She heard the neighbors talking in front of our building, leading her to dart up the stairs and change into clothes. We had asked her to change out of her pajamas all afternoon, but she ignored us. Now, she was rustling through her closet. A few minutes later, she nearly tumbled down the stairs in an effort to get out front.
– Jordan, slow down.
– I can’t, Mom. I have to talk to my friends.
Her friends are two of our ‘grownup’ neighbors who own a beautiful dog named Skunk. Jordan loves Skunk. So does Gracie, our pug. I was in the middle of watching the Rose Bowl game and wasn’t very motivated to hang out on the front porch and socialize. Jeanette was deep into a new book. And, as it turns out, our neighbors were saying goodbye to some visitors. None of these factors dissuaded Jordan from bouncing onto the front porch and injecting herself into their conversation.
We could hear Jordan command the discourse through our screen door. I couldn’t help but notice that the flow of dialog turned one-sided. I looked at Jeanette. She looked at me. For an instant, I think we both considered rock, paper, scissors. Gracie was whimpering at the door and driving me crazy, so I volunteered. By the time I was on the step, Jordan had shared an awful lot of history.
–Yeah, I had cancer but now it’s gone. But they still want to do surgery on my legs. And, I didn’t even cry when they gave me a flu shot. Because sometimes they have to put a needle in my chest … for the chemo. But I can’t talk about that around Noemi (her school friend) because she might pass out. Yeah. I just hope my cancer stays away.
Our neighbors know Jordan and are actually quite fond of her, which I suppose made the New Year’s Day monologue she delivered a little less intrusive. I tried to divert Jordan’s attention but did not succeed. She kept talking at them, clueless as to whether or not they wanted to hear more.
Later, I talked to her and reminded her that she needs to manage her disclosure. It’s fine for her to tell people about her fight with the disease, but it shouldn’t be the first thing she volunteers, and she needs to consider how others might react. There are many people who don’t know how to respond to such things, I tell her. She nodded and then asked me if we were going to play dominoes now.
I put my hand on her shoulder and asked her to listen to me. I received the full attention of her bright blue eyes.
– Jordan, you’re growing up and it’s time for you to have friends of your own.
– The first step to being a friend is to listen. Make it easy for people to talk to you. You’re a beautiful person. People who learn about you fall in love with you. You don’t need to blast people with cancer tales to get their attention. And you have to stop sometimes to ask them questions and learn about their life.
She groaned about knowing what I was talking about, them skipped on to half a story about an episode of Full House. I knew, at that point, that most of what I had to say was getting lost. A few minutes later we were back inside and Jordan was on to her next task.
I think 2010 will be a fascinating year for Jordan. She is healing well. And while her body is growing up very, very fast, she’s got a lot of social and emotional growing to do. For six years it has been her vs. the disease. She missed a lot of school and she was often isolated from others her age. But the disease is not around anymore, and now Jordan has to reconnect with the rest of the world. It’s very hard for her. We’ve trained her to focus her energy on herself. Now, we need her to consider others and she doesn’t know how. Though she has a kind heart and works herself into a tizzy worrying about others, she doesn’t know how to share her concerns, and she’s such a whirligig of anecdotes and emotion that most people her age don’t even know how to approach her.
Some of what she experiences is part of being 11. When I observe other children her age, I worry less. It’s a crazy time in the life of a child. But I also observe that Jordan operates on the fringes. Some of the very traits that saved her life make it harder for her to blend in with a circle of friends. She has an iron will. She can be over-zealous in her ambitions. And her mind is trained to ignore obvious adversity. That last one probably sounds like a good social skill, but when your friends are sending you signals that they don’t want to hear anymore about cancer treatment and you just keep going, it makes it very hard to win their hearts.
Fortunately, Jordan has plenty of time to grow up. No one’s rushing her. I try to coach her only because I want her to enjoy the company of others. I want her to have rich, meaningful friendships. I want to her to discover how beautiful it is when you care as much about your friends as they care about you–those friendships where you can get lost in conversation for hours and hours. Jordan will be a very good friend one day. She is one of the most loyal souls I have ever met, and she likes to live every day to its fullest. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that?