Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

When my son was small, his favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are. At night, after a difficult day together, we would bundle ourselves into the rocking chair, and I'd read to him about a place where in the quiet of his room, all the rules of the day would melt away like the walls and become a land of his own bidding. As he grew older, I would find the book tossed on the floor by his bedside when I cleaned up his room. Here's what I wrote about it years ago:

Why would he pull out this old story now, its cover long gone, the pages scribbled on with purple crayon? He is 14 after all.

Perhaps he's searching for clues. He's he's headed for high school, and maybe he wants to remember how to tame the wild things he may meet there. Earlier in the week, we ventured into the catacombs of the school he'll attend in the fall. Watching him lumber through the halls with his friends, it was easy to forget that he is still that boy who loved the courageous Max and his wild friends. Towering over the others, my boy stands six feet in socks, his buddies flanking him like sprouts. All angles and lines, he is useful for pulling things down from high cabinets, but I know sometimes he feels ungainly. Standing in shoes my father's size, he is a man-child, wavering on the border of each age, a little unsure of which way to go.

Last week the two of us had a movie date. We had planned it ever since the summer afternoon we watched the latest Harry Potter together, when we saw the trailer for the movie made from what had become our favorite book together. So on a rainy afternoon he drove me, and we settled into our seats among the other parents and children clustered to see what had been labeled by reviewers as a masterpiece.

My son is now 22, a good four feet taller than the other children in attendance. A spring college graduate, he is living at home, working as an intern for the 'family business', spending his nights searching for his future life on places called Monster. There, wild things indeed throw fire at him, luring him with their yellow eyes into sending them all that he is, in hopes that they will allow him to, just for a few minutes, tame them with his bag of magic tricks. Tricks he hopes will engage them enough to invite him into their den.

He does not yet know what he wants to be, but he is certain he will be something, somewhere, will make a difference in his corner of the world, and so are we. He, like so many people these days — young graduates, managers with years of experience, executives who've been let go — are hoping someone, somewhere will give him the chance. And he is tired of talking about trying to find a job.

And yet, he sends his written self out into what feels like a vast ocean, one like Max sailed across a year and through a day to get to the other side. Will it take that long for him? Sometimes the response falls dark. And then, one of the wild things responds: Come see us, but we will probably fill the job before you get here. He books a flight, but the job is gone before he lifts off the ground.

And then, another wild thing responds: Let us see your tricks.

His father and I, long distanced from the interview whirl, give him tips at supper: look them in the eye, shake their hands, ask good questions, reveal something of yourself. This is probably old school, what it was like Before. He nods, and I ask him if he needs me to iron the shirt he will wear with his suit.

The night before the interview I lie awake, thinking that wild things in the movie are more like the neurotic characters on The Office than the ones who brought him comfort all those years ago. Maybe Spike Jonze's interpretation is just the right training for this next adventure in particular.

During the interview, my son threw out his best tricks,  a couple of which he felt might have tamed them. But a week later, we are still waiting, still hopeful. And we are grateful that they let him in for a couple of hours, at least. "Every interview is good training," we say, but our response feels a bit empty.

I have loved having Graham home with us the past couple of months. It feels as if he's come home again, after a long absence when he was rarely in touch. Each night we share a hot supper together, talking, which is something he rarely did he was in college. Though he does not ask us for much advice, I wonder, if one of these nights as I head off to bed, I'll find him scouring the old book again for clues as to what to do next.