by Carrie Kirk
I'm not really a camper. While I love the outdoors and could walk for miles, I feel no need to unroll a sleeping bag and nestle in for a long night's rest in a tent ... on the ground. And I prefer my own tidy bathroom rather than a community toilet confined in a cinder block building or -- worse -- another type of depository called "the ground" with its many creatures peering up at something no bug or animal should be subjected to. Little did I know those many years ago when my youngest son George came into the world that I would become a camper and so much more, not by choice but by necessity, like so many things life presents to you as you move through it.
George has entered into the Cub Scout Webelos program. When I first learned of the word, I believed "Webelo" (pronounced WEE-buh-lows) was derived from some mystical and magical meaning word from a Native American tribe. I was wrong. It comes from the magical and mystical scouting community and means "WE'll BE LOyal Scouts." I myself was never a Girl Scout, but that's not to say we weren't a scouting family. My older sisters were and my mom was even a troop leader. I have a vague recollection of towers of Girl Scout cookie boxes in our kitchen. But the time I rolled into town as the last of four exhausting girls, my parents had moved to the back of the parenting bus, and I was lucky to go to piano lessons and get a warm breakfast before school. I don't blame them. I say at least they stayed on the parenting bus, because really ... it's exhausting stuff.
In the last year, we moved to a different part of town and the kids changed schools. Joining a local pack would give George a foothold in his new community. We could do outdoor activities together, build contraptions and be surrounded by the Cub Scout Motto "Do Your Best." While I certainly do not side with the BSA's policy on adult scout leaders' sexual orientation, we must choose our battles, as my mother likes to say. And my battle for George was one of immersion into a program, character-building experiences and exposure to new things. And so that is how we found ourselves camping in the cold and meeting with lots of really cute kids and their very nice parents on various weekends during this school year.
In Scouts, a big part of the boys' efforts is earning badges, and the artist badge has been our most recent badge quest. Here's the thing though: George thinks he is a terrible artist. He can't draw, paint or create (says he). When did this happen to him? It isn't just George though. Right around the same age, his brother began to feel the same way. It's as if something open and inquisitive and natural turned off, and self-doubting flickered on -- high-voltage doubt, at that. Thank goodness, the meeting where the boys worked on the badge was very low-key. They talked about color wheels, artist professions and had the boys do some collage and self-portrait activities. As I looked around the room, I saw the boys trying a little but laughing a lot. It was a very mellow environment with an emphasis on the process rather than the end product. George, though, started one self-portrait then another and then a third one. "Uh-oh," I thought to myself. "He's going to blow." But he didn't. He found a sheet of type art that a parent -- who really is an artist by profession -- brought in and busied himself with that.
Will Scouting make George an artist? Probably not. But maybe it will install a dimmer control on that self-doubt light switch that he can apply to art and so many other things. Perhaps that Scout motto of doing your best will push him through times when life presents things to him that he would never choose, but things that he has to negotiate by necessity, sort of like how I, as a middle-age woman, became a camper. Life is filled with the smaller victories. And badge or no badge, we just have to do our best.