They are an attractive, affluent family. The father has the muscular, healthy bearing of a serious weekend athlete, the mother is thin and lithe, perhaps a yoga practitioner. Their casual clothing is expensive, from top brand names, and the kids, a girl about 10 and a boy about 8, each have their own Ipad encased in a soft leather protective sleeve. It is a picture book family; the parents bear a slight resemblance to a young Kevin Costner and Christie Brinkley, and the kids could be models for television ads.
But it's quickly apparent that there is some kind of tension here. Mom sits down with the two kids on either side, and Dad offers her a piece of fruit, which she declines with a terse shake of her head without looking at him. She focuses, somewhat defiantly, on her smart phone Twitter or email feeds; her thumb scrolls briskly. He sits down near his family but slightly removed from them, a weariness evident on his face.
Within a few minutes of scrolling on her phone, abruptly, Mom breaks into quiet tears and quickly goes to the restroom to compose herself. I wonder, briefly, if there's been some sort of family emergency back in Texas; perhaps it's worry causing the obvious unhappiness in the little family. But when Mom returns from the rest room, eyes dry, makeup fixed, and lips tightly pressed together, the anger at the husband is clear. She refuses to look him in the eye, and instead draws her children toward her from each side, the universal move of a mother retreating from her husband—nesting tightly with the kids to the deliberate exclusion of the father.
Dad is decidedly miserable, and when he glances my way and see that I've noticed their family drama, he reddens and looks even more woeful. It's impossible to know, of course, but I wonder what his offense was. Am I eavesdropping on one of those entirely normal little moments of family tension brought on by holiday fatigue and too much frenzied activity? Or is this a deeply ingrained family problem that threatens more seriously? Did he forget a camera on the cab to the airport, or is he sleeping with a secretary?
At that moment the announcement comes beckoning families with children to board early. Fifteen minutes later as I board and move through first class on the way to coach, I see all four members of the family sitting across a full row in the luxury section. Mom and Dad are each in window seats far apart, with the kids in the aisle seats. They are still playing games on their Ipads, but I can see now that they're uneasily aware of the tension in their parents, and have focused on their electronics to avoid the discomfort of a family that has ceased to be nurturing.
The reality for this beautiful family is a little ugly right now.