I have worked with youth pretty much since, well, since I was still one myself, and have often felt the uneasy gap between the hard truth of what is strictly reality, and the way I hope young people will be able to see the world as long as they possibly can. Not that I want to shelter kids from clarity about the world...but I do want to encourage the best possibilities within them, which sometimes means they don't have to be told all the gory details of adult life. For example, the minute they start really thinking about the fact that my time with them is my job, my credibility is shot. I spend quite a bit of time in the gap, wondering about how to be honest with the youth I work with, while holding the fact that they are still youth with honor and care. Anyway, I think that is why "For a Five-Year-Old" by Fleur Adcock is one of my favorite poems ever:
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there;
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.