FREELAND -- It's 5:30 a.m. In the soft, charcoal black of a country morning, crickets are chirping and a light breeze teases the oaks. Inside a brightly lit house, Terry Hunt is fixing breakfast for the first shift.
The coffee is perking as he lines up the bacon on a feed-an-army electric griddle. The neighbor's dog Kibbles whines at the screen door. Sounds of plumbing groan from above: Nancy Hunt is getting ready for her job at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Barefoot in white shorts and maroon polo shirt, Mr. Hunt stares trance-like at the coffee machine, a meditative moment before ,, the explosion of family. For the next 2 1/2 hours, he will orchestrate the arrival, feeding and departure of his wife and their children: 12-year-old Justin, 7-year-old Lauren and 6-year-old Kyle.
So begins the drama of weekday mornings -- a play in continuous rehearsal. In this northern Baltimore County household, Terry Hunt, 43, is director: a '90s dad, matching up socks and soccer schedules to help the family function smoothly.
The daily script usually includes repeated entreaties for Lauren to wake up and get going -- an enterprise that builds in suspense until the climactic 900-foot -- down the driveway to catch the school bus. Next, a comparatively tranquil interlude: The feeding of three horses, one steer, four dogs, four cats and one potbellied pig.
Then it's on to the real business of the morning: his. As owner of JLK Office Systems (a business named after the kids), Mr. Hunt spends much of his life on the road between Pennsylvania and Washington, recycling laser printer toner cartridges for such clients as Johns Hopkins University and Towson State University and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
* 5:40 a.m.: Time for Nancy Hunt to make a brief appearance before the 40-minute drive to GBMC. In she --es, dressed in a suit, beeper on belt, hair coiffed, makeup perfect, primed for her job as service co-ordinator for the gynecology-urology services in the general operating room. She grabs a cup of coffee and cobbles together lunch. Sometimes it's yogurt, but today she's in luck: Terry made crab soup over the weekend.
Mrs. Hunt, 38, spends her life organizing. By day, she makes sure everything is in order for surgery -- the supplies, the 'N staffing. By night, she presides over homework and baths, readies the children's outfits, plants their backpacks near the front hall, then cracks open the textbook for her logic course. On weekends, she's getting her BSN at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
"I'm not a sitter-downer," she explains. "When Kyle was a baby, I was working four part-time nursing jobs but Terry said, 'Nance, it's too much.' "
As she gulps her coffee, she's still double-checking the daily schedule: "Remember, the kids have drama today," she tells her husband as she heads out a front door decorated with Halloween lights. "And we've got to get Frankie a birthday gift."
* 6:15 a.m.: Next to appear is Justin, who must catch a 6:50 a.m. bus for his hour-long ride to Hereford Middle School. Justin, lean and handsome, hair combed back neatly and wetly, isn't much (( for talk before the sun comes up. But his appetite remains eloquent.
"Jus, want some scrambled eggs?"
Justin nods. As he waits, he consumes a bagel and some orange juice at the kitchen table, which is organized with mint-green Gloria Vanderbilt place mats. He looks longingly toward the stove. Last night he had soccer and jujitsu. The bacon smells alluring.
"I get the most bacon," he says.
"Yeah, Justin's a good eater," his father says, turning the bacon. "Kyle's a pancake man. Lauren likes sausage biscuits."
A house in the woods
Mr. Hunt cooks pancakes and then freezes them, a la Heloise. As he presides at the stove, he briefly recalls the days before he met Nancy, a time when he was more familiar with Baltimore nightclubs than the challenges of family cooking. He grew up in Dundalk, a streetwise neighborhood kid who always longed for the day when he could live in the woods.
After he married Nancy, who grew up in Parkville, they lived in Dundalk with his grandmother until they bought this eight-acre property, a half-mile from the Pennsylvania line. They paid it off in two years, rented a house in nearby Hereford, and spent the weekends clearing the place with their own chain saws. They moved into the custom-built cedar house just before Lauren was born.
Then they began to accumulate animals: Christmas, the thoroughbred; Sarah, the quarter horse and Cash, the Appaloosa; Ferdinand, the black Angus steer; Rudy the Vietnamese potbellied pig; Jack and Jefferson, the beagle brothers; Gabe and Kita, the labs. And cats: Electric, Fireball, Magenta and Coal, the chosen one who gets a can of tuna each night.
Now there's also a tractor -- a 1961 Farm All -- and a camper that they drive every year to Disney World. There's a goldfish pond and an above-ground swimming pool with a large deck that Terry built and that the family uses for entertaining.
"If you want friends up here, you have to go get 'em," Mr. Hunt observes. "The smart kids make arrangements for the weekend in the middle of the week. Back in Dundalk, you just went out back and there was a baseball game every night."
When Nancy became president of the Prettyboy Recreation Council, one of her first executive decisions was to put her husband in charge of the soccer programs. Now Mr. Hunt oversees the activities of about 300 children and coaches, and has designed and purchased new uniforms.
"We've also had to do pizza fund-raisers," he says. "And I'm handling a raffle and trophies for the clinics and organizing pictures for 300 kids."
Ah, the country life!
* 6:30 a.m.: Kyle wanders in, a mop of white blond hair, still sleepy in his T-shirt. He stares through the screen at the dogs.
"Kyle, you want a pancake?"
"I'll take one," Justin volunteers. And a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. And another piece of bacon. Breakfast accomplished, Justin heads toward the family room and the cheerful voice of anchorwoman Rudy Miller on the television.
Meanwhile, Kyle awakens to thoughts of Halloween. He introduces the spooky crayoned creatures taped to the kitchen windows, and searches for his Halloween coloring book.
* 6:45 a.m.: Lauren shows up fully dressed, uncharacteristically early. Her father is stunned. She's a sprite of a girl with a wide smile, blond silky hair like spun gold. It looks thoroughly brushed.
"Usually I comb her hair, but she doesn't want me to braid it," Mr. Hunt says.
"You can't braid," Lauren says, somewhat playfully. As if to prove her point about Dad's un-coolness, she produces the Brownies beanie he bought before he discovered that none of the other Brownies are wearing them.
"Lauren's the talker," he says.
The front door opens and shuts: Justin is gone.
Lauren drinks juice from her Tom & Jerry glass and chirps about Brownies, about her second-grade teacher and the four chameleons, one of which is clinging desperately to Kyle's forearm.
She shows off photos of when lightning struck the roof of the barn and no one was hurt. She talks about the week two of their dogs had 23 puppies, about how all the good kids, like her and Kyle, sit in the back of the school bus. She and Kyle are taking French, music and drama in Prettyboy Elementary School's "home base" after-school program.
"I wish I had harder homework," Kyle says. He takes a break from eggs and bacon to do round-off cartwheels across the kitchen floor.
"Kyle is Mr. Ready-To-Go in the morning," his father says. "He skips down to the bus stop."
"I skipped when I was 5, Dad. Now I'm 6."
* 8:10 a.m.: The school bus approacheth. Ever mindful, Mr. Hunt disappears and reappears with two pairs of socks and some timeworn instructions. He assists Lauren with her stylish black ankle boots.
"Dad," she protests.
"Well, Lauren, you got it all messed up now," he pauses, sorting out laces and eyelets.
Hair re-brushed, backpacks on, the children scamper -- not skip -- down the long, white rock-chipped, crusher-run driveway that hides the house from the road. They pass trees whose limbs are decorated with ghosts made from paper towels and rubber bands. Today, they arrive at 8:19, seconds before Miss Lisa and the school bus. Dad remains stunned: This isn't life as usual.
When the bus pulls off, Mr. Hunt climbs back up the hill. Thirteen animals await. Rudy, the potbellied pig, seems particularly happy to see him. "Sometimes I feel like Dr. Doolittle," he says.
* 8:45 a.m.: The 25-minute barnyard ritual unfolds smoothly to the accompaniment of Brian Wilson and sounds of the '70s, which evoke hipper, if not more satisfying, times. Life in the sticks is all it's cracked up to be, Mr. Hunt says. The other day, he and Nancy spotted deer eating in the cornfield. Last weekend, the family biked the North Central Railroad Trail. Out here, there's a lot to inhale whenever you stop long enough to catch your breath.
For now, it's toner cartridges and life in the Chevrolet Suburban on I-83. And time for Mr. Hunt to think about feeding himself.
He chuckles apologetically. "I know I probably should be, but I'm not much on breakfast."