Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Capitol

    In keeping with the current trend, this past weekend was spent celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouting.  This event called for a road trip to our nation's capitol.  It also called for a crowd of 250,000 scouts.  The whole thing truly put into perspective the scope of Girl Scouts.  My children witnessed first-hand the reach of the organization as they looked out upon the sea of Girl Scouts spread across the National Mall from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  A visit to DC is a trip every family should undertake at least once.  A picture in front of the White House, a stop in front of the Capitol Building, and a walk down the streets our government walks on nearly every day is something to remember.  The Smithsonian Museums (Air & Space being a favorite), the FBI, the Pentagon are all worth the ride.  Within ten blocks, a family can visit Lincoln, the Wall, the WWII Memorial, the Washington Monument, and a whole slew of others.  This particular weekend was even more special because of all the Girl Scouts.
    In keeping with the current trend, the bad must come with the good. Some will complain about the heat, the lack of water, the lack of talent.  Someday people will take responsibility for themselves.  The homeless situation was a little overwhelming but I feel it was a strong lesson for my kids, an important hypocrisy for them to see.  Some "troop leaders" allowed their scouts to cool themselves in the fountains of the memorials, to my entire family's disbelief (Ignorance is still alive and well).  The scales, however, were overwhelmingly tipped toward the side of good.  The crowd was pleasant.  Everyone we passed along the way was smiling and ready with a happy hello.  Again, swaps were the currency and led to many a great conversation under one monument or another.  My kids beamed with pride as they told the story of their swap's creation.  They buzzed with excitement to hear from where each group we encountered traveled from, so many places, faces, people.
    The Girl Scouts must have a secret Beer Badge because the dining room of the Capitol City Brewing Company was overflowing with them as we washed the heat of the day away with some frosty mugs of local brew.  The food wasn't bad either and I would recommend both to anyone visiting DC.  Our trip was a complete success.  The kids saw the vastness of the Girl Scouts and the kindness of many that participate.  They learned of some of the opportunities available to them and that the world is a great big playground.  We visited all these interesting places gathered within walking distance of each other, each filled with stories and questions and answers.  And the seed of wanderlust has been planted and will, hopefully, forever flourish within them.

A Bittersweet, Chocolaty World

   Let me get the negative side out of the way immediately.  Girl Scouts is about working together, community, values, "doing the right thing", empowering young girls and helping them grow into strong young women, and nurturing confidence through journeys and adventures.  With that said, the experience I had two weeks ago with the local Junior Girl Scouts was full of mixed emotions.  The troop was involved in one of the first out of state camping trips in recent history, and their destination was Hersheypark in Hershey, PA for the 20th Annual Camporee celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouting.  That's a pretty big to-do!  The trip had been planned for months.  The paperwork was daunting.  The chasing down all the folks for their papers, money, information even more so.  But a month before the trip, all was calm and only the packing was left to take care of.  My packing consisted of ensuring there was camping gear for more than just my family.  I needed to bring enough for several groups (this was a family trip so everyone could participate).  Now for the rant.
     I was disappointed to see so many parents not willing to participate in the "camping" (I use quotes because sleeping in a tent within the confines of a well-manicured campground with clean bathrooms and porta-potties every 25 yards and a well-stocked general store is not true camping.  However, for many that had never experienced the outdoors, this was a great start.).  Some of the campers apparently received a memo explaining the benefits of concierge camping with tents that magically appear without effort of set up.  The non-campers, nearly half the troop, "camped" at local hotels and made little effort to rendezvous at the campground or even meet within the amusement park for even the slightest hint of solidarity.  That was even before the rains came.  Once the clouds opened up, some of the campers scattered, running for the shelter of the local lodging.  Without a thought, they left their fellow scouts to tough out the storm on their own.  I guess part of scouting is the life lesson of  "every man for himself" during hard times.
     The sunny part of my rainy experience was watching the scouts that were left behind scamper through the raindrops, constantly smiling, helping other troops from around the country set up their campsites.  I was quite proud to see how happily they aided other families try to get situated as the day's light waned.  Their spirits were not dampened by the cancellation of Friday's bonfire, as they sang and played games inside their giant mess tent, giggling all the while.  A couple of cracks from the sky as the thunder boomed kept the excitement in the trip as their energy finally gave way to sleep.
    Saturday brought sunny skies and broad smiles.  The handful of scouts that emerged from the tents were electric.  A short walk to the dining pavilion found not only breakfast but new friends as the girls formed a loose circle and played sing-along games.  Scouts from other troops shyly joined in and our troop started to see what a camporee was about.  They hesitantly traded swaps, little, hand-crafted reminders of the people they meet during their trip.  And then it was time for roller coasters and thrill rides.  The day at the park was a blur of screams, laughter, loops, and turns.  There were s'mores and hot dogs, ice cream and popcorn.  The park was wonderful but the ghost of separation always lingered as we saw other troops in matching shirts, en masse, running from ride to ride. Sunday was chocolate.  After a flag ceremony and more swaps and pictures (with the hopes of being involved in Hershey PR for next year even the separate, non-campers wanted to be involved), it was all about the Hershey factory and how much candy the kids could talk us into bringing home. The road trip ended at Waffle House with swirling clouds and hail and nature show the kids still talk about.
     I learned alot during my adventure.  I learned that prima-donnas will always be just that, and they will miss out, even if they don't think so.  I learned that some people never do grow up, some for the best, some not so much.  I learned that offering to lend a hand sometimes really means doing all the work.  I learned that kids don't melt in the rain but sometimes adults do.  I learned that a beer is nowhere near as important as smiles and laughter and the happiness of children.  I learned that swaps are the currency of memories.  I watched a parent with a bad back sleep in a tent to ensure her child didn't miss out.  I saw a grandmother laugh at the weather to make sure her grand-daughter had a great time.  I learned that you will never please everyone but those few that you can reach will remember it for a long time.  I learned that we live in a bittersweet, chocolaty world.  You have to take the bad with the good, the sweet and the not-so-sweet.  I learned that chocolate melts in the rain but it still tastes so good as you lick it off your fingers.

(In the end, the kids wound up having an incredible time.  Their memories will be filled with the joy of the day and the experiences they had.  I have always ensured that my jaded and cynical observations of the world never make it to my children's ears.  They have their whole lives ahead of them to grow callouses.)