What I learned from Girl Scouts (other than knot-tying)
I was ten years old when I joined my first Girl Scout troupe and I’ll admit, I was mostly in it for the accessories. After a visit to my friend Jade’s house where I saw her gleaming green junior vest tricked out with badge after badge I was hooked. It turns out I did need some stinking patches. I ended up being a Girl Scout for more than years, way past the time when most girls I knew dropped out.
Some people (*cough* Boy Scouts) have scoffed when hearing about my experience. “Oh yeah, how many times did you go camping?” they say when I brag about the time my troop slept over at a mall. Silly boys. The things I learned from scouting go deeper than knots (though I can tie a mean square knot in a pinch) and have stuck with me all my life.
Women are freaking incredible
I know the main reason most scout drop-outs cite for leaving scouting is having a bad leader. That was never the case for me. I had about five different Girl Scout leaders in my tenure as a scout and each of them was an awesome woman. They all worked full time and yet still took a day out of their week to sit down and talk to a bunch of us about things that mattered in our lives. My leaders taught me simple things like how to manage a budget and big things like who to talk to if you have an eating disorder. Their support was paramount especially as we grew older. Heck, my Girl Scout leader was the first person I called when I got my college acceptance letter because I needed to confirm its validity before I told my mom. No matter how tired or how busy these ladies were they always had time to answer our questions or help us with a project. All of them were funny, beautiful and gave great hugs.
Beyond the leaders I met some fierce women counselors at the sleep-away camp I went to and eventually worked at. For one week every summer, these women were like a crew of amazing mentor Amazon women. They taught me so much about nature, yes, but also about the nature of relationships. They could trap and kill a snake one minute and comfort a homesick child the next. These women were goddesses and I hope to one day grow up like them.
Things won’t always go as planned, but it doesn’t make the end result any less awesome
The week of our big camp-out in the mountains, a huge storm came around. Suddenly, all our painstaking planning of outdoor hikes and activities went down the drain and we were panicking. Instead of freaking out, my leader asked us calmly “Ok. What’s the next plan?” We all stopped and thought and within an hour we had a whole new indoor itinerary planned. That event taught me that in life you don’t always get your first choice in outcomes so you might as well always plan for what’s next.
Competing with women is way less fun than being friends with them
We live in a society that pits women against each other from a very young age. Our culture constantly expects us to go head to head and figure out who wore it best or who said what about whom. Part of the Girl Scout law is “be a sister to every Girl Scout” and in my time I met many different kinds of sisters. I had older sisters who taught me about make-up and high school, who snuck me old romance novels. I had younger sisters who let me teach them things and who taught me the importance of a well-timed prank. I had sisters my own age who sat up nights with me, looking at the stars and talking about books and boys and hanging our own bras on the flagpole (don’t ask). My sisters came from different families and financial backgrounds than mine but when we were all around a campfire or crowded into the back of a minivan or at the top of a peak we all felt like family. It was important for me to have such a strong consistent group of girl friends growing up and I’m lucky to have many of them still in my life.
It’s worth working hard to keep the things you love
This year, the local summer camp was under fire because the council needs to downsize its budget and this camp seems to be their preferred way to do it. Suddenly all the smart and strong women I know from scouting were up in arms, making petitions and collecting testimonials. I was on an ever-increasing email chain and was assured often that they would save this place even if it meant fixing it up themselves. And a lot of them did just that, driving up on the weekends to fix crumbling buildings and blaze new trails all in the name of preserving a place where they shared so many memories. They ended up saving the camp from the chopping block and saving it for at least another year.
That’s another aspect of what scouting taught me as a whole: work hard to preserve what’s important to you. Whether it’s a physical camp or a less tangible thing like the belief that your dream job will come along, these things are sweet and worth giving your all to protect.
Being silly is a superpower
I’ll admit I got flack for being a teenaged Girl Scout. While my friends spent the summers between junior and senior year going to parties or making out, I was up in the mountains with 20 other girls singing songs about bears. Girl Scouts, Scouting in general really, goes out of its way to be goofy. Think about it: you wear uniforms that are blatantly unflattering, you learn to recite creeds, and you are forced to sing silly songs at the drop of a hat. Every day at camp concluded with us older girls standing on our fireplace stage and singing at the top of our lungs about pink pajamas or sippin’ cider. And we freaking loved it. We all had lives filled with increasingly hard school work, boyfriends, girl friends, family issues, but up there on that stage we were allowed to just have fun. You realize life is not to be taken so seriously even outside of camp.
Molly Sanchez is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. She’s written for The Bold Italic, Liquid Bread and performs stand up and improv all over the country. She’s a lover of books, burritos, and beer. In her spare time she can be found crushing the patriarchy and doodling mermaids.