Are conversations with sons ever long enough?
He walked out the door in the middle of the sentence. It seemed like that, but if I think about the months we spent together, my son wasn’t rude — the opportunity for a new job forced him to be abrupt.
The conversation started when he finished “boot camp,” how we now refer to an intense educational experience. For 12 weeks he learned the lingo and the moves to make him a Full Stack Web Developer with emphasis on the back end — a computer coder who wrote, not the pretty stuff of a website, but the other stuff. He wanted to work on the “shopping baskets” of the site — not argue whether the website color scheme was purple or blue. “Give me your objective and the deadline you want, I’ll get it done,” my son gave as an example of the no-nonsense approach to back-end development.
With training certificate and samples accessible through the cloud, my 25-year old came home to Wisconsin — to live with his dad and begin his job search.
As could be expected, the job seeker became better at his efforts. He recognized which applications did not merit his attention, how he might revise his resume, and if he could better target his cover letter.
If the first interviewer described him as “tentative,” the second would say he seemed less so. Of course job seekers don’t receive clear feedback — only the honest, standard, sometimes brutal “We’ve found a more qualified candidate. Best of luck in your search.” And of that feedback, he received lots.
Once in the area, he occasionally came for dinner. We might play a game of cards or go to a movie. I wanted more involvement and asked if he’d walk with me every other day. He agreed.
Our meet up differed each time and we’d text the night before, “Williams Bay near Gage,” or “Fontana near coffee shop” Each location featured another section of the Geneva Lake Shore Path — a 21-mile walk along the water’s edge of our local lake. As it wound through the front yards of mega-mansions, each section differed. Some homes offered broad, leveled swaths of concrete sidewalk, others, a raw deer path incised into the slope. Our eyes looked to our feet as we walked each 60- to 90-minute portion.
We continued the conversation each walk, though some days it lasted for only a few minutes. His mind was elsewhere. Inevitably he would update me, “I heard from _____” (referring to each job possibility by the city in which the company was located). I, the mother, offered advice and pushed him to ask himself questions about his progress, his strategy, what he’d learned to date.
The rains of the early summer gave way to the heat and humidity of late summer. We negotiated our way around mud puddles from lawn sprinklers near the path and we figured the best hour to walk — working around a Skype interview or a phone check-in with a head hunter.
Eventually, we accepted the inevitable — he would be unemployed into early autumn. We agreed to walk the 21-mile length all in one go; and on the weekends before, we would foray into trials of six and 11 miles.
I think, I hope, the walks gave his mind respite. Meanwhile, he added layers of armor and new weapons to his job searching persona. I could hear his additional confidence, style, professionalism with each update. My suggestions no longer felt rejected, but became the objects of discussion.
Throughout, he had moments of despair: “Madison” took him to the third interview only to re-evaluate the needs of their company and re-write the job description. “Nebraska” interviewed him four times and then disappeared into thin air. “Chicago” made him feel badly. The data architect who interviewed him belittled him when he didn’t know the answer to a tech question.
It surprised me how well he maintained his equilibrium. He retained a sense of personal strength though he was starting his fifth month of job searching.
As we walked, he asked questions about my activities — who was coming to dinner, what was I reading. He offered well thought-out commentary on how best I should handle a difficulty with my renter. He read a piece I was writing and suggested a different ending. He looked hurt when I forgot to mention I was leaving for a long weekend to visit friends up north.
We walked the entire Shore Path. It was hot and one stretch of trail we never walked because of its access point proved more difficult than we expected. A friend of his joined us on the way, adding new energy and support. As we lay on park benches at mile 18, I asked my son if he wanted to stop. “And have to do this again? No way!” We finished our walk within the average eight hours. We were exhausted but elated.
The 21-miler proved a highpoint of the summer in which there was no other success. Yet, our conversation had yet to finish. We continued our every-other-day walks and he continued his job search. He held some comfort that the friend who’d joined us for a stretch of the big walk took 10 months to get his tech job. But I could see that the onset of Fall’s cold weather and our shuffling feet through the fallen leaves did nothing to boost my kid’s confidence.
Then it happened. Was it luck? Fate? Did the stars align? I really think it’s due to his improved job-search skills. As he said, “I’ve reached the point I don’t care. I’m loose. I’m honest. Sometimes, I’m even mean.”
He received two opportunities. One, an apprentice program — yes, another period of training, but this time, specific to a company with which he was guaranteed employment at a good salary. They invested in him in exchange for a work commitment. As he made arrangements to start with the next training cohort, a headhunter called. Job opportunity number two. He’d placed my son twice before and would work quickly.
My one and only child packed his bag to head east to the apprentice program. Then, to be sure, he drove the five hours west to Minneapolis to interview with the headhunter’s client. While there, my son retrieved items from the storage facility where he placed his belongings almost a year ago. I shared the drive with him knowing our time together would soon end. While on the way home, he received the second offer. I treasured seeing him evaluate not one, but two, employment opportunities.
Yesterday, he left for the East Coast. It was Saturday, a day we should have walked.
His departure reminded me of his leaving for the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate. Then, I felt I’d never see him again. I was as naive as he at the time. I needed him; he did not need me.
These past months, my son and I came to own the Shore Path. We felt its uphills, its downhills, and learned where to stop for the best view of the lake. We walked parts of it so often we knew what days the gardeners would be at individual houses.
We also own our mother-son relationship, now new and improved. We know how to pause for patience, how to push for understanding. We’re not afraid of being wrong or sharing what’s right. We can lean on each other for support without disappointment.
Unlike a conversation we’ll never finish, this one I know I will.
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Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist who writes and travels and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website,www.JOHaselhoef.com.
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.