Thursday, September 17, 2015

On My Honor, I Will Try

Scouting is pretty big in our area for both boys and girls, and though I didn't stick with it for very many years myself, I think Girl Scouts is a fantastic organization that has so much to offer. The local council had an open house type of day that we attended last year, and Caroline had enough fun that she decided she definitely wanted to give it a try.

The 2014 fall semester kicked off with plenty of activities as the girls chose the badges they wanted to work on, not to mention all of the fun activities and patches they would earn for those! I'm a real to-do list kind of person, someone who does best when I have one or more tangible goals that I'm working toward. I loved hearing about the steps the girls were taking toward earning badges, and then watching Caroline learn so much along the way. There was the visit to the fire station, Trunk or Treat at the local Kappa Delta sorority house, caroling at the local nursing home, and volunteering at the local animal shelter where I successfully fended off yet another round of, "when can we get a dog???"
Caroline's favorite thing may have been the archery event in the fall! I'd heard all about archery from her PE classes, and she enthusiastically signed up when Girl Scouts had a class. Man, was I impressed! That kid really knows how to handle a bow and arrow! Over the holidays, she also completed her cooking badge together with Grandmommy May who helped her prepare a two meals, mostly by herself.

As we transitioned into the new year, it was officially Girl Scout cookie time!! I remember going door to door myself, ringing doorbells with my sister in our neighborhood working to hit a certain level to earn either a badge, recognition, or some other type of reward. The cookie kickoff meeting for Caroline's troop had inspired her with the potential to earn cookie cash toward Girl Scout camp - specifically, horse camp. What a great goal, right? Until she explained she needed to sell over 500 boxes of cookies to achieve her goal. WHOA. I'm all for aiming high and giving yourself a stretch goal, but that sure seemed like a lot to me.

Man, did Caroline ever prove me to have underestimated her. She put a plan together, stayed focused on her goal, and worked so hard to sell those cookies! She got her sales pitch down pat, including the one that kept convincing me to go out with her on weekends and her little brother to join her on weekdays when she got home from school. Cold weather, warm weather, didn't matter; she was determined to achieve her goal. School snow day? Just a great opportunity to deliver the goods!
Once the individual sales were done, there was still the opportunity to sell more boxes by participating in the troop booth events. Rain? No problem! My kiddo was a super trooper, enthusiastically manning the booths, talking to customers, making change, and selling those cookies. In the end, Caroline slightly surpassed her goal and did earn that cookie cash toward summer camp. So proud of her!

The weather finally warmed up, we approached the end of the school year, and the troop began planning their first camping trip. Now we're talking! The outdoor stuff is right in my wheelhouse; this is where I could be the mom who happily volunteers! As it was the first time for the troop to go camping together, the plan was to ease them into it with a campsite that had a building fully equipped with electricity, bathrooms, even a kitchen. The goal was to have them sleeping in tents, but who knew how it would go. We arrived at a beautiful campsite not too far from home and began setting up the tents. The gear got unpacked from the cars, and the troop threw themselves into helping the adults set up the tents.

Kristin, our troop leader, was a Girl Scout all the way through high school, and she is awesome. She had spent hours in prep for the trip, and quickly had the campsite set up with a wash station; campfire supplies; and food prep stations. We set the girls to work looking for firewood to get the fire going, and off they tromped on their mission. The traditional foil bag meal was so much fun for the girls to put together, cooked on the fire they had helped build and maintain. I saw first hand the confidence that empowerment can build in little girls, as they learned and tried new things.

After s'mores, stories and jokes around the fire, it was time to get the girls ready for bed. Always easier said than done on a regular night at home, it was mass giggling and procrastinating until we finally got everyone into their sleeping bags and in the tents. I sometimes say that discretion is the better part of valor; into the tent was success. Whether they stopped talking and laughing and finally went to sleep was a bridge too far. The moms all went back inside, where we spent a mostly pleasant night.

Breakfast the next morning was a learning experience for me, too. Kristin has plenty of camping experience, and I was introduced to dutch oven cooking over a campfire! Between the fruit cobbler (hey, it was fruit) in the dutch oven and the eggs in the skillet, it opened my eyes to a whole new way to camp. A morning hike later, we were breaking down the tents and heading back home. The girls all had a fantastic time, and despite my avowal that my camping days were over when my Army days ended, so did I. Next time, I'm even ready to give the tent a chance!

With summer upon us, the troop meetings were on hiatus, but Caroline used her hard-earned cookie cash and began making plans to attend camp. After reading the brochure on all of the camp options, she changed her mind on attending horse camp - not enough actual riding of the horse - and opted instead for the camp themed Ship Wrecked! My kid? Opting into a castaway / survivor camp? To my shock, she was adamant that was the one she wanted to do, and despite my misgivings, far be it from me to talk her out of it. In June, we got her bags packed and headed off to Camp Cahinnio for a week of fun with other Girl Scouts.

Caroline was super excited, even after seeing the platform tents and the outdoor bathrooms! After helping get her bunk area set up, I gave her a big hug and headed home. Over the course of the week, it hit me that as good as it was for Caroline to learn to be away from home, it was equally important for me as a parent to begin learning how to let go. There was no email, no internet, no cell phone connection to Caroline that week. I didn't know at any given time what she was doing, whether she was having fun, how she was getting along with the other girls. It was harder than I expected, but how much harder will it be when she's 18 and leaving for college if I don't learn in baby steps along the way? By Friday when it was time to pick her up, I was both excited and anxious, hoping she'd had a ton of fun, made friends, and learned some cool new stuff along the way.

I needn't have worried; when we arrived, she was in the pool having a blast! When your child's first words are "I don't want to leave!" followed quickly by "Can I come again next year?", you have that parenting moment where you feel like you're winning. What a fantastic lesson Caroline learned about setting and achieving goals, and then what a blessing that the ultimate objective of attending camp turned out to be even more fun than she had imagined.

As we start a new year, our troop has a new look, combining with a couple of other troops at the school. We have a new co-leader who has been doing this for several years, and there is now a group of older girls that Caroline and her troopmates will be able to look up to. We had our kickoff picnic a couple of weeks ago, and our first troop meeting this past Sunday. Caroline's Junior vest is looking sharp with all of the badges and patches she earned in her first year!
I hope to get more involved this year; I've told Kristin before, while I don't want to lead the troop, I am happy to do whatever it takes to support her so that she wants to continue leading! I plan to help the girls earn their First Aid badge, and we're already working on our first fall camping trip. I think this year will be the girls' opportunity to step up a little bit more and make more decisions on what they want to do vs. the adults telling them what they'll work on.

While Girl Scouts is very much about building skills and self-confidence, it has also helped me see that my daughter is capable of so much when given the chance to try. It's helped me raise my expectations where appropriate as well as trust her to try things on her own. It's exciting to see her grow as an individual and, as importantly, as a part of a group. Here's to another year of Caroline discovering what she's capable of when she works together with her friends, sets goals, develops a plan, and achieves extraordinary things!

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