On My Honor
“Who can tell me what is a veteran?” I ask the Brownie troop as we prepare to color the Veterans Day cards we will soon distribute at the VA Hospital.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Their wee fingers stretch into the air. Urgency flashes in their eyes as they will their arms to detach from their shoulders so the tips of their digits will be slightly higher than those of the girl sitting next to them. Some are pushing up the skin on the outside of their raised limbs. Others hyper-extend their elbows. It’s cute, how desperate they are to be The Chosen One.
“Hmm,” I say, drumming my fingers on my chin, torturing them. “Who have I not called on in a while? Rennie, go ahead and tell us what is a veteran.”
Rennie lights up. A grin opens the entire bottom half of her face, showcasing several gaps where baby teeth were recently harvested. The other girls are on the verge of tears but leave their arms up, hoping Rennie gets it wrong so they can slide in as the Alternate All-Knowing Hero.
“An animal doctor!” shouts a proud Rennie.
The other girls drop their arms, dejected and disappointed that Rennie nailed it.
The good angel who occupies my shoulder whispers, Hey, if they knew all the answers, they wouldn’t need to be Girl Scouts. The less good angel who swings on my eardrum chuckles, Take off your coat, buddy. Looks like we’re gonna be here a while.
Planning, discussing, and running Girl Scout meetings, events, and outings is how I spend a jaw-dropping amount of my time these days. This, in contrast to a day nine years ago, when we were living in Shanghai, China, and our first child had just started Kindergarten at Yew Chung International School.
“I signed Mia up for Girl Scouts today,” Ed told me at dinner.
My fork stopped mid-air. I didn’t want him to say, ‘I’m kidding’ after I’d taken a bite because I knew I would laugh and probably blow rice out my nose.
He chewed, not looking at me.
I put my fork back on my plate.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” I said.
“Uh, no, I’m serious.”
“BUT WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
“What do you mean, Lindsey? Today was the day to sign up for after school activities and Girl Scouts is the activity she chose.”
I sighed. “I put you in charge for one day. AND I told you this morning to sign her up for basketball!”
“Yes, Ed. You know how active she is! She needs to move around constantly or she gets in trouble. Her energy needs to be harnessed, with exercise. Plus, you know we are sporty people! We don’t macrame! We sport!”
“But my sister was a Girl Scout. She loved it. And my mom was her leader.”
I crossed my arms and looked at Mia. “Mia, don’t you want to play basketball? You are tall which means you will be so good! Come on, it will be great fun.”
“No, Mommy. I want to be a Girl Scout. Like Auntie Annie.”
I acquiesced, letting Mia be a (ridiculous!) Girl Scout and waited for the call that she was disruptive to the group. That she would be better-suited to an outside activity. That she was bored and didn’t like it anymore and whine whine, come get me. But this call never came.
What did come home were little notes about the science experiments they did. And an adorable performance of the new song she learned. And stories about her new buddies and how they had devised grand strategies to Make the World A Better Place.
“Please, Mommy, please!” Mia begged when it was time to sign up again the following year. I had been threatening to sign her up for soccer instead, because apparently I get in ruts which cause me to learn slowly. Finally, it started to dawn on me that this little girl, who loved zero extracurricular anything, was ALL IN on this Girl Scout thing. Fine, I thought, I’ll give it more time to suck.
Her troop leader the 2nd year was the school’s art teacher. The projects they created were amazing! At a school-wide festival, they auctioned off a group art project to raise money for a local orphanage. When the troop moms were invited to join their daughters for tea in a lovely walled garden in the middle of Shanghai, I looked around and thought, these girls are so PROUD and HAPPY, which if you drill down, is second only to HEALTHY in the list of What Moms Want. That was the day I began to slide. The pull was so gentle, I barely realized I was being sucked toward the swirling center of The Cult of the Brown Sash.
“I can’t lead next year,” the art teacher told me after the tea party. “I’ll be working on the other campus, across town.”
“What? Noooo! You can’t stop leading! This is the only activity my daughter loves! I NEED YOU!”
“I think you mean you need YOU.” she said, taking off a pretend hat and placing it on my head. “There you go, Grand Poobah.”
I had a trillion excuses for not leading that troop, probably more. Was I working? Yes. Was I pregnant? Yes. Was I a Girl Scout as a kid so I knew what the meetings were supposed to look like? NO. Am I a person who likes to follow rules and guidelines? Don’t make me blow rice out my nose. But, did I have a daughter who seemed to badly need to be a part of something larger than herself, and surprisingly, even larger than a sports team? YES. So, while kicking and screaming and balling up my fists and scrunching up my face and shaking my head back and forth, I said Fine, I will lead.
I am certain this is the level of enthusiasm the greater Girl Scouts Organization is looking for in every volunteer.
Remember in high school when you would touch your face and one of your fingers would have the tiniest smidge of mayonnaise on it from your sandwich at lunch? And so, three days later, usually right before a dance, Mt. Vesuvius would appear on your chin, complete with its own weather system, and you would wonder, how did this happen? Similar things can occur when you (sign up to) do something without paying much attention and then continue to not monitor your resulting activities with vigilance. Which is how I became the leader of three Girl Scout troops, one for each daughter.
This means that at least six times a month, any number of between one and 35 girls will look at me as if I have all the answers. And I haven’t found the heart to tell them that this was all a big accident and I have NONE of the answers! Instead, I put forth a distracting form of enthusiasm, or possibly an enthusiastic form of distraction, and thus, these little sweet peas continue to get snowed bi-weekly. Of course, without my most AMAZING co-leaders and parent helpers, the trickery would be much less effective. So THANK YOU FOR STEPPING UP, my fellow suckers girl advocates.
Some days I think, I could not bring more goodness to the world than I did today in my meeting with those 15 sweetwonderfulpreciouslovely beings. I wish I could adopt all of them tomorrow.
Other days I send the following text to Ed: Just leaving GS. Meet be at bottom of driveway with tumbler of red wine filled to point of meniscus.
Immediately followed by this text: ALL YOUR FAULT.
Leading is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is. I’m sorry I just said that. While that statement holds some truth, I hate it when people say stuff like that and then look at me like we’re in a martyr contest. I actually belong in the camp that believes that, whether easy or hard, we all do our part in whatever capacity we can. And while I didn’t know it at the get-go, it turns out my capacity includes a lot of discussing and singing and re-enacting and spouting of the Girl Scout Law, which communicates the following fundamental information to small females:
You have value.
You can make a difference.
Do the right thing.
Step up! The world needs your leadership.
Perhaps the reason I came full circle on Girl Scouts is that it provides an avenue to practice the best kind of Girl Power, causing it to fall directly in line with my personal, longer term goal of Female World Domination. The way I see it, with enough well-meaning (albeit accidental) guides, our children’s future will be filled with strong, confident women primed for large-scale leadership. To be clear, by large-scale, I do not mean national or global leadership. In a couple decades, that will be like being sheriff of Hazzard County. I am talking about universal leadership. Because we all know what gender should be in charge when it comes time to colonize the galaxy.
I hope I am still here to watch when that time comes. But either way, for today, I am honored to play a role in the introduction of Girl Power to 35 amazing young women, and I will forever remain their proud Grand Poobah.