August 09, 2006
I have a dark secret. A hidden demon disguised under my professional demeanor and day-to-day doings. A shameful something hidden in my closet that, if seen, would be sure to send me soaring straight to the top of Mr. Blackwell's worst-dressed list.
I own a Boy Scout uniform. And I wear it regularly.
The truth is, I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster for my son's Boy Scout troop. I have been a Boy Scout leader since Billy was just in first grade — a whopping eight years. I've hiked trails, tied countless knots, and eaten more s'mores than any human should. The catch? I'm a girl.
It's hard to fathom, especially since I barely made it past Brownies and found myself unceremoniously booted out of Juniors when I failed to muster the moxie to motivate myself and ended up failing miserably at all manner of Girl Scout tasks. No, I could not carve the equivalent of magnificent ice sculptures from a bar of Ivory soap. I could not fashion stunning designs out of a scrap of felt and a pipe cleaner. And, most shameful by far, I could never sell enough cookies.
Living in Brooklyn, we did not have a car, and the image of my poor grandmother, desperately trying to squeeze those boxes of Thin Mints into her shopping cart so she could deliver them, door to door, is forever etched in my guilty memory. Surely, my dear Nanny deserved some kind of merit badge for that brave and selfless act.
Despite my less-than-stellar go at Girl Scouts, though, I gave Tiger Scouts a shot as an adult leader when my little boy was ready to join the ranks. Cub Scouts epitomized the values I was trying to impart: A Scout is, after all, trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Whew — try saying that three times fast. Or try helping a bevy of fifth grade boys, who'd rather be at the ballpark, memorize it so they can pass their Board of Review and sail into Boy Scouts.
Cub Scouts was not a stretch. Endless afternoons of crafts and snacks, quality time spent on field trips to the aquarium or the petting zoo — the whole scene was right up my über mom alley.
But I knew the dreaded day had to come: Any Scoutmaster knows the pinnacle of the scouting experience is The Campout. If you want to be a Boy Scout, you've got to pitch your tent and pray for no bear.
And so, I gritted my teeth and headed to Camp Coleman, where I chose the warmest mummy sleeping bag — I don't deal well with sub-zero temperatures — and three lanterns to illuminate the night for my afraid-of-the-dark inner child.
The first year I boarded the bus to Camp Yawgoog, the Rhode Island scout reservation where our troop has spent some 30-odd summers, I was nervous. Okay, I was scared to death. What was I, a woman who favors spa pedicures and pricey facials, going to do in Boy Scout camp? How would I survive a week without the essentials of my busy working mom life? Could I exist without my cell phone, my laptop — my Diet Pepsi?
From the outset, I knew it was an experience unlike any other. Anyone who's never stepped foot into a Boy Scout dining hall has, quite simply, not lived. Witnessing crowds of boys jumping up to sing the camp song at deafening levels — "Oh, I'm a hayseed, my hair is seaweed, and my ears are made of leather and they flop in rainy weather" — while stamping their feet and laughing uproariously is a sight that will stay with me forever.
Such moments are sure to pass all too soon as boys move on and graduate high school, leaving such simple joys behind as they become distracted by corporate desires and what some might deem more significant pursuits.
Or not. What I've learned at Boy Scout camp is the lessons taught there are ingrained for life. It's about so much more than weaving a basket or carving a block of wood. What Boy Scout camp encompasses is men (and women!) teaching boys how to behave honorably in a world of adults who, all too often, forget to live by the basic tenets upon which scouting is built: Do a good turn daily. Be prepared.
As the first mom in my troop to brave the full week of Boy Scout camp, I'm a trailblazer of sorts. This year, there will be three other women and, if they're really nice, I might share my hard-earned tips: Since the boys always stick us girls with the tent by the smelly latrine, bring perfume to scent your pillow. And, while there is a ladies' room, complete with shower and blow dryer, it's a mile-hike from the campsite, so be sure to bring a big flashlight for night runs.
After the first year, I realized Boy Scout camp had — could it be true? — grown on me. The serenity of spending the days by a tranquil lake, letting go of the minutiae of a hectic schedule, is surpassed only by savoring the sweetness of my son's fleeting childhood.
If only I could do something about that god-awful uniform . . .