November 14, 2011

I'm Certain Juliette Gordon Low Was Spinning in Her Grave

Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912.

I hated her for that.

My mother, eager to get me to overcome my shyness (and wanting to live vicariously through me), signed me up for Brownies. I remember filling pinecones with suet and birdseed, and making a sit-upon. I learned the Girl Scout promise and sang the songs.

The trouble really started after the “flying up” ceremony into Junior Girl Scouts. I hated the green uniform and the ridiculous beret. I did, however, love the change purse, from which emanated the intoxicating scent of cheap plastic every time I opened it to pay my dues.

By third grade, I was skilled as a slacker. I possessed no abilities nor interest in drawing and handicrafts. The badges in the Girl Scout handbook were mostly stupid stuff like quilting and sewing and learning semaphore. As I had no plans to be adrift at sea any time during my childhood, and never considered becoming one of those crafty women whom I held in low regard, I saw no purpose in learning the skills the Girl Scouts presented to me.

My descent into rabble rousing began in that elementary school cafeteria. Instead of working hard to earn badges, I was putting helpful notes in the Suggestion Box like “Let’s go home early”, or "Let's disband the troop". 

I liked hiking and tying knots and making a “buddy burner” (a coffee can/tuna fish can ensemble for cooking). I rolled up that corrugated cardboard into the best coil ever, and poured paraffin into that fishy can like nobody’s business. 

What pride I felt when I lit the “burner” – and it stayed lit! I even “cooked” a reasonable facsimile of French toast on the bottom of that coffee can. Finally, something useful! My future success as a well-fed hobo was guaranteed.

My mother insisted that I attend each and every meeting, but she couldn’t make me into a scout. I didn’t get a single badge in my three years as a Junior Girl Scout. I was the only one in our troop whose dark green sash was not plastered with poorly sewn on badges that indicated proficiency in a subject, although I completed all of the tasks for many badges. I conveniently neglected to have my troop leaders initial each completed task in my handbook, and never ponied up the thirty-five cents for the cost of each badge. I earned 'em, I just didn't want 'em.

When Junior Girl Scouts came to an end, I and my naked sash called it a day. I did not continue further in the system.

Jump ahead to when my oldest daughter Shannon was a Brownie. Now a stay-at-home mom, I was very involved in my children’s interests. I helped out at meetings. I suggested (non-crafty) activities. I spent a week each summer at Girl Scout day camp, leading a group of girls. Shannon loved Brownies and Girl Scouts so much, I was certain she was switched at birth. 

Proving the depth of maternal sacrifice, I drove a carload of very loud and giggly girls to activities and day camp (and threatened to sing “Home on the Range”, off-key, if they got too rowdy in the back seats of the station wagon).

My daughter Erin uses that same threat/ploy when she ferries her friends' children around.

When Shannon continued her scouting experiences by transitioning to a Cadette troop in junior high, I was convinced that she was not the baby who allowed me to experience twenty-four hours of labor and an episiotomy. I seriously considered hiring a private investigator to determine whether an insidious baby-switching scandal had occurred in a particular western Pennsylvania hospital.

By the time my second daughter Erin was of Brownie-age, there was no room for her to join a troop. She had been attending day camp since she was old enough for preschool, and was eager to be in a troop of her own, instead of only tagging along while her sister had all the fun. 

I did what every (insane) mother would have done – I volunteered to become a leader of a brand new troop. I'll stop here so you can let that bit of info sink in. Me - a Girl Scout leader.

When I told my mother of my decision, I asked her NOT to tell my previous leaders, as I didn’t want them to suffer cardiac arrest.

I took the required leader training, and attended an outdoor event to brush up on the skills that I had enjoyed as a scout.

Our troop, being new, was small – eight girls in total. We had two Jennifers, two Nicoles and four girls lucky enough to have their own names. The one girl who rarely attended any meetings was my own daughter Erin. First grade found her in a constant cycle of allergy attacks and respiratory infections. So I spent most Wednesday afternoons with the troop while my own daughter was being watched by a babysitter...whom I paid.

I tolerated the mothers who never helped, yet found time to call me to bitch that "my Nicole didn't get to hold the flag in a ceremony", or "my Jennifer didn't get a turn to be 'it' in tag". Funny how they couldn't bother to spend an hour volunteering, but they had all the time in the world to tell me how their child was getting the shaft.

I wasn’t the typical scout leader. Oh, we still made sit-upons and learned the Brownie Promise and had opening and closing at each meeting. I made sure that we talked about what it meant to be a Brownie, and had them do the whole two-fingered hand gesture during the recitation of the Promise (though I was more accustomed to using one less finger in my non-scout leader life).

Instead of crafts, we got involved in the community; we planted flowers at the church where we held our meetings. We visited our local volunteer fire department and the volunteer EMT (my next-door neighbor) let the girls lie on the ambulance’s gurney and bandaged them up as they learned about the equipment in the ambulance.

We went sledding in the snow, and played games and sang Brownie songs. At one meeting, we had a Day of Food, where we sampled Ugli fruit and raw sweet potato and jicama, and looked for the church janitor so he could whack a coconut with a hammer for us.

During Girl Scout cookie season, my dining room became a warehouse and distribution facility for Thin Mints and Shortbread. Those eight girls sold over 300 boxes of cookies...or maybe it was their competitive parents who did the selling. Either way, we did ourselves proud in our first year.

Unfortunately, I was only able to lead the troop for one year because my days as a stay-at-home mom came to an abrupt end, as did my marriage. 

Just imagine the adult, non-crafty rabble rousers I could have helped nurture had I been able to continue with the troop.

I’m sure Juliette Gordon Low quit spinning when I handed off the clipboard to the next leader.

And I'm positive she tried to do a cartwheel when Erin followed in my footsteps and became a leader, because her friend's daughter wanted a chance to be a Brownie.


  1. That was a cute story! I went to Brownies and loved it! But my shyness got the best of me and my mom´s lack of being a helper eventually led to me quitting. Quitting or stop stopping going....not sure. Wish we had it over here in France though! I bet my oldest would love it!

  2. OH I did the brownie thing as well. I hated it just as much. I had all boys. Sadly the leaders for the boy scouts here are mainly women as well. In my eyes doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of it??

  3. Pretty interesting - I wanted to be in Girl Scouts and couldn't be. You didn't want to and had to. How strange is that?

  4. Oh I just loved this. As a former Uber-Scout, I was totally cracking up. I can just see you as a scout leader (the Crankiest Most Rebellious Scout leader EVER!) and I love the idea of you sticking subversive notes into the suggestion box. Great post!

  5. Great. I'd just about been able to completely suppress the memories of my time as an underachieving Cub Scout/Boy Scout. No merit badges, barely qualified for 'Tenderfoot', camping out under thin, plastic lean-to's during thunderstorms, Sharing twenty-year-old surplus K-rations (cigarettes included) with my pals. Then there was the time we set fire to the small island where we were encamped. Ah yes, thanks a bunch Kim.
    P.S. None of my boys ever became scouts.


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