It may be dad's day, but teamwork makes this fast-paced Naples household hum
With Sergio and Christy De Leon, timing is critical: He's a paramedic with the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department and she's director of emergency services at Physicians Regional Medical Center on Collier Boulevard.
And that timing is not only critical in the ambulance and in hospital corridors.
Some mornings, Christy has a 7 a.m. meeting and Sergio's 48-hour shift in a workplace 40 minutes away doesn't end until 6:30 a.m. But they have developed a tag-team approach when school is in session, meeting each other midway with their daughter, Emma, and his son, Sean, both of whom attend schools that don't open until 7:30.
The De Leons are the kind of contemporary couple that make you believe Parents' Day — July 26 this year — deserves the same fanfare as Father's Day and Mother's Day. They function as a precision team to fuse careers with the family they care about. Sergio wanted Christy to know that he came with responsibilities for a son, and Christy wanted more family, enough to persist, even after two miscarriages, until Emma was born.
They have also been determined to make their kids responsible members of the family. Sean, 11, handles trash duties and is about to learn the joys of operating a riding mower around their Golden Gate Estates yard: "I'm just worried about hitting the sprinkler heads," his dad fretted. Emma, 6, has her own dusting and cleanup responsibilities.
In the family room of the home hangs a graphic of various typefaces that adds artistic interest, but also emphasizes a list of "Our family will ... " rules. Among them: "Love and accept one another." "Be patient with each other" "Forgive one another." "Be generous with each other."
De Leon would like you to believe his wife is the organized one. "But he's very organized," she insisted.
When mom is on her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday weeks and he is at home for four days, Sergio is the chef. The kids have "dad" favorites: breaded chicken for Emma, tacos for Sean. Like most modern parents, said Sergio, "we used to like to eat out, but now ..."
The coronavirus pandemic closed restaurants, and not all of them offered the option of take-home. Fortunately, Christy likes to cook, too.
When Sergio and Christy are together at home, they even team up in the kitchen, producing a bowlful of lunchtime guacamole in a swift, deft ritual. Sergio raps the avocado seed with a sharp knife to extract it and zips through diagonal cuts that will allow the green fruit to pop easily out of its skin. Christy takes over mashing it and stirring in a garlic spice blend while her husband does the hero's work: mincing the onion.
It brings him to tears and the family teases him.
Education has also been a dual-parent responsibility since the schools closed during the pandemic and learning went virtual. But neither parent is wild about the challenge. "Big learning curve. I didn't sign up to be a teacher," Christy said.
But she's firm about it: "You get your homework done and then you can go play and do whatever you want."
"I gave them long breaks," Sergio conceded with an guilty smile. "My attention goes for like 15 minutes, and then we get a break and go do something for 45 and then come back to it."
It's hard with them being in different grades, he added. Coaching Sean on his fifth-grade schoolwork is totally different than coaching Emma on kindergarten essentials.
Further, all through the COVID-19 school closures, the couple were still working, and at their busiest times of the year, he said: "We can have 16 to 19 calls to the fire department a day during season." When Sergio's team goes out, he's following the ambulance on a fire truck. And he may be headed to NCH with a patient at the time when his shift should be ending.
"But he always makes it happen somehow," Christy marveled.
The couple eventually sent their children to live with grandparents in Sebastian and Naples for nearly a month. Grandma and grandpa had more time in retirement to work with their online education.
"In the beginning, when he was at work, I would come home after work and feed, clean, bathe and then we would do (school) work until 10 or 11 o'clock at night, because I felt like I had to get the work done because I didn't want her to get behind. And that was a struggle." Emma's homework, learning to read and write, was critical, she said.
Also during the initial scare about COVID-19, grandparents were able to stay home and keep the children safe. Now the kids are home for the summer and their parents are careful about what they bring in.
Sergio changes into fresh clothes for his trip home from the Marco fire department; Christy changes hers on arrival. At Physicians Regional, emergency room patients get separate rooms, and no one even enters the emergency bay without a mask, including patients in ambulances.
All of them remove their shoes when they enter the house.
Cleaning is an essential at the De Leon household, too. Its black-and-stainless kitchen sparkles.
"I saw my dad doing it when I was growing up, so I guess it just stuck to me," Sergio said.
"We both love it clean," Christy. She and Emma give the house surfaces a polish before Sergio arrives home from his two-day shift.
That's a happy coincidence. Another happy coincidence is having good neighbors.
"Our neighbors are very, very helpful with the kids, or if there's people coming over. They're always willing to help us out."
They also help out with what Sergio and Christy called the toughest part of life as two working parents: still being a married couple. The neighbors take turns watching each other's children while the one couple gets a date night.
"When we do have time, we're spending it with them," Sergio said of the children. Even Father's Day this year will be spent simply relaxing with the family.
"But every once in a while, we remember: Hey, we need a parent night out."