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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Somewhat Functional Family

I want to know who has a fully functional family. The term dysfunctional (relating badly; characterized by an inability to function emotionally or as a social unit- Encarta) is pretty generic now. Isn’t everybody’s family dysfunctional in some way? We got so used to this condition in our family we made it our trademark, and frankly, I think that has made all the difference.

When my husband, M. D., and I were first married, he set three alarm clocks. One was a windup clock—just in case the electricity went off. He would fiddle with those clocks like he was in a zone—the alarm-clock zone. He would scrunch up his face and pull out the knob to set the manual clock, back off, stare at it, and then check it again. Just before he lay down for the night, he’d ask if I had messed with the alarm clocks. I thought, “I have married a neurotic weirdo.” Today we call that OCD for obsessive compulsive disorder.

Recently we were served by what our daughter tagged an OCD waiter which led to me retelling that story about her dad. He laughed with us though he denied ever having acted that way.

Thirty-six years of marriage have mellowed the fellow. He is down to one alarm clock, an electric one which he barely fiddles with at all. Life is good.

I, on the other hand, am almost perfectly normal, from my humble perspective, except for the neurotic behaviors I developed in trying to keep the family on the normal track.

I have a family portrait to prove it: M.D. and me, James (10), Hope (8), Mark (6), and Gloria, the baby. We had a five o’clock Sunday afternoon appointment for a family photo shoot, a fund-raiser for the elementary school. For $4.95, we were to get a huge portrait of the fam. The photographer, of course, thought we would just love the poses he snapped and buy lots more. Think again, buddy.

It didn’t take this guy long to figure out he would lose on us. I saw it in his eyes. Gloria was just a few months old. Any mom should know that five p.m. is not the happy hour for baby. I must have gotten the only remaining timeslot having procrastinated, as I often did. Sure enough, she writhed, squirmed, and cried in my lap until the photographer just gave up, took a picture, and sent us on our way.

The final product was hilarious. M.D. looked like a member of the Mafia who was having a bad day. He had the proverbial five-o’clock shadow, not having shaved since dawn, and no trace of a smile. Surely this man can chew nails, one might think.

James had a look of sweet tolerance as if to say, “There’s no way out of this picture. I’m stuck until I graduate and make ‘em proud.” His expression looks more like a smirk than a smile.

Hope gave the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding smile. Surely she is thinking, “If I act like I really feel on this day, my expression will be forever frozen in photography, so I’ll attempt a smile.”

Mark, for some strange reason, sucked in his cheeks like he was about to make a fish mouth. Bless his heart. He seems to be waiting patiently for the inevitable.

Baby Gloria, arching her back, tears pooling in her big brown eyes, was working up to a major wail. Her useless pacifier slung forward from a ribbon pinned on her dress.

But I…I was like the Madonna. (Mother-of-Jesus Madonna, not the infamous singer). I have a serene countenance that is doing its work of drawing this half a dozen people together into a functional unit. I willed them to relate nicely, not badly; to function as a healthy social unit.

Well, the portrait arrived and we all got a good laugh out of it. Soon after that, my mom and dad came for a visit. To make them laugh, I showed them the picture. Mom said, “Well, I like it. Can I have it?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m certainly not going to do anything with it. Use it for your vegetable garden instead of a scarecrow.”

Ha. Ha. Ha. I’ll have you know she framed it and hung it in her den for all the visitors to gaze at and say, “Oh, so this is your daughter and her family. Oh…..oh……oh.”

Mom always put them at ease and made them laugh as she told the story behind it. You see, she is also a serene soul, seeking to tie people into fully functioning family units, by all means possible. She gave that photo place! Her hanging it said to all viewers, “Life is not picture-perfect. So what. We’re still family. Now let’s admit it and laugh.”

We never had a professional family photo again. Never.


  1. I can certainly relate. We don't have even one family picture I would take out of the drawer!

  2. Why DO people have family photo shoots anyway? To prove that we were family? NOT! I think it's exactly as you've said it, prove how dysfunctional we are. LOL :)

  3. Great writing, Peggy. Carol and I enjoyed your story.