Every now and again, my email portal brings a letter saying thanks for helping with this or that, and they’re always a pleasure to read and to share with my wife—they’re the best paycheck a volunteer in Scouting or any service-driven endeavor can ever get. But this one is a doozie. It’s a year’s pay in one letter. I have to share this with all my readers, because this is what it’s all about—this is why we do what we do, and work so hard to try and get it right. This isn’t “mine” alone—this is for everyone who’s given a moment, an hour, a day, year, or lifetime wrapped in the notion that what we do might make a difference in the life of a boy. Ands it’s for those who love us anyway, despite all the time and energy we put into this notion, and give us the room to try. This is the best Valentine’s Day gift anyone could hope to receive. Read on and enjoy…
As a reader of your columns, I enjoy your encouragement to us parents and leaders that if their unit just “sticks to the program as the BSA wrote it” it’ll work. Here’s an example of that, along with some observations…
My son has a few challenges, including some learning and social issues, and while you might not be able to tell by looking at him, he does carry a few “diagnoses.” For instance, he finds it much easier to hang out at home and spend time on his computer than to get out there and get busy with other kids. Nevertheless, he’s a great kid when you take the time to get to know him.
He participated in a Cub Scout program with his dad, but in November of his fifth grade year, his dad suddenly and quite unexpectedly passed away. Amid all the sadness and confusion, one of my son’s primary concerns was that he was afraid he might have to quit Scouts now that his dad wasn’t there to take him any longer. (His dad and I were divorced, with a very cooperative and easy-going relationship. Pack meetings were on a night I had to work, so he picked up the slack and made sure our son got there.)
Of course I found a way to rearrange my work schedule so I could make the 35-minute rush hour cross-town drive, so my son could continue participating in a program that represented his relationship with his dad to him. (I had been a Girl Scout myself, and a Girl Scout leader, but had no idea what Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts was about. Boyoboy was I in for an eye-opening experience!) Fast forward to February and crossing over, and here we are in a new troop of “big kids,” with their deeper voices and sense of purpose, and I can’t imagine where my little fella—shy and nervous and a little bit overwhelmed—is gonna fit in. It was a big stretch for him to go on that first camp-out with his new troop in March, with no mom or dad right there. Yes, he did learn that if you pitch your tent in a low spot and leave your gear outside the tent flap you’re going to get pretty cold and wet when it decides to rain! But instead of panicking or hollering about how could you let that happen to a little kid, or running to his rescue and demanding to go on every trip from now on, I left it to the leaders to work it out, and you can bet he’s never had a cold or wet camp out since! And, to boot, he’s now a proud “Polar Bear” winter camper, and he did it all by himself! Could it be my little fella’s growing up without me there, holding his hand and fluffing his sleeping bag for him???
Summer camp rolled around in June, and there was no way I could imagine my little guy spending six nights away from home—and I can tell you he was pretty nervous, himself. Drop-off was a little “misty,” but he turned and walked away with his troop-mates, and that was that. The next weekend, the boy I picked up was different… Very glad to see his mom, but along with the dirty clothes, mosquito bites, and some scratches, there was an air of confidence and a quiet sense of self-assurance I’d never seen before. (Gee, I guess he is growing up…)
And so on it went. His swimming skills had been sort of “ok,” but to my surprise he didn’t balk at taking a few more swimming lessons, because he really wanted to get that Swimming merit badge, and then a few more lessons to get ready for Lifesaving at camp the next summer. His long-time fear of heights was inexplicably conquered because he really wanted to get through the requirements for the Climbing merit badge—the badge he’ll proudly tell you was the hardest one he ever earned.
Without Scouts, we may never have attended a School Board meeting together and then discussed its content, or talked about what kinds of qualities it takes to be an effective leader, and what doesn’t work so well. When the evening news comes on, my son listens intently, because he has an understanding of what’s going on in the world thanks to the Citizenship in the World merit badge he worked on last year. And the remarkable thing is this: Even though he earned that badge a year ago, he’s still catching the evening news, by and for himself. Is this because something “stuck”…?
There was no resistance to having family meetings and discussing difficult topics, because that was a requirement for Family Life, right there in black and white, so of course he wanted to do it. But, we’re still meeting as a family every now and again, to talk things out, even though the merit badge is long gone and he’s moved on.
Last summer brought a cross-country trip with a provisional troop of Scouts he hadn’t known before: Two weeks away from home to travel to the National Scout Jamboree and Washington, D.C. Again, a much “older” boy returned home to us than the one who’d left, two weeks before.
The other day, my son and I were at a store, where he spotted something he wanted to buy. There was no whining or groveling ort pleading; it was, “Mom, I have this many dollars of my own money saved up, and here’s how I want to spend part of it.” Thank you, Personal Management merit badge!
Speaking to groups was never his forte; it took him two or three attempts to work up the courage, but he conquered his fear of public speaking because he really, really wanted to finish off that Communications merit badge. The skills and insights he learned from this merit badge have already helped him in school (and with me, when he wants to make a point, rationally).
I could go on, but the bottom line is this: I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that Scouting saved my son’s life. Despite the challenges life has dealt him, physically and mentally, and losing his father at a terribly young age, he’s out of his room and off the computer, and he’s forming relationships and spending time sharing meaningful life experiences with like-minded boys. And perhaps most importantly, he’s benefitting from the adult male role-modeling of selfless dads who give their time to every Scout in the troop.
I can help provide support for his continuing growth with his peers in the troop with my work as a member of the troop committee, but I keep in the background, knowing my son is at an age where he can be mortified to have his mom hanging around. He’s focused on earning ranks and merit badges, and he has no idea how important the stuff is that he’s learning along the way. He just knows it’s fun, he has friends, and he feels like a capable “guy.” Without the framework of Scouting, delivered just the way his Boy Scout Handbook promised him it would, he may have accomplished all this anyway, but somehow I doubt it would have worked out that way. (Proud and Thankful Scout Mom, Potawatomie Area Council, WI)
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