Mad Play

Much madness is divinest sense
to a discerning eye.
—Emily Dickinson

Thursday was a big day. Jordan invited me to sit in on her weekly physical therapy session. She loves Kristy, her physical therapist, and she has been bragging to me about their workouts for months. She was excited to show me the studio where they train because she said it was filled with so much fun equipment and games.

In typical Jordan fashion, she nagged me about this visit constantly. We finally set a day and locked it down on my office calendar. My assistant cleared my afternoon of any appointments so that Jordan would have my full and undivided attention.

Jordan was so excited about this day that she planned what she would wear a few days before. She gave me a primer on what to expect the night before. She kept asking me to confirm that it was on my calendar. This was a big deal to her.

That’s why it was odd when I arrived. I expected Jordan to be bubbling with enthusiasm. Instead, she barely acknowledged me, staring down at her phone. I smiled at Jeanette and asked what was up. Jeanette told me Jordan had a small seizure earlier in the day, so it might be making her mellow.

We were all early to the appointment, so we spent the next 10-15 minutes in the lobby sitting in relative silence, each of us on a device of some sort until it was time and Kristy came out to meet us. That’s when Jordan started perking.

“It’s the big day,” Kristy said. “Are you ready to take your Dad back and show him what we do?”

Jordan said yes and then started rattling off some obscure backstories from our past. She bolted up out of her chair and nearly lost her balance. We turned to head down the hall and I felt Jordan grab on to my shoulders. She wanted me to give her a piggy back ride. I said no, because I was wearing a jacket and also because she was here to work.

This set her off. As quick as she was enthusiastic she was now cross. She furrowed her brow and started snapping at people.

When Kristy held on to Jordan’s gait belt for support as they walked down the hall, the tempest unleashed.

“Let go of me! I can walk by myself. Don’t treat me like a baby.”

Of course, it wasn’t at all safe for Jordan to walk by herself. That’s why she wears a gait belt, so that someone can help her balance and keep her from falling. Kristy explained this to Jordan, but Jordan already knew. It didn’t matter. She insisted on independence. She was mad and rude and shouting at the very person she was most excited for me to meet. And Kristy was brilliant in her response—firm, unapologetic, and even-handed.

I backed off to give them space to work it out. I was annoyed because there was so much energy baked into this afternoon and now it could end up being a wash. When Jordan gets into this headspace she can be very hard to reorient. She has to back her way out on her terms. Facing the prospect that the session might be cancelled entirely, Jordan relented and allowed Kristy to support her on the walk down the long hallway to the studio. I followed and listened to my girl make sarcastic and rude comments in response to Kristy’s easy questions and small talk.

We turned a corner and I got my first glance at the the studio. It is a vibrant, playful working space with a mix of exercise equipment and children’s toys. Huge oak beams cross the ceiling with ropes and fasteners dangling down for use in training. A couple of huge skylights flooded the room with natural light. Most of the floor was covered in thick pads like you’d find in a gymnasium. Children of various ages were already at work, laughing and raising their voices as they worked with their therapists. It was a room with lively energy. I could see why Jordan loved coming here every week.

I took a seat in a row of chairs off to the side while Jordan and Kristy took a seat on a large padded bench that was suspended from the ceiling by rope. Jordan grabbed on to a couple of rings that hung independently in front of the bench. A few seconds later, she pulled on the rings and kicked her legs to get the bench swinging high off the ground. Kristy held her back in support and then slowly started adding resistance. I kept my eyes focused on Jordan. Her mood was changing. I could tell from her face that she was beginning to enjoy herself, and that she was getting to work.

When they finished on the swinging bench, they hit the mats doing pushups and abdominal work. Jordan was focused now, and I was inspired by her strength. She is stronger than she looks. She’s thin and wiry, but her core is solid and powerful.

Finally, the most anticipated moment came to pass: the game play. Jordan has been telling me for such a long time about these games. I never understood how they worked, but I knew that Jordan loved them.

Kristy fetched a board game they called Snail Race. Five colored plastic snails were set on one end of the board. The box lid was used as a place to throw two multi-colored dice. The colors that are rolled correlate with a snail on the board. So, a red face means the red snail could move a square. Two red faces and the red snail can move two squares.

Jordan extended her body over a padded bench facing up. Kristy put weight against Jordan’s legs. The board was to Jordan’s left, the box lid to her right. To throw the dice, Jordan twisted her upper body to the right, extending her arm to reach and throw the die. Then, when the colors were determined, Jordan twisted in the opposite direction to move the snails. This clever gameplay created an effective way for Jordan to work her oblique abdominal muscles. And because she was so excited about the game (and showing me how to play it) she crunched these muscles with a lot of vigor and enthusiasm.

Later, they played a similar game with Jordan’s legs extended on a bench. This time she faced the floor. Kristy held a game piece in the air above Jordan’s head. To get it, Jordan had to lift one arm up and into the air to grab it, all while stabilizing her body with the other arm. Her balance is impressive. Watching them rotate between arms was like watching a ballet.

By the time it was over, Jordan was her usual self. While she worked up a little bit of a sweat, her humor had returned. She was talkative and eager to come back next week.

I’m not sure what set off the temper tantrum. It might have been the seizure earlier in the day. It might have been all the expectation and energy invested in this one Thursday afternoon. When we got in the car I asked Jordan what happened. She said she didn’t want to talk about it. We told her we could move on for the time being, but we eventually wanted to discuss it more. She told me later that she felt bad about yelling at Kristy and that she would apologize to her, but she still didn’t feel comfortable explaining to me why she behaved as she did. It’s possible she doesn’t really know.

Nevertheless, I am glad I got to experience the workout. We have been so fortunate on Jordan’s Journey. We’ve been led to really gifted, caring people who make a difference in our daughter’s life. Kristy is one of those great souls. She and Jordan have been working together for several years and it’s a perfect fit.

Kristy encourages Jordan to bring her iPad to their workouts. They play Jordan’s favorite music. When they kicked off that bench swing, Britney Spears was belting out “Toxic” on the iPad. Kristy makes her work hard. She doesn’t coddle her. But she does give Jordan a lot of support and a desire to reach for more. She does this so well that Jordan practices some of the floor exercises on her own at home. I sometimes spy her doing Supermans on the living room rug. She’s even asked me to join her on occasion. And I’ve obliged. But she’s always the superhero.