So, the kid and I were having a bad day on the very same day. We were slouched in the front room commiserating, wondering if what we were doing is what we were supposed to be doing. Not as in, were we supposed to be sitting in the front room commiserating, but wondering if our chosen professions were making use of our “talents,” or if they were providing more frustration than satisfaction.
And, like I said, we were both having bad days, and we were both frustrated. He was writing mid-terms and I’d just gotten another rejection on a picture book manuscript that is, of course, brilliant.
So, I gave him a little “chin up” speech, a “you’re too stubborn to be a quitter” speech, a “so, it’s hard, so you’re challenged” speech. His lips began to curl into a smile. He told me he was thinking he should just quit while he was ahead. I told him about being at the same point in my first year of university; how my mother told me, in effect, that no one had forced me into journalism school; I had made the choice of my own free will and that I had to complete what I had started.
I left out some of the details of this conversation, how I was living in a city about 500 kilometres from home, and that I was calling from a pay phone down the hall from my dorm room. I left out the fact that after the call ended, I walked to my room, flopped face down on my bed, and cried for two days. All I had wanted from my mother was her permission to quit.
I wouldn’t have quit. Had she suggested that I just come home and she’d bake brownies and tea for me, I would have been comforted by the notion, but I’d have balked at the reality. I’d have done the opposite, but somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know I could quit if…if for whatever reason. I wanted it to be an option.
So when my son was dramatically slumped like a piece of wet spaghetti on the living room sofa, I told him, “If you want to quit, go ahead.” The edges of his mouth curled. “But, if you quit, you’ll never know if you could have done it. You’ll never know if you were clever enough, tough enough. You’ll never know if, for the first time in your life, you could have faced something difficult and succeeded.”
His little grin turned into a broad, confident smile. “So, I can quit if I want?” he asked.
“Yup, it’s your choice. But, do consider that you’ve just paid your tuition. They won’t give it back.”
He was still smiling, the relief so plain on a face that had been looking, just a few moments ago, unnaturally strained. “You’ll also have to figure out what you’re going to do,” I said. “For a job. If you’re not going to school, you have to have a job, pay rent. You know, that sort of thing.”
We looked online for jobs that a 17-year-old with a Grade 12 education might get. I read the restaurant jobs first, suggested there was good money in tips, then told him about the ones requiring manual labour. By the time we got to the jobs that included driving things, he was sitting up straighter. He looked over my shoulder to read the list of qualifications.
“Well, that’s just stupid!” he said. “You need a Class 5! I can’t even get a stupid job because I don’t have a Class 5 (driver’s license).” You have to be 18 in Alberta to qualify for a Class 5. I smiled this time.
“Too bad,” I said. He was frustrated again. He leapt from the sofa, and shook his hands to his sides the way he did when he was two. “At least,” I said, “there are possibilities for you. There are jobs for which you don’t require an education. You’re not like me. You’re not 25 years into your career, then realizing that you’re in the wrong profession.”
His smile picked up again, showing the little brackets on either side of his mouth. “Well,” he advised. “if you’d quit writing such stupid stories about such stupid subjects, you might have a chance.”
I knew for sure that he was a direct descendant of my mother. Fortunately for him, the pep talks I had given him cheered me up. He was half right about the stupid stories I write, but he was also half wrong, and if I had a big bonfire in the backyard and burned everything I’d ever written, and if I threw my computer out the window and stomped on it, I’d never know if my brilliance might one day be recognized. Not for sure.
© 2013 Sue Farrell Holler