March 12 is the Girl Scouts' 100th Anniversary. I am proud and honored to be part of that history. I still consider myself a Girl Scout. Hey, I took an oath. I promised to obey the Girl Scout Law. There was a ceremony. I did not enter into it with the intention of outgrowing that pledge.
My sister is several years older than me. By the time I was old enough to join Brownies she had long outgrown her interest in scouting. My last few months as a mere Brownie Scout I borrowed my sister’s Girl Scout handbook and started studying it so that when I turned 9 I would be prepped and ready to “fly up” from Brownies to Girl Scouts.
I spent weeks reading the handbook and memorizing the Girl Scout Oath and Girl Scout Laws. The Oath was easy. The Laws were a little more complex. But I diligently learned a law a day and eventually I memorized all of them. My sister’s Junior handbook was tattered, earmarked and the badge worksheet pages for the badges my sister earned or attempted were check marked, dated and signed. My sister wasn’t particularly motivated or interested in a lot of the badges, whereas I was rife with anticipation over the requirements of the badges I wanted to earn.
I never competed with my sister, and I never really felt like I was in her shadow. We are very different in pretty much every way and we've both always known and accepted this. That's not to say I've never been envious of some of the traits she inherited that are missing in my gene map, but I never felt competitive with her because, well, there's no use in competing. But, Girl Scout merit badges were one area where I wanted to surpass my sister. She was a good Scout, but her interest waned and she didn't follow through on some of her badge requirements. Her Handbook showed that she had accomplished several requirements for badges and only needed a couple more requirements to earn the badge, but she either gave up or lost interest. I took that as a lesson and a challenge. Her cast-off Girl Scout Handbook seemed like coveted insider information to me.
Unfortunately, in the years between my sister’s Junior Girl Scout days and my entry into the Junior world the Girl Scout Council changed the Laws. I discovered this when my mother brought home my new, very own Junior Girl Scout Handbook. I was excited because it was a) a new book; and b) the badge worksheet pages were all blank, ready for me to date and sign each accomplishment on my own quest for merit badges.
I thought, “Ha! I already know most of this stuff because I’ve been studying my sister's Handbook!”
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the Girl Scout Law pages and discovered the Law was different – revised from when my sister was a Girl Scout.
Curses, foiled again. And sadly, I was such a lame kid that I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I thought.
So there I was with outdated Girl Scout Laws memorized. Now I had to start from scratch.
This is what I painstakingly memorized from my sister’s Girl Scout Handbook:
The Girl Scout Laws
1. A Girl Scout's Honor Is to be Trusted
2. A Girl Scout Is Loyal
3. A Girl Scout's Duty Is to be Useful and to Help Others
4. A Girl Scout is a Friend to All, and a Sister to every other Girl Scout
5. A Girl Scout Is Courteous
6. A Girl Scout Is a Friend to Animals
7. A Girl Scout Obeys Orders
8. A Girl Scout is Cheerful
9. A Girl Scout is Thrifty
10. A Girl Scout is Clean in Thought, Word and Deed.
This is the revised Law in my Girl Scout Handbook:
I will do my best:
- to be honest
- to be fair
- to help where I am needed
- to be cheerful
- to be friendly and considerate
- to be a sister to every Girl Scout
- to respect authority
- to use resources wisely
- to protect and improve the world around me
- to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions
That’s not just a little different. It’s a lot different. The revision didn’t cover animals or thriftiness. No obeying of orders, no “clean of thought, word and deed…” What the…?? The revised Laws were kinder, gentler Laws, worded less harshly. It occurred to my little 8 year old head that a lot less was required of us new Scouts. The new Laws were more general, more vague and left a lot of room for interpretation. And a lot easier to memorize.
I decided even though I was going to have to learn and recite the new Law I was still going to silently pledge my word to the old Law.
Oh yes. I took it that seriously.
I'm not just a Girl Scout, I'm a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. (WAGGGS). I earned a couple different WAGGGS pins, but a modified version of the main one is still in use today. There are three leaves representing the Girl Scout Promise, with a flame that stands for loving all the people in the world. The compass needle is to guide us, and the two stars are the Girl Scout Promise and Law. The outer circle represents the World Association, and the golden yellow trefoil on a bright blue background stands for the sun shining over the children of the world. I know. Awwwww.
Brownies was fun. I was in an active troop with a leader who would make Martha Stewart look like a dull slacker. (Truly, that woman was born to lead Brownies.) I knew all the girls in my troop and was on very friendly terms with most of them. But I knew being a Brownie was merely a precursor to the real thing, Girl Scouts. (There was no Daisies program when I was a kid.) My mother was tapped to assist our leader and was a troop “helper” meaning she was the co-leader at one or two meetings per month and was a chaperone/driver for off-site activities. Our leader wore the full leader uniform and she expected the troop helper mothers to do the same. My mother, who’d been a Cub Scout Den Mother for my brother, was no stranger to this protocol and went along with it because the leader was a friend and their husbands worked together – my mother doesn’t like to rock those kinds of boats – and she felt it was an honor to be tapped to help my Brownie leader.
But some of the other mothers who were apparently deemed unfit for helper status were somewhat miffed at the snub. And one mother who apparently refused to abide by the leader-in-uniform rule was not asked to resume her duties when our second year of Brownies commenced. My mother knew this was going to happen because there were planning meetings over the summer and the uniformless mother was not invited to attend. My mother later told me she was fairly certain the replacement helper mother was being groomed for the role as early as the second month of our first year. (Small town. Very, very, very small town.)
When I was a Brownie there were no Brownie badges or patches other than our Brownie pin, a couple star pins for each year, and our troop number and council patches. We did have silly looking beanies we were supposed to wear, but they had a tendency to slip off our heads and were deemed universally impractical except for occasions that required full dress uniform. On those occasions our mothers used a criss-crossed bobby pin method to secure them to our heads. Which did help keep the beanies from getting lost, but often the beanies flapped around creating a tea-pot lid opening and closing effect. Good times.
I wasn’t bored with Brownies, I was just impatient to get to the big league of merit badges, summer camp and cookie sales.
I vividly remember my “Fly Up” ceremony where we transitioned from Brownies to Girl Scouts. It was a huge deal. There was a flag ceremony with Color Guard entry to kick things off, a candle was lit for each Girl Scout Law, each of us, individually, not as a group, said the Girl Scout Pledge then certificates and Fly Up wing badges were given out, cookies and punch were served and everyone – Brownies and Girl Scouts and leaders – were dressed in full uniform regalia. Cultish? Yeah, I guess a little. But a nice cult with solid, useful, civic-minded objectives.
It was a bittersweet evening, though. My Brownie leader’s husband worked with my dad, and had a job similar to my father’s which required lots of travel. And sometimes there were extended far-flung assignments at odd outposts on the other side of the world. My troop leader (and her daughter who was a good friend) were whisked away shortly after our last Brownie meeting and not seen again for 7 years. So my Brownie leader was unable to continue to lead the troop into our Girl Scout years. Which was a shame for all of us. She was a dedicated troop leader and us girls benefited greatly from her enthusiasm, strict adherence to the Handbook and boundless ability to come up with new craft projects and rousing songs week after week. I’m not saying we were perfect angels, but, that woman had a no-nonsense commanding presence coupled with a cache of scintillating craft projects which kept us focused and generally well-behaved.
She had a way of calling the room to order by saying, “Ladies, ladies, take your seats!” We’d scramble to the school desks where we’d find perfectly allotted supplies for that meeting’s project. It was like magic. They were school desks one minute, and perfectly arranged work stations with meted out craft supplies the next. Get this: Our leader’s daughter was my friend at school. You’d think the leader’s daughter would have insider info on the meetings and projects. Nope. Her mother kept such a tight command of her leadership role that even her own daughter didn’t know what the project was going to be. And we had clean-up inspection – our work areas had to be spotless before we could sing the closing song and go home.
We were sort of well-known in the scouting circles of our community. Due to our leader’s tireless efforts to make us all into fine and capable young women, we were sort of the “It” troop. We marched in perfect formation in the local parades, we worked tirelessly at volunteer and charity events in the community, we made the rounds singing at all the nursing homes and hospitals, we cleaned up senior citizens’ yards, we had the best baked goods at the bake sales, and we garnered the best items for the silent auctions. If there was a volunteer or charity situation, our leader had us organized and on it. If there was a “cultural enrichment opportunity,” our leader had permission slips signed and car pools formed.
Many of the girls in my Brownie troop opted to not move onto Girl Scouts. This was due in large part to the departure of our troop leader. The other women who led troops that would “take” us were not as well-known and well-respected as my Brownie leader. Many of the mothers said things like, “We only had Janie in Brownies because Marge was such a good leader…” Which was insulting to my mother and the other troop helpers, but we all understood the point being made.
I was “lucky.” My mother knew the leaders of two of the troops that were tasked with “taking” us leader-less girls into their troops. Both leaders told my mother they’d be happy to have me in their troops. My mother chose the troop led by the woman she thought had the most enthusiasm for scouting. After all, I was used to a pretty high level of organization and activity and my mother wanted to maintain that momentum. The new troop already had plenty of helpers, so my mother was relegated to occasionally chaperoning/driving to an off-site event.
My Girl Scout troop was led by a woman quite different than my Brownie troop leader. She was more modern, more hip and didn’t wear the leader uniform except on special, public occasions. She was the mother of a girl I vaguely knew from the playground. Other than one girl from my Brownie troop I didn’t really know any of the girls in my Girl Scout troop. They weren’t in my class at school. A couple of them went to my church but we weren’t exactly “friends.” I did not like the idea of being The New Girl.
The fact that I was joining an established troop with girls and a leader I didn’t know caused some anxiety. I was horrifically shy and my Brownie troop had been a safe haven for me. No matter what was going on in school, on the playground or in the neighborhood, those Brownie meetings and events were always a friendly, fun place where no one teased or bullied me. I knew all the girls, I knew what to expect, there was a very clear authority figure and regimented, focused tasks at each meeting. (Shy people tend to like schedules and adherence to them – it adds an element of control and leaves less room for “free time” which often translates to “socializing.”) Walking into a room full of girls who all knew each other and had been in Brownies together for two years - and where I really didn’t know anyone – remains one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I’m still surprised I didn’t: Pee my pants, cry, run home to my mother, or have a rocking in the corner in fetal position panic attack.
The only thing that got me through those cautious steps into that first meeting was my excitement over being a Girl Scout. My parents were well aware of my shyness (we’d been working with a counselor at school), so weeks ahead of the first meeting my parents started calming my fears and going over coping techniques for all manner of situations I might encounter in my new troop of Girl Scouts.
The other girl from my Brownie troop and I were, indeed, labeled The New Girls for a long time. We were accepted but the girls kept a wary eye on how we operated. Years later I ran into a girl from my Girl Scout troop and she told me that the other girls were all nervous about us joining their troop because "everyone" knew the accolades and deeds our Brownie troop achieved. The girls in our new troop thought we'd be critical know-it-alls with freakishly advanced craft, nature and volunteer skills. If only I'd known that back then...
What helped ease that transition, immensely, is that I discovered the other girls who were enthusiastic about Girl Scouts were, like me, kinda dorky. We got good grades, followed the playground rules, read books for fun, not because we had to for school, were interested in learning new skills, liked animals and nature and, as I soon learned, many of them were in the school band, too. I also learned that apart from one girl who was really good at gymnastics and took ballet, I was probably the most athletic amongst us. This was huge for me because at school I was mocked, daily, for my lack of athletic prowess. I was really tall, even back then, and I "ran funny" and wasn't as nimble in phys ed as the shorter girls. Red Rover was an horrific nightmare that haunts me still. But in Girl Scouts, well, let's just say I went from being the last chosen to team captain.
|My Skater badge.|
Which isn’t saying much because my athleticism was pretty much limited to swimming and skating – but thanks to my water and winter loving family I’d been doing both from the time I started walking. So I had advantages in the swimming and boating components of camp. And even though several of the girls skated occasionally, I was the only girl in my troop who could complete all the requirements for the skater badge. (I had to demonstrate how to rescue a skater who fell through ice – I kid you not, that was a badge requirement. For 9 –11 year old girls. I also had to host a skating party and make at least 50% of a skating costume. Again, this was a badge for 9 -11 year old kids. To this day I only know a couple adults who could perform a safe water rescue, make at least 50% of a skating costume and host a skating party.)
As the year progressed and our troop started working on merit badges and higher level civic projects I made a few new friends and grew to like my new troop almost as much as my Brownie troop. Oh sure, there were differences that took some adjusting. For instance, my Brownie leader was anti-glitter. I'm sure it was because of the mess, but when we pressed her to do a glittery craft project she told us that we would focus on more substantial, skill-based projects, not flashy but easy projects. She used those exact words. (I told you, that woman ran a tight Brownie ship.) My new Girl Scout troop, however, was an all glitter, all the time kind of place. That took some getting used to. I felt like my craft knowledge was being dumbed down and this caused some concern regarding the artistic badges I'd vowed to earn. It turned out okay, but there was an adjustment period. My Brownie leader instructed and led us. She didn't talk down to us, exactly, but she didn't pal around with us, either. My Girl Scout leader, however, regularly joined in our conversations about school, television and music. She had a huge "thing" for Tom Jones. I'm not sure this is information us girls needed or wanted to know, and none of us had a clue who Tom Jones was, but, we knew our Girl Scout leader had a thing for him. It figures...she was okay with glitter, after all. By contrast, my Brownie leader was an opera singer who'd performed in a few productions at the Met. It's funny and strange to think that the paths of those two women would ever cross, and that the intersection of their paths would be on the Girl Scout leadership circuit of a small town in the middle of nowhere. I'm guessing they thought it was odd, too.
Another factor that helped me gain some acceptance and status ground in the new troop is that, thanks to my older siblings, I knew “about” camp. I hadn’t actually attended, but on the numerous trips to drop-off and pick-up my brother and sister from various scout camps I’d seen the tents, the cots, the lakes, the mess halls and the latrines. This insider information later proved to make me quite popular at the end of the first year of Girl Scouts as we embarked upon our first Girl Scout camp experiences.
I loved Girl Scout camp. I attended with a friend which eased me over the shyness hurdles. I’m not saying the first day and night were easy. But. Knowing my friend was in the cot next to me, in the boat with me (literally), at the sharing circle with me… helped me immensely. The other good thing (for me) about camp was that, like my Girl Scout troop, it was populated with other girls who were, well, kinda dorky. The difference was that the girls who chose to go to camp tended to be a bit more adventurous and more outdoorsy than some of the frailer, “it’s squishy, I don’t want to touch it” girls in my troop. Girls who went to Girl Scout camp weren’t afraid to get dirty or swim in a lake or use a wood burner in the arts and crafts lodge. And we were not afraid to sleep in a tent for two weeks and traipse, aided only by a flashlight, on a dirt path in the woods to the latrine if we had to go to the bathroom in the night. Again, I don't know too many adults who would do this. The kind of weird thing, looking back on it, is that I wasn't afraid of sleeping in a tent with three other girls in the woods in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like the most normal, fun thing in the world. Pervy child molesters, chainsaw wielding homicidal freaks and creepy kidnappers existed back then, but somehow we weren't scared of them finding us with nothing but a layer of flapped canvas draped over a wood frame to protect us.
These were my kind of kids. It’s the first time I remember feeling like I fit in and belonged. The counselors were college girls working there for the summer. They were fun and funny and worldly and played guitar and knew first aid. Somehow I never clued into the fact that they were around my sister’s age. They seemed infinitely different than my sister. (they were) They seemed to enjoy being with us younger girls and teaching us cool stuff like canoeing and pottery and flora and fauna identifying.
Okay, so maybe archery, semaphoring and compass orienteering aren’t exactly useful skills that I’ve ever utilized outside of camp, but lemme tell you, if the power grid goes down and civilization crumbles you’re going to want to have a Girl Scout on your team. I’m just sayin’, if there comes a time when your GPS can’t be charged and you have to shoot a bow and arrow for food or self defense and flag down ships on the horizon, do you have the skills? Can you save someone who’s fallen through the ice? Can you communicate Morse Code with a flash light or a mirror and the sun? How about semaphoring? Know how to safely portage a canoe or tip a canoe and hide under it for discreet passage past bears and other predators? Right. I didn’t think so. Laugh now because you won’t be laughing then. You’ll come crying to the girl with the full sash of merit badges.
The experiences I had during my Girl Scout camp sessions were invaluable. I got to do things many adults never get to do. And it fostered huge leaps forward in helping me conquer my shyness. Many years after the fact my parents admitted they were very concerned about how “I’d manage” at camp. They were even more surprised to learn that by the end of my first two week session I was the craft lodge counselor’s assistant (allaying all glitter concerns) and did so well at canoeing that I was asked to help some of the other girls and lead a canoe “hike” around the lake.
On Parent’s Day, when the parents arrived to pick up us campers, my parents were shocked to be greeted with a brief, somewhat dismissive greeting. I was in charge of the tours in the craft lodge. We were doing a pottery demo. I led them on the trail to the first stop on the tour, pointing out new fern sprouts along the way and left them with the other parents taking the tour. When it was time for the goodbyes my parents were surprised to learn that I was on an organizing committee for the camp reunion/registration kick-off in January. A few other girls and I were assigned "Overnight Hike" sign-up. We had to make posters and sign-up sheets and convince girls to sign up for an overnight hike when they registered for camp. (And thus a career in marketing was born.)
Archery, compass orienteering and semaphoring might be useless, geeky skills. But. There was no experience, no place I could have gone that would have encouraged and imbued me with that much confidence and taught me those kinds of hands-on teamwork and leadership skills. I wasn’t the only one – all of us campers were gently nudged into assignments, teams and assistant roles. My friend was not as artsy crafty as I was, but, she was an excellent singer and played piano. She got to assist the music counselor with the sheet music and instruments and help write and assign parts for the choral presentation on Parent’s Day. Another girl who couldn’t get the hang of treading water and consequently wasn’t deemed eligible for boating, was, however, quite handy with trail marking, she learned all the official trail mark signs. (You do know there are universal trail codes, right? See? Girl Scouts aren’t so dorky after all, are we?) On hikes she went ahead of the group with a counselor and helped mark the trail for the rest of us. She was also really good at identifying poison ivy and poison oak, and, on one fateful night she saved her tentmates from a raccoon invasion. I know. I know! You want that girl in your tent and on your team.
Every year I went to Girl Scout camp I returned home more confident, more outgoing and more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. And armed with a Handbook full of completed and signed badge requirements.
Until a few years ago I was a Girl Scout volunteer. (And yes, I "earned" a couple new pins.) I witnessed the same post-camp transformations in the girls – without exception they returned from camp more resourceful, more self-reliant, more interested in other people, and engaged in the world beyond Justin Bieber.
I'm really sad the recession has hit Girl Scout camps especially hard. Camp isn’t free. Cookie sales help fund a portion of the registration fee, but if a girl/troop can’t sell enough cookies and/or her parents can’t squeeze enough money out of their budget to pay for her camp registration fees, then she can’t attend camp. Because attendance dropped so dramatically in 2008, many Girl Scout camps were forced to close, and remain so. It’s doubtful they’ll reopen. Many scout councils are trying to sell camp property in order to stay afloat – a desperate move to help maintain the troop and council activities. (The first Girl Scout camp I attended is one of the closed camps, and the property is currently for sale.) Interestingly, membership in Girl Scouts has increased slightly in the past few years. Perhaps parents are looking for activities close to home and less costly than karate, ballet, lacrosse and whatever other privately taught activities are all the rage.
There’s always been a huge dropout rate after Brownies, or after the first year of Girl Scouts (it’s been a universal and time worn trend that when girls turn 10 or 11 many of them tend to feel Girl Scouts isn’t savvy or cool enough). So the statistics about the dropout rate are nothing new. But my feeling is, once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout. You take an oath. You earn the badges. You go to camp. You can’t help but emerge a more independent, insightful, resourceful, well-rounded individual.
|The Musician goals and worksheet.|
Because I was in band I had a
separate worksheet for this badge.
It had more (harder) requirements.
Yes, even harder than the opera requirements.
Our band leader and camp counselors
had to specially sign it for our leader.
Plus you get to set goals and learn how to obtain them. You know those year-end reviews at work where you have to list goals for the next year and what your plan is to reach those goals? “Personal Benchmarking?” I know, I know, the words fill me with dread, too. However, I never struggled with that part of the annual review the way some of my coworkers did. Why? Merit badges. I’ve been “Personal Benchmarking” since I was 8 years old. When I had those stolen moments with my sister’s Girl Scout Handbook I looked at all the badges and decided which ones I wanted to earn when I became a Girl Scout. I had my eyes on the prize and I loved that there were specific, universal requirements to earn the badges. The last section of the Handbook is filled with pages of merit badges, their stated goal, and, voila! the exact steps required to achieve the goal and then the badge. It’s exactly like the “Personal Benchmarking” section of annual work reviews.
I earned 27 merit badges during my years as a Girl Scout. Which to the uninitiated may sound a little, well, overachieving, a little Tracy Flick-ish. Especially when you look at my badge sash. I completed my last three badges (Active Citizen, Musician, Foot Traveler) at camp after my last Girl Scout meeting, so those last three never made it onto the sash. They would have had to go on the back of the sash which would have bumped me up into another league of Scout. There were only a few girls who had so many badges they had to use the back of the sash. That was the real mark of an overachieving kid – she ran out of room on the front of her merit badge sash and had to sew her badges up the back of her sash. Since the badge sash was worn diagonally, shoulder to waist, across the front and back of the girl, the extreme-badged girls had merit coming and going. I was not exactly popular, but the girls who had badges on the backs of their sashes…well…let’s just say they weren’t exactly tearing up the school dance circuit. There were 47 merit badges to earn when I was in Girl Scouts. Which means I earned only a few more than half of them. Put in that perspective I wasn’t exactly on an overzealous mission to acquire merit badges.
Further, looking at the badges I earned it’s clear that I didn’t exactly push myself too far out of my comfort zones. My horizons were broadened, but, not so much that I ventured into the first aid badges, or the community service badges. (Yes, there were community service badges.) And there is a distinct lack of cooking-related badges on my sash. There were several cooking-related badges to earn, but for some reason the only thing close to a cooking badge I earned was the "Hospitality" badge. I threw a rockin' slumber party back then. But even with my mediocre badge accomplishments, I nonetheless sometimes contemplate posting photos of my badge sash on LinkedIn or on my resume, or wearing my badge sash on job interviews. "I have merit, see?! I have merit, lots of merit!" I mean, nothing screams, "Hard working, goal oriented, resourceful, overachieving, meritorious team player" like a sash full of merit badges.
And I have job-related badges. Art, writing, communications...geeze, it's obvious by looking at my merit badges that even as a child I was career-tracking straight to creative marketing.
|Magic Carpet, Writing, Storytelling Badges. The Magic Carpet badge's goal was, "To discover what you can do with stories and books to give pleasure to others." As opposed to the Storyteller badge, the goal of which was, "To read, listen to and make up stories to tell or read to others." Finite differences but the required steps for each badge were very different. I earned 'em both plus the writing badge, as well. (the one that looks like a Torah graphic) |
Biking. Skating. Swimming. Several art related badges. Several reading and writing related badges. A pet badge. I was doing this stuff anyway, there just happened to be merit badges in these areas so “earning” them was only a matter of taking it to the next level (or several levels in the case of a “skater down” rescue situation). Basically all I had to do pursue interests I was already pursuing and have my parents’ or counselors sign and date the form in the Handbook and give it to my troop leader. I find it psychologically interesting that, basically, I'm interested in and doing the same stuff I was back then. Biking, art, reading, writing, pets/animals, swimming, music...I mean, I really haven't changed that much since I was a Girl Scout. That's either really bad or really good.
|Drawing and Painting, Art in the Round, Dabbler and My Camera. The My Camera badge is contentious for me. The badge was redesigned and featured a new, modern camera (I think it was a generic instamatic). However, it was a difficult badge to earn (this was pre-digital cameras - film and processing was expensive) and the requirements were advanced. So not many girls earned the My Camera badge. Consequently, the council had a surplus of the old badge stock and didn't order the new badges. My leader kept asking me if I wanted to continue to wait for the new badge, and I held out a long time. Finally I gave in and settled for the old version of the badge...and was teased about the "antique" camera badge. Now I think it's cute, but back then I resented its old appearance. I was proud of the merit but ashamed of the badge. (I'm going to write a country song by that title.)|
I did earn a few oddball badges. The “Troop Dramatics” badge and an “Indian Lore” badge, for instance. The Indian Lore badge is one of the weirdest looking badges on my sash. I earned it because my brother decided I was getting “too girly” so he took it upon himself to force me to look beyond Barbie, kitten themed t-shirts and painting bunnies and flowers. My mother suggested that instead of teasing and harassing me that he “do” something practical and help me with merit badges over the summer. He and my dad taught me most of the Indian Lore badge requirements. There weren’t auto mechanic, engineering, progressive rock & roll* or explosives badges – but more’s the pity because thanks to my brother I would have earned those, too.
I’ve never aspired to or longed for thespian pursuits, so the Troop Dramatics badge is a bit of an anomaly for me. I only earned it because my troop put on a health skit at a council gathering. We researched, wrote and rehearsed a skit about influenza (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried), designed and made our own set and costumes and turned out a darned good performance. We earned the Troop Dramatics and Personal Health badges thanks to that skit.
And herein lies my weirdest Girl Scout experience and the post that's going to garner more Google hits than any other post in the history of Trillian.
The Personal Health badge required a little more work than just that skit, though. We had to have a camp physical and go to a sex education class at the local Y. Well, sex ed was not a requirement for the badge, but the badge required us to talk to a healthcare professional about taking care of our bodies. That sex ed session fulfilled that requirement.
For such a small, sheltering kind of town, my troop leader and most of the parents were fairly progressive and took the “knowledge is power” stance on sex ed. No one went around talking about it, but parents and teachers were always saying, "If you have any questions you can always talk to me." Most of us never asked the questions and I think most parents and teachers were relieved. So when it came time to discuss that special time in a young girl's life, our troop leader talked to the mothers and made a few calls and arranged for us to go to a day-long sex ed session with a nurse. I guess they figured who better to fully inform us than a nurse? There were a couple girls in my troop who didn’t earn the Personal Health badge because their parents wouldn’t allow them to attend the sex ed class at the Y. I felt sorry for them.
Later in life I really felt sorry for them – they missed out on a lot of useful information. Whenever the subject of sex ed comes up I always think of the nurse who told a group of stunned 9 and 10 year old girls - decked out in full Girl Scout uniform regalia - the nitty gritty facts of life. And I mean the nitty gritty facts of life. I’m fairly certain my parents weren’t aware how nitty gritty that sex ed class was. But I am extremely thankful to the Girl Scouts and the Y (and that nurse) because I learned things my parents never would have told me.
Turns out it was a good thing that we didn't pledge to be clean in thought, word and deed. We would have, as a troop, broken the Girl Scout Law that day.
There wasn’t a sex ed badge, but that nurse at the Y made sure us girls would be prepared for what our bodies and the bodies of boys at school were going to do in the next couple years - as well as any and all sexual possibilities we might face in the future. Graphic details. Hairy, sweaty, zitty details. Bloated, cramping, bleeding details. Throbbing, erecting, ejaculating details. With copious charts, photographs, videos, anatomical models and hypothetical scenario role playing.
Oh yes, role playing. She gave us info on a topic then called one or two of us up to the front of the room and gave us a “situation." We were supposed to use info we just learned to act out the scenario. A lot of the hypotheticals were about menstruation, but a few of them were about dating and sex and a bit risqué.
One girl in our troop, a girl I didn’t particularly like because she teased me and a few of my friends, a lot, ended up pregnant in one of the hypotheticals. (In the hypothetical) she was going to have sex with her boyfriend. So she was supposed to recite the sexual preparedness checklist. She forgot to include “check to see if the boy really is wearing a condom.” The nurse let her finish the checklist then walked over and said, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant.” The nurse made her wear one of those strap-on pregnancy belly pillows. It was a sweet day of justice for me.
Ultimately the nurse made all of us wear the pregnancy pillow and made all of us put a condom on the male anatomical model, but that mean girl had to play the role of a stupid girl who took her boyfriend’s word for it and ended up pregnant. Hey, give me this. She was a really mean, bratty girl. And I don’t have a lot of moments of sweet justice in my life.
One of the other girls in the troop laughed and mocked the “pregnant” mean girl. No, it wasn’t me. Thankfully. Because the nurse called that girl up next and “gave” her herpes because even though she "was on the pill" she didn’t discuss sexual history and medical exams with the “boy” and she got herpes."Birth control pills do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases, girls! If you don't remember anything else from today (ha!) remember that!"
I told you. This woman was thorough.
If there had been a sex ed badge we would have earned it and the Boy Scout version, as well.
Honestly, I owe pretty much everything I know about my reproductive anatomy and the male anatomy and its, um, unique abilities and functions, to that sex ed class at the Y. We were somewhat sheltered girls who went to protestant churches and lived in a very, very small town before satellite television and the internet were prevalent. We played with dolls and read Nancy Drew books. We didn't swear. We washed our hands and faces before meals and flossed at bedtime. We only watched G-rated movies. Our video store (singular) didn’t have a porn section. I’m reasonably certain that until that day most of us girls were not aware that we were in possession of a clitoris – and what it did. I’ve always wondered how and when (or if) the girls who didn’t attend that session gained this information.
There were interactive anatomical models with moving, interchangeable and detachable parts. When we entered the room we thought we were in the wrong place, the boys sex ed room, and we were all embarrassed and surprised at what was on the display table. The only "boys" I'd seen were unfig-leafed statues and paintings at museums. Some of the girls had little brothers and were slightly more "familiar" with the male "region" but not in any significant detail. So this was rather, um, eye opening. There were several interchangeable versions of the male’s “area.” (yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking) (I learned about circumcision there, too.) So the display table had a bunch of penis/testes models in various states laying on it, waiting to be reunited with the rest of the male body model.** We (I presume all of us were as uninitiated as I was) didn't know what dildos were, but looking back on it the anatomical parts display table looked like a table full of dildos. (The uncircumcised flaccid version was unanimously deemed to look like Snuffleupagus and the jolly, convivial nurse later referred to it as Snuffy. To this day flaccid, uncircumcised penes make me think, “Snuffy.”) Truly, this woman prepared us for any possibility.
The only down side to this is that the male anatomical model (in all its various forms) was based on the “ideal” man and it set the bar - and our expectations - pretty high (unrealistically high, I was to later learn). There have been occasions when, trying to hide my disappointment, all I could think was, “Wow. This is nothing like what they showed us Girl Scouts at the Y. They didn’t prepare us for this. I better be earning a couple merit badges for working with this.”
And she didn’t just cover the body basics and the fun stuff. (See above, Herpes.) She told us about infertility, sterility and the many (many) physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy, labor and delivery. (There were anatomical models and a video for that, too.) And eventually she got to menopause. Viagra wasn’t around back then so she briefly told us that when men get older sometimes they “slow down” a bit and we should try to be patient and compassionate if this happens to our man as he gets older. Ah, the halcyon pre-Viagra days of yore.
After the day-long session (we took sack lunches with us but for some reason most of us weren’t very hungry at the lunch break) we assembled for dismissal. Our troop leader gave us stern instructions that we were not to discuss what we’d learned with kids at school. If we had any questions we were to ask our parents or our troop leader, or, if there was a “situation” at school we could consult the school nurse.
We somberly walked out to the waiting car pool cars. We were dazed and overwhelmed. We began the day innocent, naive little girls whose biggest dilemma was choosing and ice cream flavor. We ended the day aware and worrying about our periods (the tampon v. pad issue was a huge, troubling deal), body hair, acne, birth control, STDs and the differences between a flaccid and erect penis - until that day we had no clue the boys at school were packing heat, loaded guns aimed at us. We were silent for most of the ride back to the school where our parents were going to retrieve us. The mother who was driving the car pool car I was in finally broke the silence and said, “Well, girls, you learned a lot today. I just want you to know that if you ever have any questions you should talk to your parents but if you’re too embarrassed you can always talk to me.” I was in a car with the girl who laughed at the girl who "got pregnant." She blurted out, “(The Mean Girl) forgot to check to see if the boy was wearing a condom and he wasn’t and she got pregnant!” The girl then cracked up all over again. And so did the rest of us. It was exactly the comic relief we needed but the mother driving us home didn’t see the humor in it. Finally she said, addressing us via the rear view mirror, “Girls, quiet down. Now that we all know what happens when proper precautions aren’t taken we need to be mature young ladies about it.”
My mother picked me up at the school rendezvous point. I plopped into the car, zombielike. When we pulled into the driveway at home she turned off the ignition and said, “Well then. Do you have any questions?”
I had a bazillion questions racing through my head. Like if my dad looked like Snuffleupagus and if he was “slowing down” in his “old age." I wanted to know how many eggs were in my ovaries and why no one had mentioned my clitoris to me until today. And why, if it was so easy to get pregnant, did I not have a little brother or sister? And for that matter, why didn’t our cat have kittens? We loved kittens so why didn’t we have a bunch of kittens? And that was just to get the, um, ball rolling. If I asked her all my questions we’d be sitting in the car in the driveway all night, but choosing just one or two questions was impossible. So I just said, “Not right now. I think the nurse covered just about everything. We’re going to get our Personal Health badges next week.”
So there you have it. One of the more salacious and weirder tales of Girl Scout activities you’ll probably ever hear.
Want to connect with your former troop mates? Scoutmates will hook you up. You only need to know where you were a scout and your troop number.
*Man, wouldn’t it be cool if you could earn merit badges for types of rock and different bands? The requirements would be listening to albums, going to concerts, identifying types of guitar based on sound and usage in particular songs, and comparing/contrasting styles and composition…Imagine the Hendrix or Sonic Youth or Bowie badges! Someone should do this. Someone who’s not me because my social acceptability is already precarious.
**This was before King Missile's Detachable Penis. I have always assumed that an anatomical model with various penis add-ons like the one used in my sex ed class at the Y was the inspiration for Detachable Penis.
Labels: Girl Scout 100th Anniversary, Girl Scouts