Holly Carney was in the checkout line at the grocery store, looking at the magazines. That’s when she noticed the woman in line holding a baby, with a little boy in her shopping cart.
“Your son is gorgeous,” she said, indicating the boy in the cart.
“Oh,” the woman answered. “He’s my stepson.”
Carney was perturbed. “Well, he’s your son!” she protested. “No matter what adjective you put in front of that.”
The encounter still bothers Carney, wife of former Saints placekicker John Carney. When they married, John had a young son.
“Why would you alienate this child?” Carney said. “These words create divisiveness. A family is a family.”
Approximately one-third of all weddings in the United States today form stepfamilies.
“Having been a stepmom for more than 17 years to my son Luke, I’ve experienced the challenges and problems,” Holley said. She decided to write a children’s book for blended families, especially mothers and children.
Holly, John and Luke, now 23, along with siblings J.D., 16, and Keely, 14, have returned to New Orleans from their home in San Diego for John’s induction into the Saints Hall of Fame. While they’re here, Holly will kick off the national tour for her children’s series with readings from the book, “Wicked Not!”
The entire family will be at Palm Tree Playground, Causeway and Interstate 10 service road in Metairie, on Monday, Nov. 17, at 10 a.m.
The books attempt to combat the negative stereotypes of stepmothers and stepchildren ingrained in the public’s mind by the media and even fairy tales.
“When I was a little girl and I heard these stories of Cinderella and Snow White, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen is to be a stepmother,” Carney said.
She writes in her book: “I’m not evil. I’m not wicked. I’m not filled with rage. I would never lock Hansel and Gretel up in a cage.”
“I started off to show children of all ages the stepmother’s perspective,” Carney said. “We don’t grow up dreaming about being a stepmother — it just happens.”
Carney’s first book will focus on the stepmom, expressing her perspective to her stepchild. The second one will take on her stepson’s view and discuss the struggles of living between two households.
The third book discusses how a stepchild can deal with new siblings and the creation of blended families.
Carney teamed up with illustrator Chad Thompson, who has worked with Disney as an animated illustrator on such films as “Cars,” “Brother Bear,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Mulan.”
A song written by the Carney’s family friend Tim Foley, a well-known musician in the San Diego area, accompanies each book.
“I think music is a powerful tool for healing and getting a message out,” Foley said. “And so I was very excited to put my music to use. I just took the idea that she wanted to get across about loving the child and not trying to replace anybody, only being an addition to that.”
Carney’s desire is to stop using the prefix “step.” She said stepmothers get such a bad rap that she has created a new title: Apple Mom.
“The Apple Mom,” she said, “is one who is nurturing, encouraging and gives the child nourishment both physically and spiritually.”
Husband John thinks Holly’s courage has created an important perspective.
“I’ve seen my family evolve through this process,” John Carney said. “And it hasn’t always been easy to say the least. But I’ve seen the courage and strength of my wife to fight through the negative stereotypes and sometimes the treatment from the community for being tagged stepmother.”
Even with the Carneys’ hectic schedule in New Orleans, they’re happy to be back.
“We love it,” said John Carney, who has stayed busy with his placekicker training business, Carney Coaching, since he retired from professional football. “We have nothing but fond memories here from 2001 all the way through 2009.”
For more information, check wickednot.com. Portions of all proceeds will go to benefit the Moyer Foundation’s Camp Erin, a bereavement camp for children.