Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Badges for Lessons Learned

     It is no secret that my daughters are proud Girl Scouts.  My wife is a more than proud Girl Scout leader and lifetime member.  I am, by default (and winkingly willing), a proud Girl Scout dad and volunteer.  Our email is filled with updates and questions and comments and concerns from parents, scouts, and Girl Scout officials.  Everywhere we go (movie theaters, aquariums, zoos, environmental centers) my wife is quizzing employees about the possibilities of group trips and Girl Scout events.  My computer is cluttered with pictures destined for the local papers and websites that boast sleepover events and educational programs.  And my living room is piled high with badges for every occasion from baking brownies to planting a flower to actually doing chores that should have been done without a badge reward.
     Over the last couple of years their troop has established a standard of pushing limits and comfort zones and continually challenging the girls as they grow older.  They have also looked to expand their reach in the community, going outside the typical animal shelter or garden projects.  They sing Christmas carols with the folks at the senior center and collect used school uniforms for distribution to families in need.  They take a break from the serious to go rock climbing, quad riding, and hiking.  They learn about nature and staying safe by attending seminars on outdoor survival and primitive living.  They have been visited by Search and Rescue personnel and their dogs.  They have embraced the movement of putting the outing back in scouting and a return to the outdoors. 
     And this is where the happy rainbows of the sisterhood ends.  Being outside means giving up cell service and being away from the computer world.  It means dirt and bugs and sleeping in tents, away from a "real" bathroom.  Pushing outside the comfort zone means adventure and scary places and trying new things and thinking beyond the bubble of the living room.  Community services beyond the end of the block means commitment and responsibility and facing unpleasant realities of the world that mom and dad might have to uncomfortably explain at home.  It is that discomfort of the parents that really holds the children back.  The fear projected upon the kids at home, the unwillingness of their folks to face their own fears outside the comfort zone.  The trepidation of living without being plugged in 24/7.
     The troop's recent year-end trip coupled with the announcement of forgoing some incidental badges for smaller events in order to bolster budgets for more intensive activities and extensive trips was met with some of the loudest groans of displeasure.  The unhappiness came from giving up embroidered rewards for regular activities and community service that should be done willingly with a smile.  It came not from the kids but from the parents that felt a reward should be given to their children so they did not feel bad for not participating in the "big" events.  And this year's big event was a camping trip (oh no a tent, outside!!!!) to meet with a dog musher and learn about the history of dog sledding (animals and learning?????).  They would participate in team-building and low ropes courses (oh the horror!!!) and then challenge their fears on a high ropes challenge course tethered 50 feet above the ground walking on I-beams and rope ladders (dizzying heights, my spinning head!!!!!).  There would be BBQ and kickball and a two minute walk to a bath house (seriously???).  On the final day there would an introduction to scuba diving (WHAT??? with fish and water and such?) and an aquapark with floating iceberg water slides and water trampolines and a water catapult (this is getting seriously scary!!!!).  The fear emanating from the parents was tangible.
      The troop's fearless leader, afraid of heights and overweight and just six months out of back surgery, scaled the walls of the ropes course, daring the heights with a timid step and some audible outcries that spurred the rest of the girls along.  The girls resolved some of their team issues on the problem-solving course and laughter followed the initial arguments.  Again the troop's leader, equipped with an uncanny ability to sink instead of swim and an extreme fear of the water, donned a life-jacket and held hands with the most fearful to conquer the water slides.  The true highlight of the trip was watching everyone experience the wonder of swimming underwater.  Afraid or not, the girls that attended the trip experienced things that even a lot of adults will never try.
     As the pictures began to circulate and the stories were told at school, the scouts that did not attend, along with the parents that had convinced them that outside (the house, the bubble, the comfort zone of knowing) was no place to be, began to quietly consent that trying something new might not be all bad.  The girls that had gone on the trip did not wither, did not turn to mud (does dirt hurt?).  They had grown in some fashion.  Some had faced fears.  Some had experienced new, intriguing activities.  Some pitched a tent for the first time.  Others spent a night away from home for the first time ever.  Some just enjoyed hanging with friends, new and old.  They all earned badges for the stuff they participated in over the weekend.  But the most important badge was earned by the girls (and parents) that did not attend.
     At the end of the scouting year (last Monday) there was quiet regret from those that did not attend, that did not camp.  There was fun missed and good times that can only be told by others.  There was the thought of something exciting missed.  And the badge of lessons learned was silently passed.

(A big thank you is in order to Kari and her staff at NorthStar Adventure at Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, PA. for such a great trip.)

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