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Two Thumbs Up For Little Miss Sunshine
Written By: Mark Smith

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Since the stated purpose of this column is to educate and enlighten readers regarding the inner workings of relationships, families, marriages and emotions, I am going to suggest a collective field trip for my readers to your local movie theatre to aid in this week's lesson. What a quirky, dark, completely hysterical and yet deeply poignant movie! It made me laugh almost till I cried and then it did make me cry. I don't want to ruin the movie for you, but I do want to expound a little about some of the movie's messages and themes.

When I was a kid moving every year and a half from Air Force base to base I guess I thought that my family was the most dysfunctional family in the world. We were poor, my dad was never around, my mom was really overweight and she yelled a lot. There was something sort of ugly and raw about our family. I never saw that on TV when I watched "Leave It To Beaver" and from a distance my friends' homes seemed "normal" and sane. To be honest I was somewhat ashamed of our bunch. When I entered graduate school and began my own personal therapy I thought that it would take several lifetimes to even put a small dent in the dysfunctional patterns foisted upon me by the Smith's. However, in my 19 years of professional experience and life since graduate school I have been surprised to learn that #1 it wasn't just my house where dark, ugly, painful and flawed interactions took place - it happened in EVERY home and #2 in spite of my family's shortcomings and dysfunction they actually had many wonderfully positive traits and we were actually a great, strong and blessed family - who knew?

Such is the central message in "Little Miss Sunshine". The cast of dysfunctional characters is quite colorful - a rigid, insecure, sickeningly positive, loser of a motivational speaker, his drug and sex addicted overly but refreshingly negative father, his depressed, mute, disillusioned teenaged son, his suicidal, humiliated, love lost brother-in-law, his sweet, innocent 7 year old daughter who needed to win beauty contests to earn her father's love and his overwhelmed codependent wife who tried to hold their sick little family together. There were sweet connected moments sprinkled in between many more awkward, bizarre, twisted, ugly family moments - you know, like when you were growing up. The dad who pathologically could never give up even when it was time to give up heroically refused to give up on his daughter's opportunity to compete in the pageant, the abrasive, crude grandfather was able to offer kind and encouraging words to his son during a bitter moment of career failure, the suicidal brother-in-law found connection, meaning and an opportunity to mentor his nephew, and the disillusioned, cutoff son who gained maturity as well as the ability to express empathy. There was humanity and heart hidden underneath darkness, and ugliness and hopelessness - you know, like in real life.

I wrote the following words 9 years ago on the awful August night that my colorful mother died:

Our Mom was like Doris Day on steroids. She had the unbridled joy of a child, the zest for living of an imp, and a singing voice that made you feel all warm and magical on the inside. She loved to eat, she loved to laugh, she loved to spend and she wasn't the least bit shy about flashing that Irish temper from time to time. You always knew exactly what she was feeling. There was never a dull moment with "Virginia Pat the Democrat". She was remarkable, and unforgettable, and obnoxious and wonderful all at the same time. She was Little Miss Sunshine and roses and a thundercloud. Although much of her life was uneven and out of control and it was many times about robbing Peter to pay Paul, today she leaves a truly great family. We too are loud, and sometimes edgy, and we too don't mind being the center of attention. We've learned to deal with life in our own different ways and we are now blessed and strong. Our Mom's memory will live on deeply within us - dancing like a little girl on the screens of our minds. Our Mom loved us. She loved us as best she could.

Love and value your families my friends. The warts and the damage and the craziness are gifts too. They loved you as best they could. See you next week.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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