races home to get her 6-year-old up for school. She does the morning routine: toothbrush, breakfast, drop-off. Her husband is off the hook in the morning since he”ll be in charge of the kids for the nighttime drill. After a quick family dinner, Duran heads to the hospital.

Before kids, the night shift was easier, Duran says. “I”d come home, have a snack, and sleep all day,” she recalls. But now, after dropping her older son at school, Duran’s up caring for her three-year-old. “Whenever my younger son decides to take a nap, I take one,” she says, adding, “It’s especially hard right now because I’m pregnant.” When Duran’s third child arrives, she”ll take a six-week leave, just like she did with her others. Her husband will continue to cover the night shift at home, and her parents will help out, too.

On the days she isn’t working, Duran tries to get to bed at a reasonable hour. “Usually midnight,” she says, noting that on those days, she’s still up at 6 a.m. “My sleeping pattern is a mess,” she says, but “The money is really good at nights, and I just do it. I do it because I’m a mom, and it needs to be done.”

Maria McKay

Barista at From the Ground Up

“I wing it—a lot,” says Maria McKay. The barista started working out of necessity, and was a stay-at-home mom until 2012, when she took a job opening at an independent coffee shop. Sometimes McKay will ‘sleep in” until 4:45 a.m.—but she’s usually up at 4:30 and at work an hour later—preparing to pour coffee and dish out homemade quiches for a steady line of morning commuters.

“I get up, shower, and make breakfast for myself if there’s time,” McKay says. “I get our school plan up on the board the night before,” she adds. In addition to working a three-quarter-time day job, McKay also homeschools her 10-year-old twin sons and 11-year-old daughter.

McKay clocks out at 11 a.m., and rushes home to close out the school day. “My husband is home in the mornings, and the kids get started on their work while I’m at work,” McKay explains. “The afternoons are for us.” McKay says, “My head is spinning all the time,” but adds, “Life is less stressful now that [my kids are] homeschooled. And it’s getting easier as they get older.”

The barista doesn’t work weekend shifts, but her husband does. The two connect anytime they can—while running errands, or at night before bedtime. McKay’s kids are usually in bed by 8 p.m., and McKay likes to hunker down early, too. When her husband works the closing shift, though, which is fairly often, she stays up late to see him. “But 10:30—that’s pushing it,” she says.

Though sometimes self-care feels over indulgent to McKay, she says, “The best lesson I”ve learned is that I need to take time for myself. You”ve got to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others.”

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer and mother.

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