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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Must Reads for Today’s Successful Blended Families
Published on January 4, 2013
One of the many things I have always been so grateful for in my adult life is the positive and supportive co-parenting relationship I have with my ex-husband, Jared, the father of my two children. This is beneficial not only for us, but for our daughters, who were raised with the comfort and security of knowing they have two parents who love them unconditionally and who are willing and able to work together to impart wisdom, encouragement and positive values into their lives. This was especially evident to them today when Jared and I sat in the waiting room of the oral surgeon while our daughter Eva had her wisdom teeth extracted.
I call our parenting method ”team parenting” and this is an example of how our arrangement works for us. Several months ago Jared took Eva to her final orthodontist checkup where they do X-rays to see if your wisdom teeth are coming in. Sure enough they were. The orthodontist referred him to an oral surgeon and gave him the surgeon’s card. When Jared dropped Eva off at home, he came in the house and gave me the card and asked me to schedule the consultation, which I did. I took Eva to the first pre-surgery appointment and found out how much the extractions would cost, which I relayed to Jared via a phone call. I then scheduled the extractions to take place over winter break.
Today we sat in the waiting room together and when the procedure was over, we helped our groggy daughter out to the car. As parents we worked together as a team because we communicate, which, thankfully, is not hard for us to do since we have such an amicable and friendly relationship. I know this may be a challenge for some divorced couples who don’t get along so well, but there is no excuse for a lack of some form of communication, whether it be by text or email, especially when it applies to the children’s medical care. Jared and I are able to get along so well because we respect each other for putting our children’s needs first. And because of that we all benefit.
Published on June 19, 2012
Eva left for France this morning.
My oh my.
What a sophisticated, polished and poised young lady she has become, dressed in her cute sundress, gold slip ons, hair in a neat chignon. Aside from her North Face jacket, she could pass for a Parisian.
And what a relaxed, calm and less emotional mother I have become. After her trip last summer to Spain where she had her passport stolen and was stranded unchaperoned in Madrid overnight when her flight home was canceled, you could say I have been “initiated.” I was much more at ease this time around and it was reassuring that Eva is not traveling alone. She is escorted by her friend and her older sister who is attending college in Tours.
Yesterday was Eva’s 16th birthday and we celebrated in typical American teenager fashion with waffles for dinner followed by a cookie dough ice cream cake. And to think tomorrow she may be dining on escargot and eclairs. She will be gone for six weeks. When she comes home, her life will never be the same. How can you keep the kid down home in Santa Cruz after she’s seen Paris?
Published on June 3, 2012
Eva leaves for France in a few weeks and will be gone most of the summer. She will be traveling with her friend, Mary, and they will be staying with Mary’s older sister, Ruby in a small town outside of Paris.
Sometimes I wonder if I am insane to allow my just turned 16-year-old daughter to travel to Europe, but I realize that I cannot hold my daughter back because ever since she was little, Eva has always had wanderlust. Recently I came across an essay she wrote in middle school about her desire to see the world when she grows up. She is living true to her dream. Good for her.
Eva is an adventurer who has always asserted her independence. When she was in first grade she insisted on riding her bike to school. Alone. I let her. Little did she know I followed her, running and hiding behind bushes to make sure she got to school safely. I won’t be able to do that this summer. I just have to have faith that all of the self-defense classes I made her take won’t ever come in handy.
As my children reach adulthood, I have come to accept that there is no holding them back. It helps that the older kids have, in some way, blazed trail and have been positive role models. Ruby was a foreign exchange student in France her senior year in high school and upon graduation, decided to stay in France to attend college, which is what Eva hopes to do. Ruby has been her mentor and inspiration. Eva will graduate from high school a year early and plans to apply to Rotary to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country. She is unsure where she intends to attend college, but I will not be surprised if she ends up in Europe. And to think my mother wept when I moved from New Jersey to California. Thank heavens for email and Skype.
Published on May 14, 2012
Yesterday’s Mother’s Day celebration at the Shwanda household definitely ranked as Number #1 in my book. For one, I got to celebrate with my step kids, as well as my daughters, and that was really special.
Sophia and Eva, my girls, made me homemade waffles for breakfast. Cheryl, my step daughter, was at a sleepover. When she got home I took the three girls out for tea. (Mark did not want to go, understandably. He stayed home and watched the Giant’s game with Paul.) We went to a lovely new tea room that just opened up in Santa Cruz. Very Zen. Soft music, various teas that were served with various temperatures of water. (Apparently it makes a difference.) After the server gave us the lecture on no WiFi, cell phones, iPads, laptops or any electronic devices, as if on cue, my cell phone rang. I was about to ignore it when I saw the caller was Sam, my oldest step son calling me from the Navy!!! I leaped across the restaurant to run outside so I could talk. I was so touched I almost wept with joy, but I didn’t dare for fear that he would think I was a weirdo and swear off calling me ever again. His call was especially poignant for me since he and I haven’t always seen eye to eye over the years and have butted heads on a number of occasions. That he had the thoughtfulness to call me meant the world to me.
When we got home, there was a bouquet of roses and a lovely note waiting for me from Paul who had made us dinner. Cheryl gave me a beautiful hand made card thanking me for my generosity and telling me that I’m a great step mom. I beamed.
Yesterday was indeed the best (Step) Mother’s Day ever.
Published on May 13, 2012
Mother’s Day for me is often a mixed bag of emotions. I’m lucky that I get to celebrate with my own children who are now at the age of mastering breakfast. Today’s morning feast included waffles made from scratch, bacon and fresh strawberries. A big improvement over the runny eggs and cold toast they often served to me when they were little. Although this is a joyful occasion, I often reflect back and reminisce about my own mother who died 7 years ago and how much I miss her and wish I could be with her. In honor and celebration of what a great mother she was, I’m dedicating this blog post to her and all the wonderful wisdom, advice and guidance she imparted to me over the years. Below is a snippet of her most quotable quotes followed by one of my favorite stories about her.
How Hard Can it Be?
“How hard can it be?” This question was actually a confidence boosting reassurance from my mother whenever I felt overwhelmed or challenged by a seemingly unattainable goal or daunting task. This was my mother’s way of saying that things aren’t always as hard as they seem and that I should be giving myself a lot more credit for my abilities. She also advised me to always wear sunscreen and to never leave the house without lipstick.
(This is my favorite story about my mother. I’m off to have tea with my girls. Enjoy!)
The Underwear Story
I took my daughters to buy bras at Victoria Secret yesterday. They begged me. Believe me, I didn’t want to go. I don’t approve of the whole push up bra/thong scene, particularly for young girls. They insisted they have the best “I’ll-die-if -I-don’t-have-them-bras” so I relented on the condition that they select from my preapproved choices. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they did indeed have a reasonable and tasteful assortment of styles and we had a really fun time shopping. Several hundred dollars later (I picked up a few too.) we headed over to Starbucks for a some lattes and some mother/daughter girl talk at which time I told them what has become known in my family as “The Underwear Story”. Read more…
Published on March 19, 2012
Below is an except to a follow up piece I wrote for Parent Society called My Gay Ex-Husband about why I think gay people can and do make good parents, and why I am in favor of same sex marriage. Although the original title was called, Do Gay People Make Good Parents?, I now think a more apt title would have been, Can Gay People Make Good Parents? because as one of my readers pointed out, it doesn’t really matter if you are gay or straight, you could be a great or lousy parent regardless of your sexual orientation.
When my oldest daughter turned 16, my ex-husband, “J” bought her a car. He asked me for a ride to the dealership so he could pay for it and pick it up. As I drove away from the parking lot, I glanced bank and watched him as he sat down at the salesman’s desk, pulled out his reading glasses from his pocket, put them on and took out his check book. I couldn’t help but think, “How dad-like.” Yes, my ex-husband has turned into his father. Aside from the divorce, this could be a modern Norman Rockwell story, an all-American rite of passage. Dad buys his daughter a car. What a guy. The difference here of course, for those of you not up to speed, is that my ex-husband is gay. Read more…
Published on March 19, 2012
Below is an except of an article I wrote for Parent Society about how I coped when my ex-husband of 10 years came out of the closet as gay.
Do you remember when former New Jersey governor, James McGreevey, announced he was gay? I sure do. I recall smiling ruefully to myself when I heard people talking about the scandal and wondering, “How could his wife not know? Can you imagine being married to someone and not knowing he’s gay?” Yep, I can, because it happened to me. Read more…
Published on March 1, 2012
Eva, my world traveler, is heading to France this summer for 6 weeks. We just booked her ticket. She will be traveling with a friend who is visiting her older sister who attends college in Tours. They will be staying in a small town about an hour’s train ride from Paris. She is so excited. She and her friend are planning their itinerary, which includes visits to the Louvre, the Loire Valley and dining with some local families.
As you may recall, last summer Eva spent a month in Spain, where she studied at the Segre University in Granada. Her father and I find it remarkable that she has developed such a zest for foreign travel at such a young age. She once told me, dreamily, “Mom, I want to see the world.” She also said when she hears people speaking in another language she gets frustrated when she can’t understand them. Her Spanish is getting pretty good and she is now learning French from an App she downloaded onto her iPhone. She plans to graduate from high school a year early and apply through Rotary to be a foreign exchange student in a Spanish speaking country.
You go girl. And to think my mother freaked out when I moved from Philadelphia to New York City. Times sure have changed.
Published on February 13, 2012
The title of this blog post is a saying I read the other day and it reminded me of an email I received recently from one of my readers. She was bemoaning the fact that her in-laws, namely her husband’s brother and his wife, (who are childless, btw) interfere with her parenting by making unwelcome and unsolicited snarky comments about her decision to home school her children.
My reader went on to say that they butt heads on a lot of topics, mainly because they have differing religious and political views. In today’s polarizing political arena that’s not surprising, as I am sure that we have all experienced at some time or another a less-than-civil debate about some hot button issue.
However, religion and politics are not at issue here, and that is what I told her. It is really about control and the offending party’s self-aggrandizing, sanctimonious need to be right. I sympathized with her dilemma, as I have experienced similar problems myself. People are entitled to their opinions. When they start to impose them on to you, that is where you have to draw the line and not allow yourself to be bullied. The interference with the parenting is one thing, but what is most egregious is the arrogance of a person who thinks he or she has the right to do it in the first place!
My advice to her was to ignore these people and avoid them as much as possible. Don’t let them rent any more space in your brain. If you cut them off, they will get the message.
Published on October 4, 2011
I spoke to Sophia today. She called to thank me for the colossal care package I sent her. She said the mail room attendant told her, “Man, that thing’s heavy.” It was. 28 pounds. I kind of overdid it. And it wasn’t the first time. Perhaps I am overcompensating. Her friends are on to me. They’re placing their orders. “Tell your mom to send those lemon cookies again. And some brownie mix.”
You see, I miss Sophia. But somehow, I don’t think she’s missing me. And quite frankly, I’m relieved, because I was afraid that she would and that would have been awful. She’s not homesick in the least. The day before we left her at school she was weepy and anxious about me leaving. I assured her once we separated she would be fine. She has a four day break this week and I told her if she wanted to she could fly home for the weekend. That reassured her.
Today she informed me that she was going to Washington to her friend’s house for her break.
“How are you going to get there?” I inquired.
“My friend has a car.”
“How long of a drive is it?” I gulped anxiously.
“Make sure you wear your seat belt,” my timid, lame response.
What more could I say? She’s an adult now. No further interrogation from me. What I don’t know is probably best.
When I think back to my own college years and the bomb of car I drove it’s a wonder I survived. No seat belts. The brakes didn’t always work. Seriously. My parents let me drive this clunker. (They also let us play with dart guns.) And the passenger door would occasionally fling open. It was advised to not sit too close.
What I don’t know is probably best.