Like most parents, I openly support my girls in their chosen extracurricular activities. I cheer them on at swim meets and soccer games; I clap enthusiastically at recitals and performances ; I turn over their latest pottery camp creations in my hands, commenting on texture and color and shape and how the pieces seem to have multiplied like rabbits. When Ella announced that she had been elected to her school’s student council (Nick and I hadn’t even been aware that she was running), I applauded her determination and go-get-‘em attitude, promising that I would pick her up at the end of meetings. If our girls are into it, we’re into it – or, at least, into them being into it.
(This is all within reason, of course. If either girl requests to do an activity that is somehow outrageous – joining the Let’s Ban Chocolate club, for example – or that completely doesn’t fit into our schedule or that we really, really don’t approve of, we’ll have to reexamine things. For now, though, everything’s cool.)
Supporting them in doing their activities means just that: they’re the ones doing things; I’m the one on the sidelines. While they’re standing on the blocks in their caps and goggles, I’m watching – poised, ready, nervous – but I’m not getting into that water unless I can be magically transported to an infinity pool in Jamaica. I’ll whoop wildly for a great goal and hide my eyes after a blown save, but I’m not running around on that field with them unless I’m being chased. We are not doing chorus; Ella is. We do not attend aerial arts camp; they do. This seems like a simple enough concept.
When it comes to Girl Scouts, however, all bets are off. I’ve already talked about how I’m a slacker mom when it comes to Scouting – the one who drops her daughter off at meetings but doesn’t stay; the one who accompanies her on clean-up hikes (and gamely picks up trash) but steps back so Annie can roast marshmallows on her own; the one who safety-pins the badges onto her vest because sewing is way beyond my commitment level. Annie enjoys it, and I’m happy for her that she does. But let’s be clear: Annie is the Girl Scout, not I.
Perhaps I’m missing a crucial Girl Scout gene, having never been a Girl Scout myself, but I seem to be one of the few moms who feels this way (save for the other slacker moms in Annie’s troop; thank God we have each other. And wine). I knew we were off to another uncomfortable year of Scouting at the very first event we attended, only a week after school began. It was advertised as a visit to the Rochester airport and sounded quite promising – a tour of the facility, checking out a plane and the cockpit, talking to pilots. It was understood that moms were expected to accompany their daughters, and I was pleased to do so – to observe Annie as she participated, to help herd her and the rest of her troop where they needed to be.
In large part, the visit delivered: we were, indeed, taken through the airport, with the girls giggling through the security checkpoint as one of the guards – clearly tickled at being able to take a break from looking for dangerous materials, and clearly taken with the girls’ enthusiasm – high-fived everyone as we went through the metal detector, including all of the parents. As we prepared to take a tour of the most recently-landed aircraft, we were greeted by the plane’s crew, including a female captain (who identified herself as a pilot) who essentially told the girls that they could do any damn thing they set their minds to, including flying planes. It was pretty rad.
The girls explored the (empty) cabin, buckling seatbelts and examining tray tables, lifting the window shades up and down as though doing aerobics, and spending an uncommonly long time in the cockpit – longer than I’ve ever been allowed, certainly.
Some of the airport’s firefighters met us at the terminal, bringing their gear and stickers for each girl and giving us demonstration of how they put on all their equipment while they told us some rather fascinating tidbits about airport emergency crews. (Did you have any idea that each airport has its own designated fire crew that lives on the premises in a station house that is required, by federal law, to be located so that the trucks can reach anywhere on airport property within three minutes? See; fascinating.) All of that was well and good, and I was actually kind of glad that I’d accompanied Annie on this little fieldtrip.
When not touring the facility or hearing from employees, there was a lot of downtime, however, and the other troop leader(s) wanted to fill that downtime by singing Girl Scout songs. I can get behind this, as both a music teacher (hello) and the parent of a child who does not appreciate hanging around with nothing to do. Singing is fun! Singing is inclusive! Singing requires active participation, which means that fewer kids get bored! Yay, singing!
But the Scout leaders did not just want the Girl Scouts to sing; no, they wanted everyone to sing – including the parents of the Girl Scouts – and when we did not stand from our chairs and join in the jubilant chorus of “Hermy the Wormie,” we were called out.
Now. I’m all about singing. I loooove me some singing, even crazy group-style. I love ridiculous camp songs and have even taught my own girls the camp songs from my childhood, smiling like an idiot every time we burst into the one about the farmer and the maiden and their laundry. When I go to the sing-along showing of Grease, you can bet your ass that I’ll be belting out “Summer Lovin’” because that’s my jam. I will out-harmonize any of y’all on a holiday caroling expedition, even one with the Girl Scouts. So it’s not about the singing.
It’s about this being Annie’s activity, one to which I feel no particular attachment aside from taking pleasure out of her liking it. If it were a parent/kid kind of thing, if we signed up together as a mommy/daughter team, I would be all over it. But we did not. Only Annie’s name was on the registration form. Only Annie’s vaccination records were required for participation (I, on the other hand, could be rabid and they wouldn’t know).
I fully understand that some parental participation in her troop is not only helpful but necessary. There are the logistics, of course – attaching badges to vests and procuring snacks and providing transportation to and from the activities. There is also the simple fact that Annie’s troop has only one leader and so we, as parents, have each volunteered to run at least one meeting; I’m totally down with that and will be Googling like mad to make sure that whatever activity I’m in charge of is all kinds of fabulous.
But when the moms got together at the parent meeting, I couldn’t help but notice the use of the word “we” in describing all of the things that would take place this year. “We’ll sell cookies!” “We’ll learn how to make healthy snacks!” “We’ll earn these badges!” And I didn’t want to be a spoilsport, but I kept thinking, “This had better be the royal we, because ‘we’ are not Girl Scouts.” Is that not why we have troop leaders (thank God for troop leaders)– to actually do the activities with these girls??
It’s all just a bit much. Case in point: the badges. Y’all, there is a Girl Scout badge for absolutely everything under the sun. The badge booklet was more than an inch thick – like a college textbook – and contained over THREE THOUSAND different patches. THREE. THOUSAND!! Fed the homeless? There’s a badge for that. Provided relief to hurricane victims? Hurricane relief badge right here. Knit a sweater? Knitting badge! I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a badge for keeping the apps on your smartphone updated.
I know that families these days are strapped for time and it’s The Thing to devote hours and hours of your attention to your sons’ and daughters’ interests. There is now some societal expectation that one must be really into your kids’ activities in order to be a good parent. Moms and dads join their children on playdates well past the age where their supervision is necessary. Parents get into physical altercations at ballgames because they become so overinvested in what’s happening on the field. Their dance competition is your competition. It’s crazy-making.
If you want to become a Girl Scout troop leader, I applaud you. Nay, I salute and revere you, because my kiddo enjoys this activity and, by golly, she needs awesome people to run it – people who are genuinely invested, interested, and really dig singing about Hermy the Wormie. Dedicated, enthusiastic, and fun Girl Scout troop leaders are a wonderful thing.
Likewise, if you are the parent of a Girl Scout and you find yourself with a burning desire to build a teepee alongside your daughter, visit the animal shelter, or learn how to make a papier mache hat – and your daughter doesn’t mind you tagging along – then go ahead and join her. Rock on with your bad mom/daughter duo.
Don’t worry, I’ll still see you occasionally – at the beginning and end of troop meetings, at the monthly activity I’m running (it’ll be incredible, I promise), accompanying Annie and her fellow troop members when they drop off clothing to underprivileged kiddos or ring the bell at the mall. I hope you won’t think I’m rude when I allow Annie to dole out the hand-me-downs or ring the Salvation Army bell rather than rushing in to do so myself; it’s just that I’ve already had the opportunity to see how such kindness can change people’s lives and I really want Annie to have that chance without me hovering over her and influencing her experience.
I mean, after all, how can Annie rightfully claim her Helping Others badge if I’ve done half of the helping? No, this is for her to navigate, to enjoy, to learn from; I will accompany and support her, but we are not doing the Girl Scouts.
Unless one of those 3,000 badges happens to be for mixed drinks or wine tasting or a Moms Night Out. In that case, bring that catalog a little closer, please.
While ironing on her badges, Annie was dismayed to discover that she had misplaced one of the numbers for her troop (after having opened the baggie in which they’d been kept, the baggie she’d been told not to open). I actually think it’s kind of the perfect representation of our Girl Scout experience at this point.