Saturday, April 14, 2012

Failing the Girl Scouts

(Edited repost from June 2011 . . . )

I got kicked out of Scouts. The leader didn’t like my attitude. I didn’t particularly care for hers.
            No. That’s not the whole truth. As a ten-year-old, I worshipped her. Dreamed of being as stylish and poised as she was. Wanted her beauty and glamour to rub off on me. She wore a charm bracelet of multitudinous silver trinkets given her by former boyfriends. She herself was a charm.           
            I, on the other hand, had two left feet and a habit of opening my mouth and sticking both in at the same time.
            She kicked me out after two sewing projects—an apron and a handkerchief.
            My Mom and I purchased bright red material and green thread for the apron. My favorite colors. Mom showed me how to use her treadle sewing machine. But remember those left feet? I peddled backward so the green-stitched hem ambled hither and yon.
            I thought it pretty nifty when I brandished it for the scout mistress. She curled her lip, cautiously picked it up between her thumb and index finger, and scrutinized it contemptuously. I felt for that apron. After that, I wore it every time Mom let me help cook. Which wasn’t often because I’d once set fire to the kitchen. Accidently of course.
            The second project involved crocheting around a white handkerchief. I assiduously worked for a week. It felt like drudgery. When our troop met again, all the other scouts had already crocheted around all four sides. I’d managed only one. They went on to new projects—and merit badges.

            “I like having just one side crocheted. It looks different,” I said when the scout mistress examined my work.
            “It looks unfinished,” she said dryly. “Keep crocheting.”
            I did. For one week. Two. Then a third. A whole month passed with me pulling out the thread and starting over again. The handkerchief got downright grimy. Years later, when I read A Tale of Two Cities, I knew I could have been one of those women knitting by the guillotine. Only I’d be crocheting the history of hanky torture.

            At the next meeting, I said I didn’t want to work on it any more.
            “You’ll work until it’s finished,” she ordered.
            “I can’t.”
            “You will,” she reiterated, baring her teeth.
            I saw myself trying to blow my nose on that crocheted hem.  It’d scratch.
            “I’m finished,” I announced. “I want to do something else.”
            “There’s nothing else for you until you finish this mangy handkerchief.”
            Of course part of the problem was that I wanted her to like me and I didn’t feel she did. I wasn’t pretty enough or witty enough or interesting enough for her. And I could feel my dream of being just like her collapsing.           
            “No,” I said, swallowing hard.
            “That’s it. I’ve had enough. You’re no longer in this scout troop.”
            The words stunned me.
            “But . . . ,”
            “But nothing. Go home, you’ll never be a scout.”
            That marked the end of my scouting career. When the other girls went to troop meetings after school, I caught the early bus home, vowing that one day I'd conquer crocheting. But at the time all I knew was that I was barely ten and a failure.

Photos from Wikipedia


  1. Oh, Dee, I really feel for you! Isn't it interesting how some pain lingers through the decades -- and an adult's thoughtlessness and rigidity still resonates all these years later? I so understand the feeling of not being pretty enough or lacking the skills so valued by that leader in that era. How little she knew about the intelligence and creative talents you've always possessed. I'm so glad your spirit was resilient.

  2. An astonishing piece of rejection, Dee: from someone who had an idea of perfection and wanted everyone to match up. Me, I'm not sure I'd like to be a member of any club run with that set of values...

  3. A 10 year old CANNOT be a failure--but she was, as a leader!

    Read Janie Junebug's blog for 4/13/12. She's posted a marvelous poem about Dr. Martin Luther King!

  4. Dee, she was downright MEAN. When I have encountered someone like that (and I have), it has left a permanent impression of shame. I hope you are feeling all clean and shiny now, since you have written about it and hopefully been purged. She had no business being a scout leader... that's what I think anyway.

  5. Oh, I remember this story. People don't realize what a child will remember and how it can effect them. They expected women to fit into a certain mold back then, too. And if you didn't--well, you weren't a "real" woman. I could NOT learn how to crochet, either. Failed miserably. Even though both my grandmothers, my mother, and my little sister could do it. *sigh* I have never been a real woman--LOL!

  6. I think that your age as a Scout was quite young. It seems more like a Brownie's age, the preScout group. I also suspect that some of the more successful girls had a mom or older sister's help. I can't imagine that they let you drown like that. They ought to have taken that Scout Master and given her an earful! Really sad that she got to have the right to push you out. It kind of defeated what scouting was meant to be, the encouragement of skills in youth.

  7. An excellent write but surely not a failure at ten years old.


  8. One can only be thankful you turned out to be not one iota like her. She was definitely in the wrong position.
    Don't feel badly, I peaked at 12 and it has been down hill since:))

  9. What a nasty scout leader! How rude! How discouraging! I can't crochet at all. My mother tried to teach me. It didn't go well, but she didn't throw me out of the family. Perhaps we should start our own scout troop and let everyone who's ever failed at anything join us. We could provide love and encouragement. We'd have the largest scout troop in the world.


  10. Oh Dee. That scout leader was so cruel. Nothing justifies making a ten year old feel like a failure. And for you to remember her it is obvious that some part of her lesson stuck. Awful, awful, awful.

  11. Oh, Dee!! You poor little girl! :(
    Other than feeling sad, I also identified with you. Never been a scout or a girl guide. I did successfully take a month long St.John Ambulance course, when I was about 13. Does that count?
    We had an Activity Day at school when I was in grade 7 - every Friday afternoon. We had to bring something in from home that we were working on. (huh???). So, I quickly developed an interest in embroidery - on hankerchiefs or pillow cases or ...??? One Friday I forgot my beloved embroidery at home. My Dad was at work. My Mom did not drive. So no timely intervention from either one..... When I admitted my sin to my teacher, I was immediately sent to the principal's office - my first and only trip there. My punishment was, I had to stay in the office and write 500 times: "I must not forget my embroidery for activity day again".
    Seriously??? Activity Day - our relaxing day. 500 times!! Needless to say, I never forgot again!!
    Thank you for sharing your story, Dee.

    P.S. I recommended your book to another blogger, the other day. She, Jenn, had to put her beloved dog to sleep. I sent her the connection to my review, on my blog, and also the connection to your blog. It turned out, Jenn actually had your book, but had not read it - she was going to try to read it this weekend. Here is the link to Jenn's post:

  12. Oh, that hurts reading it even today! That scout leader may have been pretty on the outside, but she doesn't sound like she had a very compassionate heart.

  13. Holy Cow! I guess I had a saint for a Girl Scout leader! My experience was completely the opposite! My leader taught us how to be "homemakers" by having us clean her house! I remember loving it, crazy as it sounds. I still remember her teaching us how to make those perfect folded corners on the bed, which my dear husband still insists on (he grew up in the same era!)
    We swept, dusted, vacuumed and did dishes. We learned to set the table and fold napkins . . . oh, and iron them too! I really don't remember what else we did, but I still see my old Girl Scout leader once in awhile, (she actually lives near me) and I still smile when I see her. She doesn't know me anymore, but I remember her patience, hugs and warmth.

  14. As sad as this seems, you were only 10. That's why childhoods are for. to try something, fail and then try again something else. To explore :) I don't think you were a failure :) I think you were and are amazing :)

  15. Just found your blog - made me laugh. When I was 9, I accidentally cut a hole in my needlework project at school. I was so scared of the nuns that I developed stomach pains every Tuesday for the rest of the term and was unable to go to school.

  16. Well, there was certainly a failure in scouting in that story, Dee, but it wasn't yours.

  17. Dear Dee, you made me giggle and tear up and get angry all in these few paragraphs. The woman should never have been a scout leader. The messages she gave you were all the wrong ones. You know that now as an adult, but I can feel the hurt and disillusionment you must have felt as a ten year old.

    You asked me to let you know if there was a piece I'd written that you might be interested in. It's a book called The Lilies of the Field. I wrote it:

  18. Oh my! Surely this "paragon" should not have been a scout leader! How wounding to a child's spirit. I can't imagine being so hard on a child, but I can easily believe your story. I'm sure through the years I've encountered people with similar axes to grind-"Do it my way, or get out!" Although this was obviously a wounding experience, I think you've just been someone who has always had to fight upstream, and it's made you a singularly compassionate person! I hope you're having a good month off! Debra

  19. Ooh, those kinds of comments from adults can really leave a lasting sting on children. Nothing makes me more sorry that you've had to carry this with you all these years.

  20. Dee,
    I wish I could go back in time and hug you. I bet your work was amazing! In Ruby's troop they're offering different badges for different interests. They even have a writing badge. If things had been different back then, I bet you would have been the top scout with writing badges, vet badges, friendship badges--you name it! :)

  21. This is Ruby. I'm sick today. I got to read your post. I feel bad for what happened. I wish we were the same age back then because we could have gotten kicked out together. I've always wanted to ride on a bus!

  22. Oh my goodness, this is heartbreaking!

  23. And you grew up to be a WRITER and your troop leader is dragging her knuckles on the ground from the weight of all those lost relationships. Great post!

  24. I find this a cruel hard demonstration of what a girl scout is all about. I never went to the scouts, but I don't believe children should be punished for such a stupid reason, I am sure there were many things you excelled in.. Story telling for one. grew into a caring, giving productive person.. On the Body of Christ, I believe you would be the heart..

  25. Oh my goodness. I did not know that any other children had difficulty finishing projects to the satisfaction of troop leaders. I always had trouble with such things. Thank you for sharing this!