About Carol

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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I would like my blog to be a forum for my readers to share their stories and experiences and express their views and opinions about being a part of a blended family. I am working on a book tentatively titled:Blended Family Stories. It will be an in depth look at the real life challenges and joys of successful blended families. If you would like to be part of my research I'd love to hear from you.Take my Blended Family survey

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    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 pushup 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”.

    When I was about 15, my mom and I were shopping for back-to-school clothes. Since I went to parochial school and wore a uniform, my needs were limited to socks, shoes and underwear. While standing in line for the cashier and holding my packages of Fruit-of-the-Loom briefs, I spied a rack of satin slips and camisoles. There was one set in particular that really caught my attention. To this day I can still remember the color– a peachy, pearlescent  pink with lace trim and mother-of-pearl buttons sewn down the front. I had never seen anything so dainty and elegant. All of my undergarments were plain cotton. This was so special. As one of five children to parents of very modest means, I knew better than to ask for something that we couldn’t afford and that I certainly did not need. My mother saw me admiring it and  asked me, “Would you like to have that?”

    “Could I ?, ” I asked incredulously.

    “Sure, I’ll get that for you.”

    Mom paid for it and I left the store carrying my package that contained my first real taste of sophisticated femininity. It was during the ride home that my mother told me about an incident that happened to her when she was about my age. To understand the significance, first let me tell you a little bit of history about my mom.

    My mother’s father died when she was 12.  It was a story that I had grown up hearing. He was killed in an accident at work. My grandmother, Nana, was widowed with three children at the age of 33. The year was 1934, the height of the Depression and Roosevelt had not yet instituted social security. With no income, my grandmother lost her home. She and her children had to move in with relatives. To support her family, my grandmother held down two jobs. During the weekday she worked as a seamstress in a department store in Philadelphia and on nights and weekends she took in alterations for a tailor.  She was the sole supporter of her family  because she insisted that her children stay in school and not dropout to go to work like so many of the other kids in the neighborhood. At that time, only rich people could afford to keep their kids in school. Nana had come to this country from Italy at the age of 9 and had to quit school at age 10 to care for her younger siblings when her  mother died from pneumonia. (Her father eventually remarried and Nana was raised by a wonderful stepmother. More on that later.) She always regretted not getting an education and  was determined that her three children would finish high school. “When I look back, I don’t know how we survived.” Mom described terrible hardships no one should have to endure like coming home from school starving and there was nothing to eat except a sweet potato she had to share with her brother and sister. Or huddling in front of the kitchen stove because it was the only heat source in the house. Hunger and cold, two physical discomforts of poverty I could somehow imagine. There were days I went without eating at school because I had forgotten my lunch at home or I left my jacket on the bus and had to walk home in the cold. It wasn’t until my mother told me “The Underwear Story” that I began to comprehend the demorilization and humiliation of poverty.

    To stretch her dollars, my grandmother sewed all of their clothes including their underwear, which she made from the soft burlap sack cloth that sugar and flour were sold in. “In those days, we wore bloomers and camisoles.” Mom recalled.  Since Mom wore a uniform, no one could really tell that she was poor until one day she was in the gym locker room changing out of her school uniform into her P.E. uniform when she heard some girls giggling. She wondered what they were laughing at and when she looked over at them she realized  they were pointing and snickering at her.  They were making fun of her underwear. All the girls were wearing beautiful silk and satin slips, camisoles and bloomers and they were mocking her. She was mortified. “I was so embarrassed I wanted to crawl into a hole.” Mom remembered. Swearing never to be humilated again, my mother was determined to find a way to get the money to buy herself some really nice underwear. The only money Nana ever gave Mom was for carfare to take the trolley to school on the days it rained or snowed. Mom pocketed the money and instead walked to school  until she saved  up enough to buy her own satin underwear which she wore on gym day.

    My mother was a softy when it came to good underwear and so am I. When I was in my late 20’s and living in New York City I founded a lingerie company that targeted the high end market. The Underwear Story was my inspiration.

    Published on January 5, 2009 · Filed under: BLENDED FAMILIES, STORIES ABOUT MY MOM; Tagged as: ,