Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Li'l Drew

This is a nickname I still give my youngest son, though he has grown taller than me and soon will outweigh me! He will probably wind up being taller even than his brother, which is a switch after years of being about a head shorter. He is turning 15 this week. When Austin turned 15, within a few months we got his learner's permit, which he had been eagerly anticipating for about the prior six months. We got his driver's license on his 16th birthday. Andrew's a lot more laid back, and we are not going to hurry in on this one.

He decided that he would be a volunteer at the San Antonio Zoo this summer, in between other activities. Unfortunately, the zoo did not play along with his wishes. They scheduled interviews on two consecutive Saturday afternoons when he was unavailable and had unbreakable commitments elsewhere.

The first weekend, he was on a band trip in Denver, Colorado. The next Saturday, he was one of 14 young men escorting young ladies in the court of a quinceanera, a top-drawer event that was fit for a queen and celebrated the life of a lovely young woman here in town. He and the others on the court had accepted the invitation more than a month earlier and attended several dance classes; they got to show the fruits of their labors when they performed some complicated moves during the choreographed portion of the evening!

It was a party the likes of which my boys won't even see at their wedding reception -- there was a multi-tiered white cake (something like five tiers), a large chocolate cake, two chocolate fountains, an elaborate dinner buffet with many choices, a couple of roving photographers taking pictures of the event and of the participants and their families, many choices of candy and chocolates to take home in goodie bags, and gorgeous Mardi Gras masks and decorations. Then there was a deejay, several on-stage dancers, laser lights, spotlights ... the works.

I learned a couple of new words: "trance" (music) and "Tiesto" (a band). Dwaine was shouting these words I'd never heard of toward me while the music was pounding out full-blast, and all I could say was, "What?" I thought he was yelling, "France! France!" I wanted to say, "Oui, oui! I know the theme is Mardi Gras!"

So anyhow ... Andrew really, really couldn't go interview at the zoo. However, I know there were other parents and kids out there who had rather flimsier excuses. The standard response to all of us potential slackers was, if you are not available on one of these Saturdays, you will not be able to volunteer for the zoo this summer. Period.

I started searching for alternatives to fill the approximately 6 weeks of summertime where Andrew had nothing at all scheduled, since he will not continue in band. (By the way, we expect that Austin will be working, though he hasn't yet been offered a job.) I found some cool-sounding camps involving art and drama, but did not run across any other outdoor volunteer activities (there was always Boy Scout camp, but he had shot down this alternative long ago). Andrew, however, had made up his mind. He was going to be a summer naturalist at the zoo. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. He found it foolish and tiresome that I was trying to distract him with these other camps, which he disdainfully rejected. Nothing else could be up to par with the zoo.

I had to admire his strength of will in latching on to a completely untried experience, though I hated to see him disappointed. Andrew has had a tendency, through the years, to react to any new experience in an Eeyore sort of way -- it won't turn out well, I won't have any fun, and I don't want to do it! So for him to embrace this uncharted territory -- well, it was a great step forward.

I wound up sending one, then two e-mails that were progressively more pleading, verging on begging, to the volunteer coordinator at the zoo. I think in the second one I mentioned that money was no object, I'd pay for him to volunteer, my son's heart was set on volunteering at the zoo or bust ... Perhaps not surprisingly, I got a perky little response to this e-mail. "Sorry we didn't get back to you sooner, could you come in Tuesday afternoon to interview?" Hey, we'd show up at midnight in the deepest woods if that's what was required! We would be there, absolutely! I would leave work at lunchtime, get Andrew out of school early, and he would have an unexcused absence for his last two classes, in order for him to get in at the zoo.

So that's just what we did this afternoon. It was a great, illicit-feeling adventure. Andrew wanted to text his friends and ask them something while we were driving to the zoo, and I said, hey, don't do that -- they are in school! We're the ones playing hooky.

The zoo holds group interviews with the kids and asks them a number of questions. Most are "what-if" scenarios. What if someone is lost? What if you are lost? What would you do if a child in the tour group wanted to leave to go to the snack bar? And so on. (None about what if a child fell in the bear pit -- I thought that might liven things up a bit, but for some reason they didn't include it.)
The sneakiest question asked each kid why the zoo should hire some other kid in their interview group. Not why should we hire you -- why should we hire that kid over there, who you met about 15 minutes ago? Andrew had only one other kid interviewing with him, someone else with a tale of woe about why they couldn't be there on Saturday. Her name was Jasmine, and she was a black 13-year-old who, her mom told me, wants to be a vet when she grows up.

Andrew was quite concerned that she didn't write very much about him in response to this question. "She was really quiet," he confided to me, "and I don't think she helped me very much." Andrew found several nice things to say about Jasmine: she was smart and mature for her age, knew some good information, and he thought she would be a well-behaved and responsible volunteer.

The zoo had told these kids that the most important part of the job is teamwork, so I figured that the purpose of this question was to see if kids would sound like good team players in the answers they gave. I knew my son would find something truly kind to say, and he was being completely sincere as well. That's who he is, in a nutshell. A kind, sincere young man. 

As a mom, I have to say that he is the best-qualified applicant for the job that I can think of, and certainly the most enthusiastic. He should get it; he has earned the right to volunteer at the zoo. He will find out by e-mail soon. Go, Andrew!

Andrew, in character as the Boy Who Cried Wolf, beside the Old Shepherd, who is being interviewed for live TV coverage of the sensational trial of the Big Bad Wolf. Piggies are in the background.

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