Adventures in Family Resilience on Southwest Airlines

Heart and Work
Apr 21, 2016 · 4 min read

By Jeff Lutes, LPC. One New Years long ago my family went to visit relatives in Vegas. Along with our children, we took a 10-month baby boy that we were fostering at the time and one of our dogs (which Southwest Airlines allows because my husband and two of our kids are deaf). Upon landing, we waited at baggage claim only to discover that every single piece of our children’s luggage had been lost. It never was recovered, but that was just the beginning of our vacation from hell.

The relatives we stayed with in Sin City were fighting and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. At the New Year’s Eve party, I managed to get food poisoning and spent the next 48 hours either sleeping or running to the bathroom to greet my porcelain friend. Finally, we boarded our flight for home. Little did I know, there was one last ghastly act in this melodrama.

Upon take off we gave the baby a bottle of milk because we read in some darn parenting magazine that it keeps infants from screaming as the plane climbs to 30,000 feet. It worked, but ten minutes later this sweet baby awoke to reenact a scene from The Exorcist. His eyes bulged as he violently hurled sour milk all over the unsuspecting passengers seated in the row ahead of us. It was a mess beyond belief. The flight attendant graciously began to clean up passengers, seats, carry-on bags, walls and the floor — probably using the airplane’s entire supply of paper towels. Another attendant smiled and walked the length of the aircraft spraying disinfectant with the charm of Miss Universe. Just as the passengers calmed down and the stench began to subside, the unthinkable happened.

Our precious little dog took a huge dump smack dab in the middle of the aisle.

Now things were dangerous. If the pilot had taken a vote, I’m quite certain the passengers would have elected to toss the queer-deaf-viral family out the emergency exit. It seemed like decades, but we finally landed and cruised to the gate. As we exited the airplane, the flight attendant said — and I kid you not — “Thanks for flying, pooping, and barfing with Southwest!”

Many years have passed, but members of my family still love to tell this little story. It’s part of our family narrative now; a tale that makes us laugh while reminding us of our shared history and the strengths we possess that help us cope with stress and rebound from difficult life challenges. It reminds us that “being family” means embracing all life’s experiences, not just the pleasant ones, and to find the humor in them whenever possible. Sometimes conflict leads to connection, heartache turns to joy, and periods of stressing transform into blessing. In Strengthening Family Resilience (Guilford Press, 2016), author Froma Walsh reminds us that families capable of finding comedy in the midst of life’s dreadful moments tend to have more stamina because humor can create conversation, offer relief from unrelenting stress, and restore a positive outlook.

All I know is that on the next flight to Vegas we’ll carry-on our luggage, pack the family-size bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and put a diaper on the pooch.

*Modified from a post originally written for The Billerico Project on March 31, 2011.


Jeff Lutes, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor who works with individuals, couples, and groups in his private practice in Austin, Texas. He is the founder of the Contemporary Relationships Conference — an annual event on LGBTQ relationships that brings speakers and attendees together from around the country to create collaborative learning from both experience and social science research. Jeff also provides therapy in American Sign Language to his deaf clients.

Private practice: 1101 S Capital of Texas Highway, Building A, Suite 290, Austin, Texas, 78746. 512–419–0600, jefflutespsychotherapy.com. Conference: contemporaryrelationships.com.

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