MARK KRUEGER: MOMENTS WITH YOUTH
his column follows the same line of thought as my last column in which I wrote about the importance of understanding unresolved moments in child and youth care even if we don’t. There are many moments in child and youth care that we won’t ever fully understand, but want to.
I remember, for instance, a moment with a youth just after I had to physically restrain him. We were sitting and talking quietly. He had just asked me why I was there and I was tongue-tied, flooded by self-doubt and uncertainty. Then he said my shoe was untied and I was sure he was trying to get me to look down so he could make a break for it. I smiled and looked at him. He stared back.
Afterwards, I thought a lot about what might have been going on in that moment. I wanted to trust him, but knew I couldn’t. I also wanted to trust my feelings, but I was not sure how I felt. My mind was still on his question about why I was there at the same time that I was trying to watch him.
There is something in moments like these that calls to me. I like to think of it as an existential hum. I can hear something on a deeper level, but I’m not sure what it is and this makes me want to try harder. For example, in the above situation I really wanted to know why I was there. And trying to figure it out seemed as important as knowing why.
Literature and art help me describe and understand the feeling states in these moments. In a good poem, short story, or play, for example, I can see and hear these moments, and it makes me want to reach the same point in our own work by understanding the processes the writers used, the way playwright Sam Shepard does when he creates a scene in which you sense there is something at the edge of the character’s consciousness that compels you to share the journey.
In hindsight, the feeling that I had in moment above was sort of like the feeling one gets from looking at an Edward Hopper painting in which tension is created by what poet Mark Strand called the two imperatives in Hopper’s work — the urge to continue and the urge to stay. The fact I couldn’t capture the feeling made me want to both remain and get away, and I like to think that maybe this made me human and genuine so I could connect with the youth.
In my opinion, we need more of this curiosity and truth seeking in our research and work. There is too much certainty, and subsequently lack of "realness" in our conversations and writing that leaves the listener or reader asking, "how can you be so sure?" And the kids pick up on it because they see us painting a picture that doesn’t exist. On the other hand if we focused on describing what is in all its wonder, glory, struggle, uncertainty and confusion, we would probably be in even better shape as a field to connect, the way we are compelled to look and look again at a Hopper painting.