Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Without the Cookies, Girl Scouts Have No Reason to Exist

I was never a Girl Scout. I never liked being around groups of girls. Too girly. The real reason I eschewed this bastion of Goody Two Shoes Americana was because I had been faced with a choice: be a Girl Scout or join a bowling team. Easy. For me, bowling was a no brainer. They kept score, people won trophies, and I didn't have to wear a green dress. I suppose you could make a bunch of jokes about balls, too, but don't. 
          On reflection, I actually enjoyed being in Brownies, but when I got to sixth grade in a new town at a new school, Girl Scouts seemed lame. However, having my own female children brought me back into the fold. My younger daughter caught the bug. When I realized I would have first crack at the stash of cookies, I embraced her choice as any supportive parent would. 
          Recently, I found the green sash she used to wear over her uniform, the one that displayed the wall-to-wall merit badges she'd earned. I returned it to her when she was in town for the holidays last year. It seemed to me she was rather surprised and quite pleased to see it again, judging by the look on her face. Either that or she was thinking, "You saved THIS, Mom? It's been 25 years. Are you a hoarder?" 
          However, finding this last remnant of her days as a cookie shill also brought back memories of my experiences as a volunteer mom on a couple of field trips with The Scout Leader from Hell. 
          My naive impression of scout leaders has always been a stereotype. The men are talented, thoughtful fathers with infinite patience. They're the dads who can pitch tents, build fires, make pancakes from wood shavings, and know every campfire song ever written. Or they're pedophiles. Not too much in between. 
          The women are moms who could make Martha Stewart look like she's not trying hard enough. These are the babes who can rewire the house and adjust the carburetor on the lawn mower while simultaneously making lasagne and red velvet cake with homemade frosting from scratch, wearing an apron they whipped up just for the occasion. I'm sure the GSA [Girl Scouts of America] counts on these kinds of women to step up and run their be-all-you-can-be operations. But after what I went through with the scout leader who ran my daughter's troop, I am not so sure how how well their quality control checks are working. 
           The first field trip with my daughter's Girl Scout troop was for an overnight in Wisconsin that required sleeping bags. The girls bunked in two large tents. The Scout Leader and the volunteer moms were housed together in another big tent. Fortunately nobody had to sleep on the ground. The tents were more like a large canvas room set up on a raised platform, with one side open to the elements during the day. 
          Having been camping many times, I already knew that when you're outside, even in the summer, nights can be cold. Expecting the temperature to go down to forty degrees, I had brought a down sleeping bag that was good to twenty below zero. My daughter had one, too. The Scout Leader brought something from Disney Outfitters, based on the cartoon characters on the outside.  
          Needless to say, by morning, our Mickey Mouse leader was suffering from hypothermia. She was shaking uncontrollably from the cold, so I got up, got dressed, and told the other mothers to wrap her in my industrial strength sleeping bag to warm her up.
          While the moms were tending to the patient, the girls were already up and wandering around, wondering who was going to feed them. Since our inexperienced leader was clearly indisposed for an indeterminate amount of time, I organized the girls to start a fire, put them to work mixing up the batter for the pancakes, got out a pan for the bacon, supervised the start of some scrambled eggs, and did what is known as taking charge of the situation. Without too much fanfare and some lessons in cooking outdoors, the girls were eating breakfast by the time the sun was over the trees and the temperature was climbing. 
          After about forty-five minutes, the hypothermia that derailed The Scout Leader had subsided, thanks to my very helpful sleeping bag. It didn't cost $250 in 1970 for nothing. Now she was up, dressed, and proceeded to walk over to the cooking area where I expected her to thank me profusely for making it possible for her to live another day.
          Instead she looked around and asked rather pointedly, "Who said you could make breakfast? I didn't say it was time to start making the pancakes."
          What? No "thank you" for possibly saving your life? No 'thank you" for teaching camp cooking and feeding a group of very hungry Girl Scouts while you were rendered incompetent? Ah, clearly she was not only inexperienced as a Scout Leader, but she was an unmitigated control freak who couldn't or wouldn't delegate tasks to other people. The girls and I just stared at her. 
          My next experience with this woman was a trip to visit Abraham Lincoln's home in Salem, Illinois. It's about a five-hour bus ride down to the Salem area. We arrived too late at night to swim in the hotel's pool, even though a dip in the chlorine had been promised to the girls. Since it was already 10:00 PM and we had to be up by 6:00 AM to start sightseeing, the logical thing would be to get the girls settled down in their rooms. 
          At this point, for some reason, The Scout Leader simply disappeared. According to one of the other moms, she suddenly left to go visit some friends in the area. Huh? Did she leave any instructions? No. Did she say ANYTHING at all? No. But she'll be back. Aha. The Scout Leader is obviously insane, spelled a-s-s-h-a-t. The girls were running all over, buying candy and soda, playing with pinball machines in the lobby, laughing and giggling, and getting bleary-eyed. At 11:00 PM with The Scout Leader nowhere in sight, I filled the vacuum and took charge. I got the girls up to their rooms and into their p.j.s, so they could get settled down and be rested for the 6:00 AM wake up call. 
          At 11:30 PM, The Scout Leader returned with no apologies -- heard what I had done, got the management to open the pool, came upstairs, looked at me with daggers, and told the girls they could get up, put on their bathing suits, and go swimming. She would show me who was in charge. 
          Finally at 1:30 AM, they fell into bed. Who knows when they went to sleep. And they were zombies the next day.
          But the piece de resistance was the trip to the farm in the country. I stayed home. Not because I wanted to. But because I was not allowed to go on this trip. The Scout Leader decided to mandate a two trip limit for the volunteer moms. Quelle surprise. When the girls returned home from their weekend communing with the cows, the entire troop was suffering from food poisoning. Apparently the well water was contaminated with campylobacter, a bug that thrives in cow dung. Good times! And the farm in question had not been approved by the GSA for field trips because of problems in the past. But The Scout Leader took them anyway.
          How bad was the food poisoning? The NIH called me from Maryland because there were reports that other family members were getting sick, which was the first time campylobacter had spread from human to human, not just animal to human. In fact, after chatting with the investigators tracking down the source of the contamination, it seemed like the scouts were being treated like part of a gigantic lab experiment. 
          My daughter didn't have the stomach cramping and diarrhea most of the others did. She had a fever so high that she began to talk to me in gibberish and I had to rush her to the hospital to get her temperature down. Naturally, The Scout Leader never suffered any consequences for her latest example of poor decision making.
          The only highlight of an otherwise dismal year in this wacky world of scouting was that I was given permission to supervise the acting/drama badge. But only because there were no other volunteers. However, I was allowed to have just five girls, despite the fact that at least ten girls wanted to participate. Nevermind, that I had basically assumed control of the entire troop when The Scout Leader was abdicating her responsibilities. She actually told me that I wouldn't be able to handle more than a group of five.
          Along with my daughter, the Scout Leader's daughter was one of the chosen few. I'm sure she was expected to rat me out whenever possible. I got them free tickets to a show, starring a friend of mine. We made puppets, acted out a radio script, did some improv, and auditioned for a commercial. For the makeup portion of the badge, the girls sprayed my hair gray, gave me wrinkles, created a pair of hornrimmed glasses, and at the age of forty, turned me into a creaky old lady. Somewhere there are pictures. 
          Maybe I should have had them dress me up as a drama queen. But there's already one too many in this story. 
          Which brings me back to my original premise, however roundabout it may seem. Given the questionable state of local leadership -- from food poisoning to sleep deprivation -- if it weren't for their cookies, in fact, if it weren't for Thin Mints and Samoas specifically, would there be a reason for Girl Scouts to exist? 

1 comment:

Mrs. L said...

In the interest of complete disclosure, after a check of my stats, I noticed that someone had discovered an earlier version of this very same topic. Something I wrote, including the Scout Leader from Hell, in 2007. Naturally, I have no memory of this, but it was interesting to read the other version I wrote, which, thankfully, bears a striking similarity to this one. But, still kinda creepy and all.