Growth and Girl Scouts

Any Girl Scout leader will tell you a troop is born of one girl’s total insistence – and that girl is usually her daughter.

That’s how they get you – the girl and the Scouts; they know you are wholly dedicated to her growth and will do anything, including hundreds of volunteer hours, to facilitate that.

So how did that commitment ten years ago land me in the same church hall last night leading a workshop for mothers?

That, too, is all about growth.

When I trained to be a troop leader, I did not know with whom I’d be working. Ironically enough, there was an existing troop at my daughter’s elementary school so both my daughters joined. Fresh-faced and grateful for all the two co-leaders were doing, I eagerly attended each meeting, offering whatever help they needed. I knew these two moms, their oldest girls in the same classes as mine, but not closely. As the girls bonded over ‘Simple Meals’ and ‘First Aid’ badges, I got to know and enjoy crazy times with these women. Overnights and hikes, crafts and camping. When I went to Troop Camping Training with one of them, we found a whole crew of women dedicated to the cause and having a whole lot of fun doing it.

The circle of women I got to know only grew as my girls progressed through the levels. My younger daughter started as a Daisy and a new crop of girls and moms came in. Leader meetings gave us a chance to ease the commitment we’d taken on by sharing ideas and resources and they almost served as a troop meeting for the women themselves. Very often, the speaker had to deal with unruly ‘kids’ just as a leader did. The leaders of the ‘mega troop’ of many levels all three of my girls eventually joined even went on a scavenger hunt scouring three towns.

It all started with a desire to empower our girls. But I wonder what other motivations kept us dedicated. Was it the thrill of recapturing a lost girlhood? Carefree and fun and sequestered? Or did it speak to a longing that grown women, especially mothers, don’t often find fulfilled? Companionship, camaraderie? And was it also a safe way to seek this out, without guilt, within an activity that also served our children?

Even though I took on a troop when my fourth was a newborn, I eventually ‘retired’ from leadership. I remained a registered member and assisted with my youngest’s troop, but I was too tired to lead. Still, there are times I miss the sisterhood of women bonded by the girls they serve.

Now that newborn is old enough to insist I bring her to Girl Scouts. I did. Our service unit hosted a ‘Learn about Girl Scouts’ series for parents and girls. Over the course of three meetings, girls experienced troop-like activities while parents learned all the stuff I already knew. My former service-unit manager outed me to the Council member running it, saying ‘she’d be a good leader’ with an elbow to my side. I admitted I was a ‘recovering leader’. But as she explained to parents how leading her troop for thirteen years gave her her own set of friendships with women as they nurtured the girls, I was wistful.

A mother seated next to me, who may indeed end up being the leader for her daughter’s troop, said, “I want to do Girl Scouts! Can there be a Girl Scouts for adults?”

I think it’s safe to say that most adults yearn for the simpler days of their childhood. Not the growing up all over again, but the chance to do things just for the fun of it. To play with friends. To not have to be the one in charge. To feed our soul with things that feel good and light us up – not alienate us and drag us down.

As I packed my things last night in preparation for the workshop, it didn’t escape me that it was same as setting things down into the tote bag I used to haul Scout supplies. I loaded the trunk and drove the same route. I parked by the ramp and unlocked the door with the same key I borrowed for meetings. As I set up in the rosy glow of sunset slanting through the blinds, the quiet excitement with which I laid items out on tables, shifted chairs into place, had the same feel as preparing for a troop meeting all that time ago. It was oddly satisfying and soothing to be preparing for this new type of meeting in that same place. It was like coming home.

But this time, it was for the moms.

A meeting to discuss putting ourselves on the schedule. Where our motherhood ends and our self begins. Or the jumbled up place in the middle where they intertwine. About taking care of others and ourselves.

I’m not saying my meeting was Girl Scouts for Adults, but it was a chance to sit uninterrupted and think about what we, as women, as individuals, want from our lives. With like-minded people experiencing the same things, facing the same struggles.

Because no one wants to be lost in the shuffle – girl or woman.


Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned in Troop Camp Training

This past weekend, I went on a camping excursion.

I live in New England. There is snow on the ground. Lots of snow. And ice. The air temperature is frigid.

And yet, I signed up to sleep overnight at a Girl Scout facility so I would be qualified to lead a group of girls on an overnight camping trip. Yes, there were no Girl Scouts involved. And yes, I voluntarily chose this wintry weekend.

I attended with the leader of our troop. She was planning on going already, and I agreed that this session would be best since we’d be in a lodge for actual sleeping, rather than the platform tents used during warmer months.

What we failed to take into account was that in order to learn the things needed to go camping outside, we’d actually have to go outside to do them – regardless of the snow banks and bitter cold. We would not, alas, be sleeping in the heated bunk room all weekend.

Thanks to my leader for this photo!

Thanks to my leader for this photo!

We hiked, we sawed wood for the fire, we cooked breakfast on inverted tin cans.

By the time bedtime Saturday night rolled around, I felt like a caterpillar about to burst out of its cocoon. I couldn’t wait to peel off the eight waistbands of the many layers pushing into my middle. My feet sighed with relief as I wiggled my naked toes in the bottom of my sleeping bag.

Either the cold coddled my brain or I was getting used to this ‘roughing it’, because I actually lamented when the leader told us it was too cold to go outside to whittle cooking sticks. I wanted to set bearings with my compass on tree limbs burdened with snow. And my insulated snow pants precluded the need for the heater in the car on my way home.

I dove into the wood pile with gusto when I arrived home. I trudged through the snow without hesitation. No snow drift too high or approaching storm would stop me from collecting wood; I was insulated to within a half inch of movement.

I unpacked my vagabond stove and coiled cooking sticks with ambivalence – thanking God I didn’t have to use them to make dinner that night and wishing I could. I remembered jokes I’d shared with the eight other women I’d camped with, but let them roll no farther than the tip of my tongue because ‘you had to be there’. I snapped at my children when they asked for help or needed to be told to do something after running on the smoothly oiled machines of patrols and kaper charts all weekend.

The irony of choosing to rough it in our privileged society did not elude me – when there are societies who have no choice but to use such survival methods to last the day and we complain of the inconvenience of doing them for fun. Why wouldn’t we stay home with our running water and electric ovens; why scorn the luxuries of modern society?

Because running a dishwasher doesn’t make you feel like a superhero. Popping a casserole in the oven doesn’t make you feel like a survivalist. Removing the convenience and accessible ease of everyday tasks helps us realize not only how lucky we have it, but also our own resourcefulness, resilience, and ingenuity. We realize strengths and abilities we never knew we had. We aren’t so afraid of losing power or running water anymore. We have options. We are not completely reliant upon services and systems provided by other people.

That is not to say, however, that we don’t need other people. The success of our weekend lay in the expertise and assistance of our leaders; the teamwork and willingness of our compatriots. Work is lighter and more productive when coordinated and collaborative.

By the end of the weekend, I felt like a cross between MacGyver and Grizzly Adams. I could fashion a stove with a pair of tin snips. I could close a jackknife without slicing off three fingers. And I could almost tie a bowline knot.

Granted, taking twelve girls on such an excursion might produce an entirely different set of results. But that’s a risk worth taking because camp provides so many lessons.