As a small-town girl of seven years old in suburban Philadelphia, my favorite day of the week was Tuesday. On that day, I eagerly dressed up in my Brownie ensemble, consisting of a freshly ironed, cocoa-colored, short sleeve shirtwaist dress, a brown cardigan sweater, and knee socks — all topped off with a beanie.
Best of all, my mom was my Brownie leader. A few years after we started Brownies together, I graduated and became a full-fledged member of the Girl Scouts of America. Not a particularly warm and maternal type, my mother nonetheless believed she had a duty to serve as a community leader, which included sheparding a group of 20 girls through the scouting process. Because of her natural organizational and people skills, Mom was an ideal scout leader.
Her fun-loving streak led her to devise a variety of field trips and encourage us in the earning of badges that, to my mind, represented the golden nectar of scouting. (For those unfamiliar with Girl Scouting, badges are small colorful fabric patches that are awarded after a scout masters a set of activities related to a specific skill, such as financial literacy or sewing. Badges are then affixed to a sash, which scouts usually display with a great deal of pride.)
Looking back, I consider my scout troop to be my first community outside of the nuclear family. We worked in teams, depended on each other, planned excursions together and sold cookies — quite competitively, as I recall — to earn money for our activities. A sense of teamwork and partnership emerged, and in today’s parlance, our self-esteem blossomed as a result of this camaraderie.
Like many girls, however, I dropped scouting in junior high school. It was “uncool,” or so I thought. Most significantly, however, scouting still evokes in me vivid and fond memories of precious hours shared with my mom. She set an example for me that I never forgot, one that I eventually emulated. Nearly 30 years after I donned my first uniform, I organized a Brownie troop for my daughter, Katie, when she started first grade in a suburb north of Chicago. I was a troop leader for three years. We even won an award for being one of the top cookie sellers in our district one year —a thrill for the girls (okay, I admit it, for me too).
Clearly, scouting created a lasting impression on me. I learned many of life’s essential skills in those weekly meetings — how to make new friends, work cooperatively, complete projects and meet goals (again, those colorful badges were a powerful incentive). As life progressed, I continued to appreciate the strong foundation that scouting prepared for me, with my mom at the head of the trail.