My almost-sixteen-year-old son wants to get a job as a sports camp counselor this summer. It’s a good fit for him. He’s honest, hardworking and dependable. He loves sports and has far more patience for snotty children than I do. He worked as a volunteer for this particular camp a couple of summers ago. Of course, I’d hire him if I weren’t his mother. Since I am his mother, he avoids doing anything I ask him to until it is no longer relevant or I do it myself.
He has to fill out an application for the job. It has one open-ended question–a more politely worded version of “why on earth should I put up with you for a summer, let alone pay you?” There is nothing more crippling for a teenage boy than being asked to speak more than three words of his own choosing. It’s not even an essay. It’s an idiot check.
He has been avoiding this application for weeks. He’s been working under the impression that the gods would smile upon him and the answer would suddenly take shape in his brain as he played Call of Duty. It didn’t. No surprise. So I sat him down and told him to write something. Anything. He wrote a first draft which was something like, “I helped kids learn to play baseball, but basically did a bunch of crap jobs like emptying garbage cans and vacuuming the parent’s waiting area. This statement, of course, is perfectly true, but it won’t get him the job.
My husband and I worked to lead him towards something a little more persuasive. I am dumbfounded by how much of his counseling experience I can remember and how much he has forgotten. It makes no sense to me–that summer is a far greater percentage of his lifetime than mine. Perhaps it was because I had to drive him home from camp each day and listen to him complain about how children don’t follow directions.
He was stymied. “I have nothing to say!” he asserted. To which I said, “Then you’ll have to get creative.”
When I asked him why he wanted the job, he said he wanted to make money. I told him that although that, like his description of his job experience, is also true, it won’t get him the job either. I told him he could make money mowing lawns too, and he said, “Yeah, but coaching sports camp is fun. I’d be doing something I like, and the kids are generally pretty entertaining. When they learn something new, it’s cool.”
And there, young man, you have your answer.
I do understand where he’s coming from. When I get to that point in the query letter where I’m supposed to list my writing credentials, it feels pretty thin. At this point in my life, walking away from everything that validates my competence is like losing a beloved blanket. When I felt beaten down, I could hold it close and find reassurance. It was proof that I knew what I was doing.
In many ways, life would be so much easier had I kept things as they were and held onto that blanket for dear life. But I’m doing what I love, and that is my answer. If I could only get an agent to say that was enough. Until then, I’ll have to be creative.
Words by J. B. Everett