Mark Krueger: I am currently involved in a study with five youth workers and a youth. We are constructing and analyzing stories about our work with youth. Our focus is on moments of engagement. We want to know what is occurring when we engage youth in activities and relationships. In this column I will share some of the thoughts and stories that have evolved from our study. The interpretation of the stories will be left up to the reader.
The first story is by John Korsmo a youth mentor and youth work teacher.
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I see a boy looking through the screen door as I approach the house. The main door is open despite the frigid February day. He sees me coming up the walk.
"Heís here! Heís coming."
I climb the four steep steps to the porch and feel heat coming from the house. I knock and a woman comes and opens the screen door, without looking at me.
"Come on in. Sorry for the mess."
She is wearing cut-off sweat pants and a tank top. The boy who was watching for me through the screen is wearing boxer shorts and no shirt. Heís sitting on a couch, chewing on the edge of a pillow he has in his lap. I kick all the snow off my shoes and step into the house. She lets the door swing shut, and sits on the couch next to her youngest son.
She motions to a chair across from her, ďHave a seat. Iím not sure where heís at. Upstairs I think. I know he knows your comin' though. I made him get up this mornin' and didnít let him leave cuz he woulda just took off n' not showed up when you came."
I introduce myself to her, take off my coat and sit down on the chair. It is so warm in the house I feel like I am going to break a sweat. I can hear someone on the stairs and the mother yells, ďTony, come here and sit your ass down."
We make eye contact as he turns the corner, and heads for a chair against the wall. Like his brother, he is wearing only boxers and no shirt. He is fourteen years old, but he could easily pass for nine or ten.
I introduce myself to him and start a bit of small talk conversation, and fill him in about what he can expect of me as his new mentor. Iím starting to ask some questions about his interests and hobbies when his mother interrupts.
"You ainít queer are ya?"
Both boys snicker.
"No, in fact I just got married last summer. Maybe you'll meet my wife one of these days."
"I ainít tryin' to be funny, but you never know these days and I ainít gonna send him off with just nobody. You can see he ainít so big yet. Heís smart enough n' all, but I donít think his bodyís matured yet. Look at him. Raise up your arm and show the man. He ainít even got hair yet. I donít know about down thereď Ė as she motions to his lap Ė ďI ainít gonna look, but I know he ainít got no hair in his armpits."
"Shut the fuck up." His high voice contradicts his language but emphasizes his small frame.
"Donít fuckin' talk to me like that. Show him. Raise your arm up n' show the man."
"You know, it doesnít matter to me if he has hair under his arms or not." I glance over at him and Iím surprised that he has both arms up in the air like heís getting ready for a stick-up, to show me his hairless underarms.
She points to him, ďSee what I mean?"
"So what?" he screams back at her as he puts his arms down.
We talk for a few minutes about how everyone grows at different rates. I assure her that heís not the only fourteen-year old boy without hair under his arms.
After a few minutes I suggest that Tony and I go outside. ďWant to go to the park?"
He jumps up, ďI'll go to put some clothes on."
While he is upstairs putting on his clothes I tell his mom that I respect her questions about my background and about my sexuality. We discuss some of the fears she has that something could happen to one of her boys.
Tony comes back down with some clothes on. We head across the street to a park and I breath in some crisp air to cool myself down.
"It feels kind of nice out here, doesnít it?"
"Yeah, its hot as hell in there. She always does that when she knows somebodyís coming over. Cranks the fuckin' heat up so you canít even sleep."
"Yeah, itís pretty warm in there alright."
He laughs and kicks a dead frozen bird thatís in his walking path. The bird skates across the crunchy snow and stops by a cracked plastic baseball that is buried halfway under the snow. We toss the ball back and forth for a few minutes. Tony spots a stick that will work for a bat and we take turns pitching and batting. He bats ten times, and then I bat ten times. We talk about whatís going on in school and at home while we play. Itís his turn at bat and heís predicting a homer.
I bend over to tie my shoe and before standing back up I make a quick snowball. He is ready to crush the ball out of our make believe stadium so I wind up for a fast underhand pitch. He swings the bat before realizing I pitched a snowball and not the plastic baseball. He makes good contact and snow sprays all over both of us.
"Oh, shit," he yells, and we laugh and wipe snow off our faces before he retaliates and we launch into a playful snowball fight, chasing each other around the park until weíre both wet and winded and red from the cold.
"You got me, man. That was a good one," he says. ďI didnít even see you make that snowball. I was going to kill that pitch, too."
We laughed some more and started walking towards his house, both of us rubbing our hands and blowing on our fingers.