Traveling with a Contrarian

There was fanfare. There was ballyhoo. It was our own undertaking of “Make a Wish” … sort of. Last weekend, Jordan, Jeanette and I indulged in a Manhattan retreat while Luc happily slept over with friends. The trip was planned for more than a year. Under normal circumstances, it would have just been me and Jordan. I often bring one of the kids along on my business travels. They enjoy spending the time alone with me and it’s usually easy to book a sitter in my regular travel circuit. Negotiating with Jordan to allow Jeanette to accompany us was far from easy (she could run a law firm one day). She only acquiesced after I agreed to fund a “girls’ only” shopping day on Fifth Avenue.

The Vincent girls lounge at the Westin.

It was well over a year ago that I originally suggested a New York itinerary to Jordan. I promised shopping, gallery hopping and a Broadway show. We agreed to go in the autumn, when the trees were painted with her favorite colors – perfect for a stroll through Central Park. But then she got sick last October and our plans were deferred. I was determined to get her to New York in the autumn this year.

The timing was not perfect. Her immune system is still weak, too weak to restart chemotherapy. She is susceptible to illness, which makes travel by air unattractive. Thankfully, the team at CHLA believes in treating “the whole child”. They cleared her to go because they believed it was just as critical to her well-being as getting chemotherapy. They stipulated a few conditions, but gladly granted her leave.

To quote Dickens, the weekend was “the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Jordan is a captivating presence. She is charming, witty and prone to unsolicited shows of affection. She wears her heart on her sleeve and surprises us with quaint sentiments like the way she described her mother to me Friday.

“Isn’t mom a precious dear,” she asked rhetorically.

I stared blankly, uncertain if I was speaking to a seven year-old child or a Victorian matron channeled through the spirit realm.

But like all of us, Jordan has an alter-ego. She can be obstinate, dramatic and downright contrary. While easy to overlook these “minor flaws”, there are moments when they apparate in a fashion so forceful that her behavior seems positively wicked. During our four-day sojourn together, both personalities emerged. I’ll be honest. She is not an easy travel companion. The fault is not entirely due to her personality.

It was a grand weekend in many respects. She shopped. She dined. She saw __The Lion King__ and enjoyed a ride on a horse-drawn cab through Central Park. She was a vision in pink Saturday night – sporting a blushing plaid mini-skirt, iridescent polka-dot tights and a dusty rose-colored overcoat all acquired on her first trip to Bloomingdales. She accessorized with leopard spotted flat shoes, each accented with a pink bow. A veteran New Yorker stopped her on 43rd street to admire the ensemble. Jordan curtseyed slightly to show the shoes in better light. New York is a city she could grow to love, and I suspect it could end up loving her, too.

The City’s brash invincibility, often colored proud and defiant, suits her well. The one travel condition required of her was to wear a surgical mask on the plane ride. CHLA advised us to change the mask several times during the five-hour flight. She was allowed to remove it to eat. But Jordan had other plans. Once we boarded the flight, we lost our leverage and she demanded her way. She refused to wear it and held us hostage with the threat of tantrum. I reasoned with her. I tried to conjure guilt. I even contemplated hard-wiring the damn thing on to her face, but it was all in vain. Her heels lock down quite firmly.

She has become quite good at being served – perhaps too good. It’s natural. Everyone wants to help her, mom and dad included. Now she expects people to do things she is quite capable of doing herself, like picking up dirty clothes, finding her shoes or brushing her teeth. I’m such a sucker for my daughter that I would gladly do them all, but for the distastefulness of her new attitude. She doesn’t ask much anymore. She commands. She has developed too close of an affection for Eloise, whom she delighted to learn lived a few blocks down Fifth Avenue at the Plaza.

But nothing is more frustrating than her dominating need for control. Everything must be executed on her terms. When you concede, she is still unhappy. If you tell her that she is beautiful, she will argue that she is not. If you tell her that it is morning, she will argue that it is night. Her contrarian nature is rarely satisfied. It is maddening. By weekend’s end, we were exhausted.

And yet, it’s easy to see why she labors for such control. That same insistence to assert her will is what keeps her going, particularly when her body does not cooperate. New York is a fast moving city. Jordan could not keep apace. She walks with difficulty, a normal side effect of chemotherapy. Chemo patients often have difficulty “clearing their feet”. It is noticeable to even the casual observer, but Jordan ignores it and refuses to discuss it. Steps are a significant challenge that require all her attention and effort. But even when she’s not on a staircase she is at risk. She fell several times during our travels on flat surfaces. I’d hear the inevitable thud behind me and look back to see her splayed out on the sidewalk. It’s a blow to her confidence more than it is to her backside.

It’s also a blow to us. Sitting across from her at dinner Saturday night, I thought, “she’s so frail.” Her hands trembled as she reached for her cup of tea. She worked hard to take a drink without spilling on herself. Her eyes sagged, making her look a little drunk or like she was too tired to let them fully open. She said some funny things. The remarks made us and others laugh, but I was often uncertain that she meant them to be witty. Still, she never acknowledged a slip. She just smiled and proceeded on.

Fortunately, we are told that many of these side effects will dissipate when she regains her health. Conversations with other survivors confirm the diagnosis. Mobility impairments, like loss of hair, pass with time.

Our holiday was a taxing but rewarding experience. I will never forget the delight in Jordan’s face at the theatre. She clapped after every number. She sang along to “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. And when the show was ended, she leapt to her feet to give her very first (unprompted) standing ovation. Later that night, she enjoyed the fancy cab ride through the park. In the many years I’ve traveled to the City, I’ve never once wanted to ride in a smelly horse-drawn cab. But watching Jordan sigh under a red velvet blanket, as the autumn night air tussled her blonde locks, and the City cradled her with light, I was grateful for her stubborn insistence.