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May 2, 2013 at 01:34pm
Holding up the Girl Scout sign, I began the Promise confidently: “On my honor, I will try…” But, I stopped suddenly to swallow an unexpected lump in my throat. Looking down at the tiled floor of the church basement, I was a bit embarrassed by the sudden trickle of tears the words brought to my eyes: “To help people at all times…”
Finishing in a whisper, I juggled my presence of mind to recite the Law along with the other attendees of the New Leader training and the sudden, overwhelming memories of Girl Scouts in my younger years: beautiful, shining years of meetings and field trips and overnights. Leaders who declared “great job” no matter how badly you did. Camping trips hilariously punctuated by wet tents and burnt food. Hundreds of cases of cookies piled in our family’s barn when my mom once volunteered as Community Cookie Coordinator. Now, standing in a circle with other young mothers whose Kindergartners, like mine, were chomping at the bit to don the little blue vests, I would bestow these beautiful, shining experiences on my own girls.
Experiences gaining confidence. Growing up in New England, I attended Camp Wind-in-the-Pines in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the camp song begins “Some call it fun, while some may call it ma-a-a-dness! A ham by nature, I was never afraid to sing the loudest or get up on stage, but I was shy about being athletic. I preferred not to sweat “ever” and I cramped up in the first 20 yards of a jog. But, the swim coach at Camp Wind-in-the-Pines (Sunshine was the only name I knew her by, of course) didn’t buy it. Slapping the green swim cap of an intermediate swimmer in my hand, she pushed me to bend my knees deeper to dive further; to relax yet engage my muscles to float on my back; to kick and stroke in harmony to actually move along in the water, not just make a splashy show.
Sunshine wasn’t the only person who contributed to my confidence then; wrapped in their grungier-by-the-day beach towels, my tentmates patiently waited through my sluggish laps, leafing through a wrinkled Sassy magazine at the edge of the greenish-goldish water.
Experiences shaping character. Seniors in high school, my troop saved money fiendishly for years to get ourselves - and an assortment of mothers, aunts, and sisters - to London for a European excursion. Donning windpants and backpacks in the sunny but chilly English spring, we stayed in the Lord Baden Powell Scout Center, ate fish and chips, and snapped 35mm photos of ourselves performing cheerleading stunts in Trafalgar Square. One afternoon, in the shadow of Kensington Palace, there occurred a moment of disagreement about the palace’s tour hours or cost or some other logistical cog in our day’s schedule. Frustrated, I vented my opinion on the problem loudly, brattily, to our troop leader. Rather than telling me I was rude (I was rude!) or solving the problem for the group of girls, she gently pointed me toward two, red-clad guards wearing classic plumed helmets. Culpable for my childishness, I gulped and approached the guards slowly to ask them our question. No one gloated as I sheepishly repeated the information to the group, and our leader gave me her standard, but sincere, “great job!”
Experiences showing courage. I am now a fourth-year Daisy leader; having accompanied my older daughter and nine other Daisies through two years of scouts and bridged them to Brownies, I turned back to begin Daisies anew with my younger daughter and nine fresh Daisies. Last year, in the small lobby of a retirement home, the girls entertained the residents with holiday songs. My nerves were piqued. Having recently moved to our town and begun a new troop in Minnesota & Wisconsin Lakes & Pines, I’d never been to this retirement center; I had no reputation as a good leader (or not) here; I didn’t actually know the girls that well yet. Still, the visit went smoothly until a resident seated in a wheelchair next to the Christmas tree shook his head and croaked “no” to one of our girls when she offered him a Christmas card. Perhaps other small children would have become shy or even scared. But, the man, clearly unaware of his surroundings, didn’t rattle this Daisy at all; she offered the card a second time and asked sweetly, “don’t you want a Christmas card?”
This is where my grand plan to hand down the beautiful, shining experiences of Girl Scouts to my daughters leaves off. That is, rather than see the Girl Scouts in my life - leaders, friends, my mother, my sister, my daughters, and their friends, and their mothers - as parts of a big, happy memory, I see them as contributors to a continuing experience that expands, turns a corner, and grows a new dimension every time I hold up the Girl Scout sign to start a meeting or take a silly photo of the girls (on my phone now rather than a 35mm).
Girl Scouts has not imbued me with special talents or abilities that make me courageous, confident, or of strong character; on the contrary, Girl Scouts in my past like my supportive friends and patient leader as well as those in the present, like the courageous, confident Daisy who showed immense character through kindness to an aging man, encourage me to pursue these things every day.
Girl Scout Volunteer
Written in 2012