So it finally happened. I fell in love with the scouts this weekend. To be honest, it’s been an ambivalent journey here. I am happy the organization now allows gay scouts, but it’s bothered me that it hasn’t extended to the troop leaders? Really? When even states you’d never think would allow same sex marriage are finding the ban unconstitutional? Hmm. But then, I’ve wanted my boys to get the many of the basic skills my husband got as a scout. It was also something he could do with the boys where he felt he could contribute. It’s been a conundrum, to say the least. We agreed to do it for the first year, and go from there. I know if we face some major moral/ethical challenge later, we will definitely cross that bridge if/when we come to it. So far, we are happy with our decision.
And it’s been a great situation for all of us. Once or twice a month, Tim would dutifully take the boys to meetings, they would bowl and do science experiments, and I would relish the couple of hours I had to myself. Perfect.
Until this darn annual cub scout campout. #1 dad had to be out of town for work. That left me to be #1 mom. I was forced to get off the sidelines and become Engaged Parent. Now, I love the Engaged Parent. My friend Craig is an Engaged Parent. He homeschools his kids, hangs out WITH them for hours on end, and is all around a good parent. I like to think I am an ENGAGED parent, but when I look at the “Craigs” of the world I kinda suck. I can point to a number of factors that contribute to my lack of “in it-ness”, some of which I’ve already talked about. But truth be told when you have two kids who are very close in age and are for the most part into the same things, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines. Plus, I have wonder Dad for a spouse, who will take out a drill at 7 am to help one of the kids throw a project together. I am NOT that parent. I rest on the “Well, I plan the activities and make sound education decision for my children” laurels (which, granted are pretty solid), but I am often dragged into board games, coloring (which I love, so I’m not sure what that’s about), or kicking a ball around – which, again, I love to do but just don’t seem to want to get off my butt and do when they want to. I do other things, though, like work on homework with them, help them in the kitchen, but I certainly could do more.
And sure as heck, this weekend I did. Being in it, totally immersed for the weekends sans my buffer (the spouse), I was forced into participating. It was, dare I say, weirdly therapeutic, and also eye opening.
The therapeutic part came when I realized – in a very large way – that maybe the things we are adverse to doing are less about desire and more about ability. I mean, this is not something I really hate. I was not raised camping or doing anything outdoors, but love nature. I have yearned to be one of those outdoorsy people, but I have little knowledge so I tend to avoid making plans out of fear of the unknown. What better way than an immersive experience? With help? Sometimes you just have to jump right in, or you’ll never find out.
The eye opening part has made me think about how important it is to have a positive attitude when approaching something we are unfamiliar with, and that it can be structured to make it more possible. The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research presented findings on academic mindsets a couple of years ago that I find relevant to my changing feeling on the scouts. Whether they try to or not, it’s totally set up to promote all four types of mindsets associated with long term success, including mine:
- I belong in this community.
Totally. After twenty minutes of struggling with the tent – which I have assisted assembling a number of times but tend to auto-pilot – a kind dad came to not my rescue, but my assistance. We chatted as we got the tent together, and it made me feel like I might just get through the weekend. It just went on from there. I suppose like having pets, kids are the perfect “in” so I chatted with other parents, and then made my way to the kitchen to help out. Folks were so welcoming, after a while I started to forget that I was doing it on my own this weekend.
I don’t even need to talk about the kids. Five minutes after we got to the camp site, they were off and running. They didn’t need an invitation.
2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.
I like that the scouts are built on this mentality. Effort is rewarded in all sorts of ways that are extrinsic, and I saw first hand from the older scouts that these skills had become intrinsic. Each level was grouped to do developmentally appropriate activities, all that built upon the previous skills. The younger kids were getting their whittling chips, and the next level was building the camp fire. I could see the pride the kids felt in doing these projects, and they were rewarded for their efforts. I even benefitted from this structure, and I felt MUCH more capable by the end of the weekend (see pics below).
3. I can succeed at this.
Which leads to the success part. The kids are set up for success, and I appreciate that. Having a win (which I will share in a moment) really makes people want to do more. Activities were broken into manageable pieces, so everyone left feeling good and capable. Me included!
4. This work has value for me.
Every single activity this weekend had value to the kids, even if they only camp once a year. They learned first aid, naturalist principles, flora and fauna, and about cooperation. The older kids were benefiting by sharing their skills with the younger boys, too.
And above all, it was fun. I find it kind of humorous that I shy away from these types of functions, since as an educator I do value a structured activity to learn a skill. In fact, I tend to seek out a classroom environment in these situations. It was like going to a basic camping seminar. With dirty kids. I loved it!
A visual recap:
We learned how to build a fire. The right way.
We made friendship bracelets.
We learned how to make Dutch oven cobbler.
We also went on a hike, made first aid kids, built bird feeders, and ate s’mores. I picked up a couple of camping tips, and even learned how to make better fried rice. It was kind of magical. It was also majorly exhausting.
But more than anything, I walked away from what I’ve come to believe is one of the most powerful feelings we can have: “I did this!” Heck, I think I even earned a coveted (novice!) ENGAGED parenting badge. And all I can say is I want more.