Carol Shwanda chronicles her blended family's lives and experiences offering hope, guidance, wisdom, inspiration and humor to anyone who is in or about to enter into a blended family.
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HOW WE MET
Before I met my husband, Paul, I had been a single mother for three years and had been dating off and on. All of my relationships were short term. I had many false starts and a lot of first dates. I was getting a little jaded and a touch cynical so I decided to take a break. Around that same time my mother died. Sad as is was, it was a very significant turning point in my life and a defining moment that would later shape my future decisions.
Mom had been on a ventilator in a rehabilitation center for six months. My brother and three sisters and I kept a close watch on her medical care, and as her health declined, the five of us came to the painful realization that she was not going to recover. At the recommendation of the hospital staff, we made the agonizing decision to take her off of life support. We set a date and time to remove the ventilator and the night before traveled home to Philadelphia to say our goodbyes. We all stayed in Mom’s house eating Philly cheesestakes and pouring over family photo albums. We rooted through boxes in the basement and found things Mom saved from our childhood like kindergarten report cards and letters home from camp. In spite of the tragic circumstances that brought us together, we actually had some fun. We have always been a close knit family and enjoyed each other’s company.
The next day we went to the rehab center to say goodbye to our mother and remove the ventilator. The nurses were waiting for us and prepared us for what to expect. In spite of their professionialism, we could tell they were sad, as they had formed attachments to Mom. We were all filled with dread, but felt strength in numbers. My brother expressed the sentiment the best when he said, “I have been dreading this day my whole life.” When the time came, we formed a human chain next to Mom by holding each other’s hands, with my youngest sister holding onto Mom’s. (I later described the scene to a friend as “the most wretchedly beautiful experience of my life.” ) We were all sobbing. Tears and snot were streaming down our faces, but we never let go. We held each other up. It was the only way we could have survived the ordeal. Our being there for our mother was not only a tribute to her, but a symbol of the legacy she left behind.
After Mom passed away, we busied ourselves with planning her funeral, getting her house ready to sell and settling her estate. Since she died just a few days before Thanksgiving, we decided to have one last Thanksgiving feast in our childhood home. It was a time of mourning and celebration. We read her will. Mom was a woman of modest means leaving us mostly sentimental things she knew each of us would appreciate. The last line was the greatest gift any mother can give her children. It simply stated: “You kids were my life.”
I returned home to California in a daze. I think I was numb, which was probably a common reaction. The emotional letdown of everything being over was a drain on me to say the least. I felt a sadness for my loss but there was something even deeper that was troubling me that I couldn’t quite identify. I remember quite clearly sitting on my livingroom couch, staring into space, trying to process my feelings. And then it hit me. When I thought about the support I felt from my siblings and how lucky we were to all have each other, I realized what I was feeling was regret that I did not have more children. I worried that my girls would only have each other and would never experience the benefits and joys of a large family. My ex-husband and I had planned to have four children, but my two pregnancies had been difficult so we stopped after two. Now not only was I reeling from the loss of my mother, I was mourning the loss of the children I never had.
Along came Paul who was (and still is) not only storybook gorgeous, but also kind, loving, smart, funny and above all, a dedicated family man. I couldn’t understand why he was still single. He told my later that women he dated were scared off by his kids. (The idea of the number of kids, that is, and not the kids themselves who I feel must clarify are not at all scary.) Throughout our early courtship he felt he needed to repeatedly remind me that he had three children. We’d be sitting in a restaurant, sipping wine, enjoying a meal and he would take me by the hand, gaze into my eyes and say, “I just want to remind you that I have three children.” To which I would reply, “I know. You already told me.” “Just wanted to make sure you knew.” he’d respond. I knew why he was concerned. He was afraid I would dump him. No way. He was just what I was looking for– a father who understood the joys and challenges of raising children. When I set out to find such a man, I took stock in myself and what I had to offer. I owned my own home and had two wonderful children. These were my greatest assets. I knew I had met my match the first time I visited Paul’s house. We were standing in his kitchen and he said to me,” I’m not a high net worth individual, but I own my own home and I have three wonderful kids. These are my greatest assets.” I got chills. We had been dating three weeks and he asked me to marry him. I said yes. We didn’t become officially engaged for another eight months and married nine months after that. We had a lot of planning to do to blend our families, but that’s another story. First, I’d like to tell you how we met.
Mom died in November and in March of the following year, my ex-husband took the girls to Disneyland for spring break. At first I was thrilled to have the time alone. After two days I was terribly lonely. Up to that point I had been enjoying life as a single gal. I went out to dinner and the movies by myself, took classes at the community college, tried new hobbies and was generally pretty happy. Those five days the girls were gone were a real eye-opener for me. I realized that I did not want to be alone. So I wrote an on-line profile for myself and put it up on Match.com.
Here’s how I decribed myself and what I was looking for:
I have a great life. I am fortunate to own my own home near the ocean and even luckier to have my own business doing work I love so much I can’t call it work. Self-employment can have its downsides, like burning the midnight oil, but the plus side is having the flexibility to drive on my kids’ field trips and attend their soccer games. I love being a mother. It is what gives me the greatest sense of joy and fulfillment. I want to challenge my children and guide them in exploring new ideas and activities. For instance, all three of us are taking up skiing. It is not something I was exposed to as a child so I wanted my two girls to experience it. With just a few lessons we have all mastered the bunny hills and green slopes and are fast approaching the intermediate ones. Over coming obstacles and challenges in life are empowering and if I had to declare a mission statement for myself and my children it would be that life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. If you are resilient and adaptable to change, you might discover that it turns out even better than you expected. That has been my experience and generally speaking, I don’t usually pine for things I don’t have. I try to live in the moment and enjoy life as it unfolds. I had a great time in the snow with my kids “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” I thought, but it also made me wistful. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to unwind after a day of strenuous physical activity, sipping wine (Australian reds are my current favorite) in a hot tub in the snow with a man. Now that would be heaven. I know that sounds cliche, but there are cliches for a reason. People want those things and I am no exception. I miss muscles. I want to talk to grown ups. I want to be with a strong, loving, intelligent man whose conversations with me are more stimulating than the ones I have with my 8-year- old.My ideal man is kind, loving, strong, intelligent and reliable. He is passionate about life and lives every day to the fullest. He likes to try new things, explore new ideas yet stays grounded by the familiar comforts that have always fulfilled him like his family and friends, favorite hobbies, and job he loves. He is confident and self-assured with a great a sense of humor so he doesn’t take life too seriously. He’s smart, really smart and needs to be challenged. He is skilled in the art of conversation and takes initiative — he has a plan and knows how to make reservations. He is sophisticated, knows his way around a wine list, for instance, but is not a snob. He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it because if he doesn’t “grab it” someone else will. He’s cultured, well-traveled, has a knowledge and appreciation for the arts and literature, but also enjoys amusement parks, movies and a good round of miniature golf. Above all, I am looking for a friend first, a lover later and a life partner eventually. Someone who may have had hurts and disapointments in his life who is now ready and not afraid to try again. Also, MUST love kids and animals and having them is a plus. Extra bonus points if he knows the answer to the question: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? If you’re newly single and still testing the dating scene to see what’s out there, please pass me by. My ideal man already knows what he wants. I don’t want any players. Likewise if you are still nursing a broken heart I’ve heard my fill of stories and it is not that I am not interested in all the fascinating details, it is just that you have to be over it and ready to move on to share yourself with someone special …like me.
This is what Paul wrote:
About me: I am parent and a man who wants to share my life and family with a woman who wants to be with us. I have three beautiful children, two boys (13 and 11) and a girl (7) who live with me every other week. We laugh, cry, bicker occasionally and do all the same things you did in your family when you were growing up. I’m a consulting Mechanical Engineer, own my own business and my time is free to schedule at the convenience of my clients and myself. I’m busy but find time to keep healthy by eating well, exercising and working to stay on my own spiritual path. I’m in good shape, can play most sports, have fun doing it and if you do too, we’ll have fun. I have been divorced for over a year and a half and have a healthy parenting relationship with my children’s mother. We all live in Santa Cruz and can attend to our children’s lives in peace. I love to travel for surf and skiing and I’d like to meet a lady who has the desire and time to be able to share her interests, and to share in mine. I try and sail off Santa Cruz during good weather year round and it would be nice if you enjoyed the ocean. If you do not, that’s ok too. There’s more where this came from that we can find out later. About You: You may have been married before and maybe not. Being a parent would help you understand the emotions and responsibilites that having children requires. A desire to be one is important. You’re emotionally well grounded and the rebounding is completed. Being ready to have a relationship would save us both the disappointment of getting to comittment and then bailing out. You will be emotionally and financially secure. You care about your physical appearance without obsession and enjoy looking good. You accept being treated with kindess and respect and can return the same with love. You can start slow in a relationship and be honest about your feelings and expectations. You have the inner strength to lead some days and follow some, but always staying true to your beliefs.