The Teenager

The great bandleader Guy Lombardo once said, “many a man wishes he were strong enough to tear a telephone book in half–especially if he has a teenage daughter.” That is an apt way to describe my experience yesterday with The Slayer. 

Before I begin, let me state my intent for sharing this particular episode with you. I made a promise to myself long ago that this blog would respect certain boundaries in our family life. My wife and my children have a right to privacy. Just because I experience something with them doesn’t give me the right to share it with the world. Jeanette and I have always been comfortable sharing details about Jordan’s journey with cancer–even details that leave us sometimes feeling vulnerable and afraid. But, I am very careful not to share aspects of our family life that are irrelevant and perhaps embarrassing. It’s not a reality television program.

For example, you’ll note that I rarely write about Luc. It’s not because I don’t care about him, it’s because I respect his privacy. His relationship to me, his sister, and the journey are unique and personal. So, I always ask him before I write about him. The same is true with respect to Jeanette and our marriage. These are topics that don’t belong in the blog without the consent of the people in the family they affect. I also try to respect certain boundaries when reporting about Jordan. She’s very comfortable with (and proud of) this blog. She tells people to visit it! And she doesn’t hide much of her life with strangers. But, out of respect, I sometimes pause and think about whether I have the right to write what I’ve experienced in our journey together or not. Sometimes, I discuss it with Jordan. Sometimes, not. She doesn’t really understand the ramifications of what’s posted, so it is usually me debating with my conscience.

I write all this because I wrestled with my conscience for a bit on whether or not to write this particular episode. In some ways, what I’m about to share is not the least bit unusual for any father with a teenage daughter. Teenage daughters are known to be occasionally frequently petulant. So, in that respect, sharing the details of an episode in obnoxiousness crosses a line. It could be interpreted as a parent airing dirty laundry. We’ve all seen this before on Facebook–the friend or family member who is a parent and opts to scold/shame their child publicly with an angry post. But that’s not really what this is. Instead, I am going to share a day with you that struck me late last night as a great illustration of the complexities of Jordan’s Journey. It has never been simple. Now, with the hormonal rushes and flows of teen-dom (she’ll be 16 next week!), it’s even less simple.

It began with a manicure for three. We started going out for manicures together a few years ago. I have no shame in confessing that I enjoy them. It’s quality time with Jordan and Jeanette. We talk and laugh, and the ladies at the manicure shop get a kick out of having me there. I’m usually the only man. I get spoiled rotten, which makes me the most profitable beneficiary of the experience.

Jordan loves the manicure experience. It turns all of her girly dials to 11. She nearly exhausts herself chatting up the manicurist. The woman who served her yesterday turned to us at the end and said, “I love her! I could chat with her all day.” As she said this, I looked over at Jordan who was on her feet swaying her hips to a pop song she knows that was playing on the salon’s sound system. That’s my girl! Sporting newly lacquered purple nails, she smiled at me and encouraged me to stand and dance with her.

We had such a great time that we all agreed to keep going. Lunch was in order, and after lingering in the usual litany of “what do you want to eat? I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” babble, we settled on a restaurant we like that’s close to the waterfront in Santa Monica.

The first evidence that our social Saturday expedition might encounter some temperamental seas came within seconds of our arrival at the restaurant. In an effort to hasten the drying of her nails, Jordan had been blowing on them in her sassy fashion of twisting her wrist in front of her mouth. She must have misjudged one of those twists because there was a perfect purple line etched across her bottom lip. Jeanette wanted to clean it.

–It’s fine, mom!

–No. It’s not. You need to clean off your lip.

–Mom, just let it go.

Now, this is the point where Nettie generally goes in one of two directions. She either explodes and sets Jordan straight with some stern talk, or she bites her tongue and waits to see if the situation will resolve itself. She employed the latter strategy, and remained quiet for a minute. Let’s just say that Jordan doesn’t know the maxim of letting a sleeping dog lie.

–Mom, can’t I just have a nice day with my family? You need to just let it go. It’s my body and I get to decide what I want to do with it.

Straw, meet camel’s back.

While I secured a table, the ladies had a talk in the washroom and when she came back, most of the purple nail polish had disappeared from Jordan’s lip. Our day was back on track. Wine was in order. Food was on its way. And, then…

Midway into our lunch, Jordan began one of her sales pitches. Here’s how it works. There’s something she really wants. It can be so simple, like she wants me to download a game for her on her iPad. No big deal. But she often times these pitches poorly, like when we’re in the middle of a nice lunch. I told her we could talk about when we got home. But, part of the reason why Jordan has excelled in her battle with disease is her perseverance. When she has something on her mind she tends to stick with it relentlessly. If she were in sales, she would probably win the set of steak knives every month.

–So, when we get home, then you’ll look at it, Dad


–Right away? Like what time?

–Jordan, not now. I’ll help you, but not now. I’m eating my lunch.

–But you will do it as soon as we get home?

Jeanette intervened. She likes to fight my battles for me. I’m not so keen on that approach because it generally throws kerosine on the fire rather than extinguishing it. And, that’s exactly what happened. One “butt out, Mom” from Jordan and we had a full-blown bonfire going. As I tried to extinguish it, I noticed that Jordan had a red line running up the side of her cheek. She’d been dipping her grilled cheese into her tomato soup and she somehow used the wedge of toasted bread as a rouge applicator.

–Jordan, you have soup on your cheek.

Pause for a flashback.

When my sister Kelly was a teenager, my father gave me some unsolicited advice. Though he did not live with us, because my parents were divorced, he knew enough to advise me not to intervene or interrupt when my mother and my sister quarreled. “You can’t win,” he said. “It’s like a law of physics. All that energy will then be directed at you.” The old man may have had his faults, but he sure was wise. I discovered just how wise sitting across from the newly-formed hurricane Jordan.

I don’t even remember what was said leading up to it–nothing significant, for sure–but within a minute she hit me with a guilt trip.

–You won’t even let me ride that bicycle.

The backstory: Five years ago, we bought Jordan a bike. It’s a handsome pink beach cruiser. Back then, she was making progress with her legs and her physical therapist used a stationary bike at the gym. Jordan loved it. We thought a real bike would be a good incentive to work harder.

She wants so bad to ride that bike without training wheels. The problem is threefold: she has no balance, her feet still have open wounds and her legs are the size of matchsticks. We’ve explained to her many times that it is not safe for her to try and train on that bike right now. It’s a good long-term goal, but it isn’t obtainable at this moment in time.

I am well aware of the reality check. Every teenager utilizes a guilt trip at some point in time. What Jordan did is not the least bit out of the ordinary. But, where she digs for the guilt is what makes it tricky. She retreats to setbacks in her treatment, her body’s limitations, and facts of life with cancer that we neither caused nor can control.

The bike comment stung. In part, it stung because it had nothing to do with our conversation. It came from nowhere, like a gremlin that’s been hiding under a box in the garage right next to the dusty bike. It stung more than most barbs because the fact that I can’t let her ride that bike makes me very sad. I looked around that restaurant, which is in a very luxurious hotel, and saw so many kids running, doing cartwheels, dancing, moving however they felt; and I wished that Jordan hadn’t walked in hobbling on feet that betray her. I wished that we didn’t have to hold her gait belt to keep her from falling. I wish we didn’t have to choose a restaurant that required limited walking because we forgot to pack the wheelchair. There is nothing more that I would enjoy than seeing Jordan pedal away from me on a beach cruiser. It would be awesome for a girl who wants independence. We’ve all felt the exhilarating rush of stomping down on a pedal and accelerating from your own power on two wheels. I want Jordan to feel that rush. I can’t give it to her now.

I told Jordan that she was out of line. I told her how much I want her to ride that bike. And I told her that her comment was rude and offensive. She tried to make me feel bad about something that had nothing to do with our discussion. And she did this after I’d been trying to help us have a nice day doing things she liked.

Jordan backed her chair away from the table, stood up as best she could, and wandered over to a couch where she sat until we were ready to go. She didn’t speak to me for about an hour.

And that’s where our story pivots. Our Act III resolves in a way you might not have expected. After the mostly silent trip home, and the three of us dispersing within the house, Jeanette reminded me that I had promised Jordan Saturday would be an 80’s movie night. Every weekend, Jordan and I watch a movie from the 1980’s. It was a crazy idea I had awhile back when I realized how much I loved the movies of my teenage years, and how much I wanted to share them with my kids. Luc wasn’t interested, but Jordan was totally game. Ever since, we’ve immersed ourselves in the great greats (at least in my book) from 1980-1989. Sometimes, we watch a double-feature. And, on some weekends we’ve binged every night.

Earlier in the day, I’d given Jordan three choices for our feature (all unseen to date): Top Gun, Amadeus, or National Lampoon’s Vacation. When I give her a choice, I try to break into action, drama, comedy. She wanted to laugh, so Vacation it was. I had also promised that I would bring her bean bag chair down to the living room so she could watch the movie on it.

When it was time for the screening, she lumbered down the stairs, only barely making eye contact with me. I smiled. We made a little small talk. Jeanette popped some pop corn. Jordan plopped into the bean bag chair. And then … we laughed. We laughed a lot. She enjoyed the movie so much that we decided to keep on laughing; we queued up Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

When the last credit rolled, we cleaned up the living room together and made our way up to bed. Before I tucked her in, she gave me a giant hug and apologized for snapping at me. I told her I understood. I also told her I hoped she would ride that bike one day.

We ended our day as it began; each our biggest fan.

Like any other teenager, Jordan can be a jerk. And when she conjures her inner brat, it’s our job as parents to call her out on it. Just as I have respected the boundaries of what’s suitable to post and not post on her journey, Jordan needs to learn the boundaries of playing the cancer card.

I know there will be more outbursts. More guilt trips and tantrums. More bikes to store. More grooming arguments. There will be more hurt feelings and more resentment. More miscommunication and more talking past each other. I’ll take the “mores” gladly. Because that’s the price tag that comes with the fight. We’ve been on a mission for mores. As upsetting as they can be, these mores also bring us closer to a normal life. And as long as they are counterbalanced by more manicures, more lunches. More movie nights. More laughter and hugs and wonderful time being absorbed by all that makes us more imperfectly wonderful, I think we’re all game for the ride.