My husband was never a Boy Scout. I have three brothers, and none of them was a Boy Scout. But somehow I had thoughts of my son joining Cub Scouts when he was in first grade. At six, we had already introduced him to soccer and basketball. I wasn’t sure what would stick, but I had heard good things about Scouts. I knew nothing concrete, but I had heard the terms “leadership roles” and “outdoor activities,” and those sounded good. My husband wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but nevertheless, we started along the Scout path.
My memories of those first years of Cub Scouts are of cute uniforms, lots of snacks, and father-son moments. Not to say that I didn’t pitch in. I bought cookies for snack time, attended meetings, sewed on patches, and bought/sold my share of popcorn. That first Day Camp was an experience! My son was squeamish about bugs and even walking barefoot in mud. I spent what seemed like hours using nails and a hammer to help build birdhouses with an endless line of six- and seven-year-olds needing help. Whew! But, honestly, there was no real connection. The troop leaders and kids all already knew each other, and we didn’t know them. They had regular meetings and did some activities, but we were not “in.” I didn’t care if I was “in,” but I didn’t want my son to feel “out.”
So I asked my son if he wanted to continue. He did. We moved to another troop that was more active and had a larger, more diverse group of kids. There were fun skits, pinewood derby races, holiday events, and a real sense of inclusion. My husband and son did more together, and I was right behind them. Not to say that my husband didn’t swear when it was time to construct yet another pinewood derby car or scowl at the prospect of another popcorn booth. But I saw them work it out and grow together. I’m not sure that time would have been as precious if my son had spent it playing basketball and my husband had spent it driving him to practices.
There were times when my son had a hard time in school socially. Scouts provided interaction with other boys and events to fill in any holes that otherwise would have been there. I was glad for the consistent schedule of events and the array of activities. He visited a newspaper office, fire station, and spent the night on the Lexington aircraft carrier in Corpus Christi. He worked popcorn booths, learned how to put up a tent, and memorized the Cub Scout Oath.
When it was time to move to Boy Scouts at the age of 11, I wondered if my son would say it was time to quit. He had different interests, more friends from school and the neighborhood, and was more sure of what he liked. Boy Scouts emphasizes self-reliance with less parent involvement. I worried about that as well.
But my son wanted to continue. Although those outside interests were there, he loved the adventures that Boy Scouts provided. Weekend camp-outs once a month were exciting. I worried because these were the first times that he was gone without my husband, myself, or some family member. Days! He was only 11, and it was hard to let go. But he loved the experience as a whole. He began learning more outdoor games and skills and grew more independent.
Now he has experienced a flooded-out campsite, 10-mile hikes at night, food shopping for five people, setting up a shelter out of basic supplies, and hiking up the Guadalupe Mountains in rain and snow. He packs his own bags for camping without my help and has learned what he needs and what he doesn’t. He has attended week-long camps where he has earned merit badges and survived bugs, Texas heat, and no Internet service. And he loves it!
My son isn’t the Scout with the most badges, and we are not the Scout parents who lead troops. But we have all grown with the experiences that Scouts has provided us. I’m not sure when my son will leave Scouts, but I do know what he has taken from it has made him stronger and more independent. The experiences with the boys and the adult leaders of his troop have made him grow in ways that he wouldn’t have otherwise. I asked him what he has learned from Scouts. He said he has learned life lessons that will help him later. I pressed for specifics, and he said, “I’ve learned to work with all kinds of people even if you don’t always like them. I’ve learned that you really have to listen and practice to get things right.” I’m pretty sure that listening, practicing, teamwork, and working through hardships are important life lessons we all hope to learn!