Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Spin Dr. Mom

By Marion Winik

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  Yesterday morning, the Winik family overslept. I mean, seriously overslept. Just 15 minutes before the late bell at the elementary school, which rings at 7:45, my nine-year-old Hayes appeared at the door of my room, barking at me in an eerily familiar way.

"Get up and get up now!"

"It's only 6:30, Hayes."

"No, Mom, it's 7:30!"

"7:30! Oh my God. Oh my God. Get your clothes and go to the car." I rushed to the next room, where seven-year-old Vince was still asleep. He typically needs every minute of an hour to slog his way through the morning ritual, but that was clearly out of the question now. "Vince, we're really really late. Grab a T-shirt and shorts and let's get out of here. Forget teeth, forget hair, forget beds, just get your backpacks and let's go."

"What about breakfast?" cried Vince, grumpy, sleepy, and irritated at having his morning crab-walk so radically accelerated.

"We'll stop at the store. Run, Vince, run!" I meanwhile had pulled on some tasteful muumuu and flip-flops and was leading the way.

By 7:36, the kids were tying their sneakers in the backseat and I was pulling into the drive of the neighborhood 7-Eleven, just a few blocks from the school. I ran in, grabbed two doughnuts and two Tropicanas, and, observing the long line at the register, rushed them out to the car. Fortunately, they know me well enough at this store not to call the police when I'm seen fleeing with unpaid-for merchandise. They know I'll be back.

7:42. Even at the 20 mile-per-hour speed limit, we can make it in a minute and a half. We pull into the line of drop-off cars at 7:44. The kids swallow the last of the doughnuts, tumble out of the back seat, and segue right into the lines marching to the classrooms. The bell rings. We did it.

Later that day, when I pick up the boys, we discuss our morning escapade.

"Mom, why don't you ever wake us up on time?" This is seven-year-old-ese for it happened twice.

I swallow a defensive reaction and share the point of view I've been reassuring myself with all day long. "Our family is amazing," I proclaim.

"How many families could have gotten up at 7:31 and not been tardy? Our family has the reflexes of a highly trained military cadre. Our family can turn on a dime!"

illustration by Tom King

The kids take this in for a second. "So we should do this every day?" Hayes wonders dubiously.

"No, no, not every day! But isn't it good to know we can do it! We are a lean, mean going-to-school machine. We rock!"

I look in the rearview. They're considering. Then: "Yeah!" says Vince, "We rock!"

Every family needs a dentist, a pediatrician, a barber shop, a babysitter -- and, I believe, a public relations specialist. I am the family spin doctor.

I've always been inclined to look on the bright side, and lately I've been trying to get my silver-lining approach to rub off on my kids. The hurricane that drenched our vacation: Remember how much fun we had ordering room service and taking bubble baths? The mattress that fell off the roof rack and exploded in a cloud of feathers in the middle of the highway -- wasn't that hilarious? The time the Thanksgiving turkey wouldn't cook, the time mommy accidentally rented a movie that had s-e-x, the library book that was found after two months disappearance and immediately got dropped in the toilet: It's the family spin doctor who is responsible for turning each new mishap into the stuff of legend and lore.

Some things can't be spun -- attempts to find the redeeming aspects in the death of a family member or the betrayal of a friend will probably not find favor. When things are really bad, you have to let them be bad. Otherwise, you're teaching denial, not resilience. But even the toughest breaks tend to have their compensatory aspects, if you wait long enough: Kids of divorced parents eventually see that if they play their cards right, joint custody means more quality time (and more fast food, and more trips to the toy store) than ever before.

It works in Washington, it can work for you. Dysfunctional? Nah. Just kooky!

Ask the family spin doctor.

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