By Jessica Wiant - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- For most people who walk through the doors of Ramsey Hardware, the store is simply a place to get a key cut or pick up a box of nails.
For 2-year-old twins Grayson and Gabe Bowen, it is a day care center -- and one enormous indoor playground.
"They like the plungers. They like the nuts and bolts and screws," says their father, Doug Bowen, who helps run the family business. "You can always run around and find something new."
Grayson climbs into a rocking chair as Gabe plays with a rack of colorful keys. They push carts down the aisles, and rope an employee into a game of peek-a-boo.
They get to visit with customers' dogs, and play around the trucks and forklifts that the hardware store rents out. And they get lots of daddy time.
In between helping customers and taking care of business, Bowen constantly points out the names and colors of items to the boys.
He mentions that they have climbed ladders, prompting Gabe to say "la-la."
Bowen started bringing his sons to work with him when they were about 12 weeks old, after their mother returned to work as a chemistry teacher at Skyline High School.
The Bowens had looked at different day care centers, but few had room for two babies.
Because Mrs. Bowen is a teacher, the boys would also have several weeks with her during the year, weeks they'd still have to pay for if they used a full-time day care. When one day care center did have two spots open, it wanted the Bowens to start paying six weeks early to hold their place.
That's when they decided Bowen would just take the boys with him, he says.
For Mrs. Bowen, there were plenty of benefits. The boys are always being interacted with and played with, she says, versus spending time in a swing or bouncy seat at day care.
Having their dad serve as the caregiver also made the Bowens' decision to exclusively use cloth diapers -- a choice made to cut both expenses and waste -- easier.
For Bowen, having the boys with him has allowed him to be around them more, and see each stage of development as they have advanced to walking and speaking.
He also gets to watch them interact with each other.
"They crack each other up," he says.
Bowen brought them to work daily until they were more than a year old.
At first, the routine was easy: just eat, sleep, feed and change, he says, and get plenty of work done in between.
"It was fun and different," he says.
As the boys got older, they slowly started to wander out of the little area he had set up for them in a former furnace room that serves as an office.
In that room, Bowen put down an easy-to-clean indoor/outdoor carpet and has a play yard for each boy for naps, along with a high chair and some toys, all closed in by a gate.
As they learned to crawl, then walk, they explored more and more of the store, according to their dad.
And the boys required more interaction as they got older, he says, so nowadays they join him only on Mondays and Fridays. On the other days, they've stayed at home and a baby sitter helps out during hours both parents are at work.
This fall, they'll be starting at a part-time preschool program and will continue coming to the hardware store two days a week.
The family will also be getting a new addition, another boy, due Nov. 1. The plan so far is that Bowen will bring the new baby with him full time, just as he did when the twins were newborn.
"It's easy before they are mobile," Mrs. Bowen says. "It's once they are mobile it gets hard."
Bowen hasn't rearranged shelves or displays to accommodate his children either.
"You can't," he says. "It's almost impossible because of the sheer volume. You can't quite baby-proof it."
Other than a ripped package or two, and the paint shaker giving the boys a scare, the twins have caused little damage at Ramsey Hardware so far.
Trouble? No way, a customer jokes. "They're just curious at that age."