I Just Wanted To Be A Girl Scout
I’ve been thinking recently about what activities were forced on me as a child, and which discouraged. And which we encourage in our children and which we do not.
Case in point—my parents both loved classical music and my mother was adamant that we play the piano. Totally untalented, I spent hours sitting on the piano bench weeping. This gave way to pleading, and as I got older, downright strike. I’d refuse to practice. Lessons were a waste, and recitals a nightmare.
I just wanted to be a Girl Scout. Brownies had been acceptable, but as we got older Girl Scouts seemed more declasse. It wasn’t an elite—rather a varied mix. And its focus was on practicalities, community, and self-expression…things I care about to this day. You could get a badge in reading, identifying flora and fauna, and one that gave you points for discovering your own fashion style.
There was also a racial division in Girl Scots. By the time I was a proud Cadet, my troop was 95% African-American. We always got assigned an African nation at “international” gatherings, and represented Tanganyika (no longer in existence) in a somewhat rinky-dink fashion, wrapped in African cloth and doing a kind of invented hula “African” dance. I loved it, and only later in life can regard my complete acceptance of the situation with a bit of amusement.
In fact, Girl Scouts was a great preparation for being a community college teacher. Playing the piano was just torture.
My own daughter liked to pick things up for a while—pottery, guitar, dance—and then stop. I know some parents feel that persistence is a virtue, but I just let it go. Good thing too, because this style turned out to be a hallmark of her personality. As an adult, she knows some ancient Greek, Japanese, Arabic, and Yiddish. She can weave, weld, marble, build, carve, and more. Specialization isn’t her driving force. It’s just lucky I was a somewhat vague mother when it came to activities.
I remain curious as to why certain choices are made. Obviously, cost can be a limiting factor. But some things are free, or close to it—activities at church or synagogue, school band, city sports, et al. (And by the way, Girls Scouts is $15 a year, this year, although I don’t know about the uniforms.) Dancing school, which plagued me and my contemporaries, was a class-based activity. Ballroom dancing was still considered an essential middle-class skill in the mid 1960’s of suburban New Jersey. Of course, that was about to change. And in the town I grew up in, Jews and WASPS did not attend the same dancing school—just as supposedly we would not date or marry each other. Everybody has to go to school, but after that the culture of the family prevails. For example, sport—or even exercise—was disregarded in my family. Eventually, we had to learn how to be fit on our own (Or in Girl Scouts.)
The funny thing is—now I like classical music. I love going to the opera, concerts, listening and understanding a bit more each time. It took me about forty years after those piano lessons, though. But if I look back on some of the most important things in my life—how to get on with people different than me, how to have self esteem as a woman, how to learn, and how to lead, well for all that, I have to thank Girl Scouts.