Friday, March 8, 2013

Around the World in Four Hours. Twice.

As a mom with two young daughters, I am neck-deep into Girl Scouts. And it’s just about as pleasant as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong – I love spending quality time doing good stuff with my kids and their friends. And I really do end up enjoying all of the meetings and events I have attended with their troops.
But I can’t say I have enthusiastically embraced the lifestyle of a Girl Scout Mom. Outwardly I’m all “Hellz yeah, Girl Scout activities!! Let’s do this!!” Inwardly, however, it's a whole nother story. I dread each and every event, field trip, or volunteer job I sign up for. I suck at socializing with people I barely know, and my track record at managing large herds of children isn't stellar. The good news for my kids is I can fake enthusiasm enough to get them interested in whatever character-building exercise their troops are doing. And once I get past that initial stage of “Ugh, do we have to?” I am always happy to be doing all the good Girl Scouty stuff I get to do.
But still.
Every time I get an email from a troop leader outlining all the wonderful things the troop has planned for a set period of time, my initial response is “Crap, that’s a lot!!” See, I am a sedentary creature by nature. Very much introverted and with a great fondness for quiet time with my couch and a good book. Not that I ever really get the opportunity for that kind of quiet time, but when I can easily see that my weekends are going to be booked with active-lifestyle type stuff for the next month or two I get a little pouty. I’m not unrealistic – my kids taught me years ago that “my” time is no longer my own. The days of me diddling around the house on the weekends or getting lost in a good book or, you know, eating/sleeping/showering on my own schedule and peeing without interruption are largely on hold until my girls are self-sufficient enough to call home and ask for money.
It's all just part of the circle of life.
I eagerly signed up for this whole motherhood gig, so the onus is on me to foster my kids’ interest in various and sundry extracurricular stuffs, even if I don’t really wanna participate. After all, they can’t find their way in the world if they don’t know who they are or what they like. They need to explore the world around them, and they want me to come along for the experience. As reluctant as I am to step outside of my comfort zone (Seriously, why the frick are scouts so obsessed with the outdoors, anyway??), I am also happy to do it because it’s good for my kids. And yes, it is exhausting to be this conflicted.
I do it... for the children!
Last weekend I spent a total of four hours traveling the globe with my little scouts for World Thinking Day. For those of you who aren’t neck-deep into Girl Scouts, World Thinking Day is an annual tradition that brings different troops together to celebrate a theme that is decided at the international level. This year it was international awareness (or something like that). Each troop had to choose a country to represent, then set up a display table that included pictures, factoids, knick-knacks, traditional clothing, and snacks from their country. Then all the troops cycled through the room, going from table to table whenever the leader of the hosting troop whistled loud enough to hail a taxi cab in a neighboring town.
El’s Junior troop represented Italy. One of her troop leaders is of Italian descent, and she already had a bunch of authentic Italy stuff to lay out on the table. Her mom made homemade marinara sauce, which we served over meatballs. The meatballs were not homemade because we needed enough to feed a small army and even Italian Grandmothers have to draw the line somewhere. (Notice: Even if your Girl Scout is grown with children of her own you will still get roped into volunteering. That's just how we roll in the Girl Scouts.)
What was I saying? Oh yeah, Italian stuff. To get into character, we all wore paper chef hats because it seemed like an Italiany thing to do.
El is also sporting magic marker facial hair, a la Mario Brothers.
About 200 Girl Scouts of all ages (and many of their parents) filled the fellowship hall of a local church to get their Thinkin’ Day on. Have you ever been in a cavernous room with 200-ish girls ranging in age from 5 to 18? Let’s just say the room was not quiet. I have just enough ADD and anxiety issues to be extremely uncomfortable in large, noisy crowds. But I can say that the positive energy filling that room was infectious. I walked in there hoping I could just survive the two hours without wanting to curl into the fetal position with my ears covered. But two hours later I walked out of there so incredibly happy that I had managed to get over myself and participate. As usual. 
Two days later, Em’s Daisy troop met a bunch of other troops in the fellowship hall of a different church. Her troop represented El Salvador. Her troop leader’s next-door-neighbor is Salvadorian and already had a presentation on poster board (Because, you know. Who doesn’t?), props, and the know-how and willingness to bake a Salvadorian treat.
Salvadorian Neighbor comes from a family of hat weavers.
These babies are authentic Salvadorian straw hats.
This time there were about 100 boisterous Girl Scouts filling the cavernous hall. While El's event was on a Friday evening when everyone's all filled with "Yay! Weekend!" excitement, Em's event was on Sunday afternoon when everyone has "Crap! Tomorrow's Monday! I still have to do laundry!" kind of availability. Even though I’d had a great experience at El’s World Thinking Day event, and even though this event had a much smaller crowd, I walked into Em’s event with that familiar sense of dread. Not to mention an acute sense of jealousy of the parents who gleefully ran off after dropping off their daughters.
I knew it would be a good event; I just hoped nobody would put me in charge of anything important. Because I was fairly certain I’d do it wrong. See, Em’s troop is much smaller than El’s troop, and we don’t get as many parent volunteers for her events. It's not as easy to blend into the pool of volunteers as it is in El's troop. I stay because Em wants me to, and because the guilt would kill me if I opted out. Our troop had exactly two parents stay for this one – the troop leader and me. That meant I had to take charge of something (gulp) – which ended up being shepherding six little girls from table to table, careful not to leave any behind in a foreign land.

For the record, I did manage to do that simple task wrong – the tables were numbered, but I couldn’t see the numbers because there were Girl Scouts standing in front of the tables. My discomfort in large, noisy crowds and my performance anxiety clouded my ability to say, “Yo, what number is your table?” So I just led my little Daisies to the first table that wasn’t over-crowded, wishing I were better at this whole Girl Scout Mom thing.
You know what? Nobody died. I didn’t get publicly shamed or banished. The event continued to run smoothly. El’s troop had fun, they made some crafts, they tried on some clothes, they learned some dances, and they got their little cheeks all messy from the treats at the snack table. Again, I walked out of there happy that I had shared in this event with Em – and also relieved that I was done with Girl Scouty stuff for the weekend.
My goal as a mother is simple: minimize the damage I do to my kids. My theory is that we all screw up our kids in our own special ways. We don’t intend to screw them up, it just kinda happens because – hello – nobody’s perfect. And parenting is hard. And you kinda have to figure it out as you go along. You do the best you can with what you have, muddling through and hoping you’re not inflicting any real damage. Any parent who tells you they have it all figured out is lying. Or dangerously overconfident. One of those.
I want my kids to have good experiences. I want them to explore various interests. And I want to be involved as long as they still want me there. As Pops is fond of reminding me when I get all complainy about my kids’ shenanigans: they will only be this age once. And I’ll miss these days when they’re over. What better reason to lay aside my own trepidation and carry forth in the activity du jours? (Translation: Quitchyerbitchin' and get on with it!)

I just hope that one day, after my kids have told their therapists, boyfriends, and anyone else who will listen what a horrible mother they had growing up, they will come to realize that I made the best effort I could. I don’t do all this active lifestyle crap because I want to – but because I love them enough to just suck it up and be a mom.
How could I say no to these sweet little faces?


  1. My kids are older now-15 and 20-and I'm finding I miss all these forced activities...I'm at a loss for things to do,lol and kinda..crave the stuff I used to have to force myself into.Ahhhh!It's a cruel trick, watch out for it in the future :P

    1. I'm not surprised. Kinda like how I dream of having the whole house to myself for a day or two, then as soon as I have the whole house to myself for more than 15 minutes I start to miss everybody and wish they would hurry up and get home. I'm pretty sure I wasn't this crazy BEFORE I had kids...


Go on, spill yer guts!