Millstone mom ‘swapped’ on TV

Family participates in ABC’s "Wife Swap."

By: Lauren Burgoon
   MILLSTONE — So what does happen when a family who lives with few rules and no schedule is paired with a martial arts diehard who plans every minute of her day?
   In typical reality-show fashion, tantrums were thrown, tears were shed, a room was feng shui’d and in the end, everything seemed to work out for the best.
   That was the portrayal on Monday night’s "Wife Swap" on ABC. While it was pared to an hour for the television audience, the actual two-week experience was much more meaningful for the Millstone family who put their lives on display, saw their lifestyle challenged and traded moms with a California family on the reality show.
   Meet the Bimontes. Joseph, 41, and Lori, 38, have lived in their Carriage Way home for eight years. Joseph works in construction, while Lori is a stay-at-home mom. Their family is self-described "crazy" and includes Nicole, 13, Joe, 11, and Danielle, 7. The kids are in eighth, fifth and first grades, respectively, at Millstone public schools.
   Viewers’ introduction to the family included a montage of spats between the children, Nicole sassing her parents, and a whirl of activity, such as finding clothes in kitchen cabinets and Danielle bathing in the kitchen sink. But the family was unconcerned before the show aired Monday.
   "I know how my family is and what we’re like and everyone who knows us and matters to us knows how we really are," Ms. Bimonte said at a Monday viewing party at Nonna’s restaurant in Marlboro. "That’s all that matters."
   Even after the show — which highlighted rifts between Mr. Bimonte and Nicole and depicted Ms. Bimonte as a mother who spends little time with her kids — Ms. Bimonte feels the same. But she does have some criticism for the editing.
   "They made it seem like I don’t spend time with my kids and I don’t think they did a good job of showing all I do do for my children," she said Tuesday. "In all fairness, could they have shown more of the experience and what I’m really like? Yes? Am I OK with it anyway? Yes."
   Nicole, who watched the show with friends and was not at the restaurant, is fine with her portrayal too, Ms. Bimonte said.
   The Bimontes are proud to eschew timetables and strict rules, she added. The kids are busy with individual activities and Ms. Bimonte said she likes to run a loose household.
   "It gives my kids the freedom they need to learn and grow. They learn from their own mistakes," she said.
   So imagine her shock when Ms. Bimonte traded families with Lekili and Alan Hubbard. The family, which includes 19-year-old Makanani and 15-year-old Kalani, runs on a strict schedule with every minute of the day accounted for and planned in advance.
   The Hubbards run several martial arts studios and Ms. Hubbard described the sport as "so tightly woven into every fiber of our family" on the show.
   It was a strange transition, Ms. Bimonte admits. Suddenly in California, every minute of her day was planned — including rising at 6:15 a.m. to pack lunches for the Hubbard kids, practicing 75 martial arts moves with Mr. Hubbard and abstaining from her normal tanning and manicure appointments.
   But it worked out, Ms. Bimonte said.
   "I can get along with anyone. I just accept people," she said. "And you know what? I was good (at martial arts.) I even taught a class."
   Back in Millstone, things were a little rocky at the Bimonte house.
   Ms. Hubbard had to stop practicing martial arts to shuttle the Bimonte kids to activities. She also butted heads with Nicole, whom Ms. Hubbard accused of disrespectfulness. The new mom even uncovered Nicole’s personal Web site where the teen posted suggestive pictures of herself in bikinis and listed her age as 16.
   "I think it was difficult for her," Mr. Bimonte said of his new "wife."
   "She came to a house with loose rules and three younger children running around," he said. "Her kids are older and she wasn’t used to it."
   The moms lived each other’s life for one week until a "rule change ceremony" where Ms. Bimonte knew exactly what she wanted to change.
   "They couldn’t talk on the phone after 9 p.m. They even had Internet controls on the computer," she said of the Hubbards’ normal rules. "They couldn’t even have friends over."
   Ms. Bimonte grew up with similar strict rules and said kids, especially teenagers, should have more freedom to make decisions and learn from experiences. She was especially concerned about Makanani, whom the Hubbards pulled out of college for martial arts competitions.
   "She was very sheltered. She’s 19, but it’s like dealing with a 14-year-old. Even she will admit that. It was hard for her," Ms. Bimonte said.
   Ms. Bimonte scrapped the strictness during the rule changes. She outlawed martial arts, promoted open communication and gave the Hubbard kids more freedom. She took Makanani out on the town, booked a gig for Kalani’s band and even threw a huge party.
   It was a different story for the Bimonte kids. Ms. Hubbard had Nicole edit her Web site. She also led the family in tai chi exercises, had them cook and eat meals together, and instituted chore time.
   "She made us clean toilets," Joe said Monday night, wrinkling his nose. "It was kind of crazy because we’re not used to rules."
   Ms. Hubbard even practiced feng shui on the Bimonte house, arranging furniture to promote harmony and balance in the household. Mr. Bimonte pronounced the idea "crazy" but agreed to rearrange the house, including installing a small water fountain in Nicole’s room — Ms. Hubbard said Nicole’s bedroom placement over the kitchen ignited fire in the teenager and the water would help balance her "chi," or life energy.
   Ms. Hubbard paid the most attention to Nicole, whose tantrums were given a lot of airtime, Ms. Bimonte said. She said the new mom didn’t concentrate much on the younger children, a complaint Joe and Danielle also echoed Monday night.
   Given the upheaval in their lives, the Bimontes all agreed they were relieved when filming stopped. Ms. Bimonte returned to Millstone after the two couples met to discuss their experience. While daily agendas are never likely to be part of the Bimonte household, the family has made some changes.
   "My mom cooks sometimes now. She makes chicken cutlets and soup," Joe said.
   The parents have noticed positive changes in Nicole too, who is now closer with her father and involved in martial arts. She became interested after private lessons from Ms. Hubbard and watching Joe, who is a purple belt, in karate classes.
   Ms. Bimonte hopes the Hubbards found similar positive effects from the show. She noted that Makanani moved away from home and visited the Bimontes for a week in November.
   Now that the Bimontes are part of the reality television family, would they repeat the experience? Mr. Bimonte isn’t so sure.
   "I’d have to really think about that," he said.
   His wife, on the other hand, is ready to go.
   "I had a great experience. I’d do it again in a heartbeat," she said. "I wanted to experience something different and make a difference in their lives. I think I did."