Friday, December 25, 2009

Me and the Girl Scouts

I am currently reading Jen Lancaster's latest book "Pretty in Plaid". Lancaster is one of my favorite authors because she humorously reminisces about her life. It's a memoir and a comedy/self-help book all rolled into one. This book focuses on how Lancaster developed her sense of style when she was a young child. She talks about being a Girl Scout and wanting to have tons of badges on her sash to spice up her uniform. She forged her mom's signature on several check lists to pretend like she had completed all of these badges and presented them to her troop leader. Even though her troop leader suspected that she was lying she gave her the patches. Eventually, Lancaster feels guilty about lying and starts earning some of the patches that she has lied to get.

I was a Girl Scout for six years. I was a Brownie for two years, then a Junior for three years and a Cadette for 1 year. In addition to being a Girl Scout, I attended 4-H camp with my school for 9 years. Usually the camping, crafts and wilderness survival tasks that we did in 4-H were much more challenging than those that we did in Girl Scouts. I don't think I ever liked Girl Scouts because I found very few girls that I had things in common with and I found a lot of the troop leaders to be rude and cliquey. Most of the girls went to public school together so they knew each other outside of Girl Scouts and their parents knew each other too. My mom worked full time, was a caregiver for my father and was raising my brother who was 5 years younger than me. She didn't have time to volunteer so she rarely came to many of the events. Because I went to private school I had a completely different group of friends than the other girls in my troop. I was also the only black girl in every troop I was ever in. That would not have been a big deal if I bonded with the girls but because I already felt like an outsider it only made me feel more excluded.

My mom loved the Girl Scouts. She thought it was a great organization. I think she secretly hoped that by hanging out with a bunch of girls that I would have more girl friends and be interested in doing more girl things. That definitely didn't happen. I wasn't allowed to quit the Girl Scouts until I switched over from private school to public school in 7th grade. I had to do one year as a Cadette and if I still didn't like it I could quit. That last year was brutal. I was getting used to public school and making friends and was embarrassed that I was still a Girl Scout at the age of 12. It was such a goody-goody prissy image that I didn't want to project. I definitely acted out in school to overcompensate for the Girl Scout stigma.

I have a number of awkward and unhappy memories from my years in the Girl Scouts. But the memory that sticks out the most in my mind is of my time as a Junior. I diligently completed 9 patches on summer vacation one year. My mom quizzed me on the checklists and looked at my projects to make sure that I had done everything required before she signed off on my patches. I presented my book to my troop leader at the end of the summer and she accused me of being a liar and said that I had not followed the correct procedure to get these badges. I had done everything like I had always done it and like the other girls in my troop did it. I couldn't wrap my little 10 year old brain around what I had done wrong. I was devastated. I never told my mom what happened. I'd like to believe that she would have done something about it but I can't be sure. After that my hatred for Girl Scouts grew exponentially. I had a big chip on my shoulder and put forth the least amount of effort with the most attitude at most Girl Scout events. Any fond memories that I had of Girl Scouts were erased from my memory.

I think that at some point my troop leader spoke to my mom and told her that Girl Scouts wasn't right for me. My mom hinted at this but never said it out right. I think that's why she gave me an out after 7th grade. She thought that maybe once I became a Cadette and had a new troop leader and met new girls that I would love it but I didn't and quit immediately after serving my one year sentence.

Looking back on it now its hard to imagine that race didn't play a role in the troop leader's decision to deny me the badges. If she thought I was lying why not talk to my mom? Had she done this to other girls? It didn't look like it; all my peers had several more badges than I did. It was so embarrassing at events that I looked like a new or lazy Girl Scout because my sash was so empty. Did she talk to other girls' moms and recommend that their daughters quit? Maybe it was the combination of being black and in the upper middle class that bothered her. Maybe she wanted to send her kids to private school and couldn't afford it. Maybe it had nothing to do with race at all and she just didn't like me. I don't know how you could become a troop leader in charge of helping young girls develop in well rounded women and intentionally kill the spirit of one girl.

I hadn't thought about that in years but just reading that passage in the book reminded me of it. It's amazing how a memory that you have completely forgotten can come back to you in such vivid detail with the right trigger.

No comments:

Post a Comment