Sure, it’s a year old already, but this Dear Sugar column from TheRumpus.net is a beautifully written, powerful argument for confronting head-on the hard blows life sometimes serves up. Should be required reading for all teachers, parents, youth care workers.
(Thanks Julie, for bringing this to my attention.)
Several years ago I worked with barely teenage girls in a middle school. Most of them were poor white kids in seventh and eighth grade. Not one of them had a decent father. Their dads were in prison or unknown to them or roving the streets of our city strung out on drugs or f**king them. Their moms were young used and abused drug-and-alcohol addled women who were often abusive themselves. The twenty some girls who were assigned to meet with me as a group and also individually were deemed “at highest risk” by the faculty at the school.
My job title was youth advocate. My approach was unconditional positive regard. My mission was to help the girl youth succeed in spite of the unspeakably harrowing crap stew they’d been simmering in all of their lives. Succeeding in this context meant getting neither pregnant nor locked up before graduating high school. It meant eventually holding down a job at Taco Bell or Wal-Mart. It was only that! It was such a small thing and yet it was enormous. It was like trying to push an eighteen wheeler with your pinkie finger.
I was not technically qualified to be a youth advocate. I’d never worked with youth or counseled anyone. I had degrees in neither education nor psychology. I’d been a waitress who wrote stories every chance I got for most of the preceding years. But for some reason, I wanted this job and so I talked my way into it.
I wasn’t meant to let the girls know I was trying to help them succeed. I was meant to silently, secretly, covertly empower them by taking them to do things they’d never done at places they’d never been. I took them to a rock-climbing gym and to the ballet and to a poetry reading at an independent bookstore. The theory was that if they liked to pull the weight of their blossoming girl bodies up a faux boulder with little pebble-esque plastic hand-and-foot-holds then perhaps they would not get knocked up. If they glommed on to the beauty of art witnessed live—made before their very eyes—they would not become tweakers and steal someone’s wallet and go to jail at the age of fifteen.
Instead, they’d grow up and get a job at Wal-Mart. That was the hope, the goal, the reason I was being paid a salary. And while we did those empowering things, I was meant to talk to them about sex and drugs and boys and mothers and relationships and healthy homework habits and the importance of self-esteem and answer every question they had with honesty and affirm every story they told with unconditional positive regard.
(click here to read from the beginning…)