Scouting Disasters by
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Prompted By Scouting

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I must have been a Brownie and then “flew up” to be a Girl Scout, but I have no memory of anything other than a field trip to see Bozo the Clown and the photo below in which my troop babysat for moms so they could go to the polls to vote. I must have earned a badge for that, but I doubt we had many customers who preferred having a stranger babysit rather than just taking their child with them to vote. I probably would not even remember doing this except that my mother clipped the photo below from the local paper and labeled it “12 years old.”

What I do remember from my early teen years is being the Den Mother for my youngest brother’s Cub Scout pack.

What I do remember from my early teen years is being the Den Mother for my youngest brother’s Cub Scout pack. My mother had no interest in coming up with activities for a rowdy group of young boys. I, on the other hand, enjoyed leading craft activities and various projects that would result in badges. After a couple of years, both my brother and I lost interest in Cub Scouts, and my involvement passed to my own kids, all of whom were eventually turned off by the regimentation and rules of Cub Scouts and Brownies.

Our son’s den was an unruly bunch. I don’t remember them earning any badges, and I don’t have a single photo because they would never pose for one. But they did like playing sports, which in the 1970s involved their fathers. My husband tried to coach them in football, but they ignored his suggestions and basically ran wild, tackling anyone near them on either team. My son’s only achievement in Cub Scouts was winning the Pine Wood Derby, a contest in which every boy was given a block of wood and some wheels from which he and his father had to build a model car. This was a real challenge for my husband, who was minimally handy. Their car was very basic and ugly, but the true humiliation was that it would only move if placed backwards on the ramp. Then, it whizzed past the other cars that actually looked like race cars, unlike theirs that looked like a painted block of wood. Our son, who was a quiet and sensitive soul, was clearly not cut out for scouting, and quit after that victory.

A bag full of badges for me to sew on her sash

Our older daughter’s Brownie experience ended up being too regimented for her. The leader of her Brownie troop was SERIOUS about scouting. She welcomed no help from the other mothers and drove the girls to earn so many badges that my hands hurt sewing them onto her sash. The cookie sale was also a highly competitive event. If a girl’s parents worked in a place where they could pressure their co-workers into buying, she was rewarded with tons of praise. Lacking a built-in market, we did our best with relatives and neighbors, but that was never good enough. When it was time to “fly up” to Girl Scouts, my daughter flew away.

When it was my youngest daughter’s turn to be a Brownie, the leadership issue loomed large in the opposite direction. No mother (in those days, those were the rules) wanted to be leader or even co-leader. So, we became a shared leadership troop. Every mother was supposed to take a turn and share responsibilities equally. Right. My most vivid memory of this disaster was taking the girls to a cabin somewhere for the weekend. There were probably six mothers sharing the responsibility, but for four of them, that consisted of driving the girls to and from the site and spending the rest of the time lounging in the sun and reading. That left Tess and me preparing meals, doing dishes, getting the girls to go to bed, and thinking of things for them to do other than run wild. This was truly a busman’s holiday for us. Apparently, there was no badge for washing dishes or cleaning, so our darling Brownies weren’t interested. They also passed on the cooking and bed-making badges. After that experience and producing a play that was a take-off on Cinderella, which involved many tears over the casting, I stepped away from scouting forever.

Shared leadership meant very few badges

Thankfully, none of my grandkids had any interest in scouting. But if they did, they knew better than to knock on my door.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific stories, Laurie. Your son’s Pine Wood Derby victory with the “backward” car was particularly delightful. Conversely, your cabin trip with your youngest daughter sounded like a true Weekend from Hell. At least it served to get you out of scouting forever after.

    As I also commented to Suzy’s story, I am pleased to see that I was not the only one turned off by the “regimentation and rules” of scouting. But you did get some interesting stories — and great pictures (including adorable ones of your daughter) — out of your experiences. So thanks for sharing!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. I guess scouting just wasn’t my kids’ thing (or mine), but we gave it a shot and checked it off the list of childhood experiences. All my son remembers is the humiliation of his victory with his backwards car. I’m sure he was bullied for it.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love the newspaper clipping of you being driven to help baby sit so mothers could go vote, Laurie. Maybe you are correct in thinking that most mothers would just take their kids along, but I like the civic responsibility of it.

    It sounds like Scouting was problematic for all involved at various points in your life, from helping out your brothers to your own children. The smile on your daughter’s face with her bag full of badges seems genuine, but it sounds like that leader was the driven one, not the kids. It seems to me that the kids need to want to participate as much as the adult driving the process.

    You’ve related all sorts of experiences for us. Your craftiness certainly helped at various points. Sports are not what really drives the Scouting movement, I suspect and these days, most kids are not motivated to be Scouts. And as for cookie sales, you are absolutely correct. If a relative doesn’t have access to a broad connection of people, the kid doesn’t stand a chance. It has become very competitive. But a great money maker for the Girl Scouts.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    I guess there are “stage parents” in any youth activity, unfortunately.

    I like the description of the Cub Scout’s football!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I imagine giving any group of young boys who don’t get the rules on a field where they are permitted to tackle each other results in this type of chaos. Saw it again when my grandson played football at age 8. All they really want to do is run around and catch each other. Why bother with the pretense of a sporting game?

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Doesn’t sound like fun, Laurie. You certainly did your best to help the brats…er…kids have a positive experience. The regimentation comment reminded me of someone I knew who appeared before the selective service, and when asked if he had ever been a member of a paramilitary organization, answered yes—-the Boy Scouts.

  5. Marian says:

    It’s good to hear this from a scout leader’s mouth, Laurie. I guess the cub scouts are a hot bed for unruliness, based on my brother’s recollection in my story, so I feel your pain. It’s lucky for you that the grandkids never were interested. And what a disaster on that weekend trip. Can’t imagine it.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I’m with your mother on the whole den mother thing. I suppose the biggest turn off for me was that weekend trip in which my friend and I couldn’t control the kids or thir mothers. Do you think there may have been a connection?

  6. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I’m so sorry that you had such bad experiences with scouting. Like you, I have very few memories of my own time as a GS, except I know I must have liked it or I would have quit sooner. Your son’s pinewood car that ran backwards and won the race made me laugh out loud! Sounds like a great victory, the ugly block of wood over the fancy race cars! As for sewing badges on your daughter’s sash, there is a product sold at the GS store specifically for gluing badges on vests or sashes – too bad you didn’t know about that, it saved my fingers! Finally, I want to say that in Molly’s troop, the girls did their own cookie selling, not the parents. Molly loved going around the neighborhood knocking on doors, because everyone likes to buy GS cookies! She was normally extremely shy, but came out of her shell to sell cookies.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I enjoyed your story and now can see how scouting could have been a much more positive experience, especially for my daughters. Just didn’t work out that way, but that had a lot to do with the leadership of the adults involved.

  7. Laurie, sounds like scouting was not for the Levys!
    I did like my own GS experience altho didn’t remember it well, whereas I remember a wonderful kids & teens theatre program at the synagogue and remember every show we put on!

    My husband tells me he enjoyed Cub Scouts but didn’t go on to Boy Scouts altho doesn’t remember why not. And my son was never involved scouting, it didn’t seem to be popular in his school, maybe more of a suburban than a city thing. So be it!

  8. Laurie, I love how Suzy’s and your stories bookend the scouting experience from one extreme to the other. Scouting, in whatever form, is like any other organization…it’s not for everyone, and its success varies from group to group. At least you can say you tried, and in more ways than one…I give you kudos for that!

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