When fastidious working mom Jennifer Galvan of Modesto found out her family had been picked for the ABC reality show "Wife Swap," she worried about one thing.
"My worst fear was going to a farm. I thought I'd have to shovel poop and that I'd break a nail," said the mother of two and self-described "control freak."
Galvan, her husband, Richard Galvan Jr., and family will appear on the reality series at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.
The show has two families with different lifestyles switch for a two-week challenge. The wives exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms). At the end of the swap, each family receives $20,000.
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Jennifer was flown from Modesto to Toledo, Ohio, in March to begin filming. When she arrived, she was relieved to discover it wasn't a farm. What she found was just as surprising.
"My first impression was this was the worst house I'd ever seen in my life. There were orange peels on the couch, confetti everywhere, food on the countertop," she said. "Then I walked into basement and saw all the magic stuff."
Yes, magic. Jennifer had been swapped with a family of magicians. As in hocus-pocus, abracadabra and watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.
The Galvans of Modesto -- Jennifer, 31, Richard, 32, Ricky, 13, and Elena, 9 -- swapped with the Martin-Portalas from Toledo -- Melissa, 44, Andrew, 45, Eli, 10, and Emma, 8.
The Martin-Portala clan is into magic -- Andrew has been a magician for 25 years, Eli began at 18 months, Emma appears in the acts and Melissa manages their careers. The father never had held another job, and the mother didn't clean or cook.
In contrast, the Galvan household is conventional and structured. Richard is an auto assembler in Fremont, Jennifer is an event planner, and eighth- grader Ricky and fourth-grader Elena are expected to complete chores and homework like clockwork. Even their toothbrushes have timers on them.
Opposites are chosen
The Galvans said they have been regular watchers of "Wife Swap" for a few years. In the summer of 2006, they saw an announcement at the end of an episode that asked for applicants.
Richard called immediately and left a message. Jennifer said she thought he was joking.
"But I was serious; I just wanted to see what they'd think," he said. "We started off as a young couple and had our son in high school. But we've been able to make it. We wanted to show that we worked hard and that just because we were young doesn't mean we're not responsible."
"Wife Swap" Executive Pro-ducer Stef Wagstaffe said opposites are picked to expose the myriad ways families organize their lives and raise their children.
"It's like a jigsaw. We wanted a family that was very structured and organized with a different plan for what they wanted from their kids from the Martin- Portalas, who had a particular view of what childhood and freedom means," she said.
"The Galvan family fitted that mold. They are very committed to their kids and doing all they can to propel their children to be successful in life."
It was about Thanksgiving 2006 the Galvans received a second call, saying a family had been found for them. They had to complete a second in-home interview as well as a 600-question psyche evaluation, health tests, medical screenings, background checks and a psychologist visit.
They were told nothing about the other family, where Jennifer was going or even what to pack. Still, everyone had their expectations.
"The only thing I thought was that (the other mom) was going to be messy," said Richard. So when Melissa walked in, he thought "she was very plain. She didn't dress nice. I thought it was a homely lady."
An eight-member production crew was in the house filming from 8 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m. each day. The first week, the new mom had to follow the house rules, left by the departing mother.
Richard said he kept reminding Melissa to dress up and put on makeup when they went out, just as his wife would.
"In this world, it's sad to say, people judge you by your appearance," he said, "so it's something we take pride in."
For Jennifer, being in the disorganized Martin-Portala house was agony. The washing machine was broken, so to do laundry they had to stir the water with a broom handle, and socks were thrown into one big box where everyone dug out their own each day.
Jennifer couldn't clean or dress up, so that first week she stayed in her pajamas.
"It was just happy magic time all the time," she said. "It was overwhelming. It was so hard for me to sit there. I wanted to jump in and fix things for them."
Confetti in dad's room
The second week is when the new moms got to install their rules. Jennifer cleaned the house, gave the kids schedules, assigned chores, installed a fence and banned magic.
"The kids bickered a little bit, but it was the father who was the worst. He was always fighting me on something," she said. "I told him I didn't feel being a magician was a real job. I said it was something he could do on the side."
Back in Modesto, the shift was different. The first thing Melissa did was pop confetti in Richard's bedroom and have the kids jump on his bed. Then he couldn't pick up the mess.
"She said, 'We're going to bring magic into this household. We're going to get rid of the rules.' But she wanted to have my kids go backwards, and that's not responsible," said Richard, who proudly proclaims that his 9-year-old daughter can iron her own clothes. "There is nothing wrong with having fun. I'm not against that. We have a time and place for that."
The kids' daily regimen of chores -- vacuuming, mopping, cleaning cabinets and counters, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry and doing the dishes -- went undone.
"She was less strict and more fun," Ricky said of his new mom. "It was hard to get used to because I'm constantly cleaning. We do priorities first, then fun. It was the opposite with her."
She also taught the kids magic tricks and had them perform them for strangers at Vintage Faire Mall and on the street. At the end of the week, she had the kids perform a magic show for family and friends.
"I thought she was OK. As soon as we started doing magic, it was fun," said Elena. "We didn't have to clean anymore. I liked not having chores."
Things were going less smoothly in Ohio. Jennifer and Andrew argued often about the kids.
"He was just love and hugs and, 'My children shouldn't have to do anything.' He said material things didn't matter," Jennifer said. "I asked, 'Whose children will adapt to society better? Mine who can take direction and know how to handle themselves or yours who don't even bathe?' He didn't care about anything I had to offer."
On the second-to-last day of the shoot, their back-and-forth boiled over. He ripped up her rules and ran over her new fence. After a heated exchange, she walked off the show a day early.
"I didn't feel comfortable, I felt it had gotten so extreme," she said. "I am a very strong-willed person and don't let people mess with me."
The couples were reunited a few days after the swap ended for the "Table Talk" session at the DoubleTree Hotel in Mo- desto, where they discovered and discussed everyone's experience.
Even that meeting was heated, with Melissa claiming Jennifer treated her kids like servants and Richard accusing Andrew of disrespecting his wife.
Still, for all the tension and disharmony, the Galvans said they would do it again.
"It was probably the most unique experience you could have," Jennifer said. "I had never been in a situation I couldn't fix or handle. You really do get an experience out of the ordinary, and you realize the things you've taken for granted."
The truth hurt
The Galvans have seen the completed episode. They said despite all the editing -- more than 40 hours of footage condensed into 45 minutes -- they feel they were represented truthfully, even if that truth hurt. Elena told producers her mother hadn't spent time or played with her since she was 5 years old.
"I think we didn't see it. Our (family) together time was at dinner, and then we'd go our separate ways," Jennifer said. "I'm nervous, for people to see me when they don't know me. But I think most of the world lives like we live. They have structure, they have responsibilities."
Show producer Wagstaffe said she considers a swap a success if families take a look at the way they run their households.
Richard and Jennifer said the swap has made them rethink some of their rules, but also reinforced their basic beliefs.
"Yes, we want the best for our kids, but we have to enjoy them while they are young and put as much fun time into our lives before it's too late," he said. "I learned some stuff from our experience, but mostly it reconfirmed that we were raising our kids right."
Elena and Ricky said their mom has loosened her demands.
"Now we have to do less cleaning -- not that much less -- but less and they spend some more time with us," Elena said.
The Galvans call "Wife Swap" a life-changing experience. And despite their difficulties, they said it could have been worse.
"We didn't get it as bad as some people," Richard said. "We didn't get the family who ate raw food or Satanists."
And Jennifer added, with relief, "At least it wasn't the farm."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.