As I explained in my last post, I am an ambivalent Girl Scout mom at best, largely because many of their activities involve nature, which I have often found dangerous and unpleasant.
And yet, on a Saturday morning in early September, I somehow found myself loading sleeping bags and backpacks into the back of my friend’s SUV and heading down to Camp Merrick in rural Nanjemoy, Maryland for the annual ritual of “Encampment,” where (according to the National Girl Scout website) our girl scouts would “explore leadership, build skills, and develop a deep appreciation for nature.”
I had a feeling that after two days of camping, I was going to develop a deep appreciation for air conditioning and indoor plumbing. You may be asking yourself, why would I voluntarily go to a place I might have to poop in a bucket? The reason is simple, yet terrifying: Like so many other mothers, I live in fear of the wrath of my 7 year old daughter. More specifically, I live in fear of the crazy-eyed, shrieking banshee my ordinarily docile, sweet-tempered angel morphs into when she a) is asked to do household chores, or b) feels left out. I simply couldn’t face the tearful accusations and dramatic sobbing that would surely accompany the realization that all her friends went camping without her!
And so, we arrived at the campsite in the muggy heat of late morning to get our nature on. Fortunately, there was nary a bucket in sight, as the cluster of rustic cabins boasted indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and electricity. It turns out this kind of camping, or “glamping,” as it is derisively called, hardly involves nature at all! I was immediately cheered by the prospect.
After we checked in and received our warnings from a harried Troop Leader about not disturbing the “ground moss,” we headed to our cabins, being careful to stay on the paved path.
“I guess they are really concerned about the environmental impact to the campsite,” I ventured to my friend and fellow Girl Scout mom Margaux, as we gave a wide berth to the yellow “CAUTION” tape ringing the large grassy area in front of the dining hall. “Worried about the ground moss and all.”
Margaux gave me a blank look. “She said ground WASPS.” On cue, I heard some disturbing buzzing from behind the caution tape.
On one hand, I am not fond of wasps, but one the other hand, it did provide a more reasonable explanation for keeping off the grass, and also proved my point about the perils of nature.
When we arrived at the cabin, we claimed our bunks, deposited our gear, and familiarized ourselves with our surroundings. Ice-cold air wafted sweetly out of a huge AC unit by the door. Two large fans whirred overhead around industrial size light fixtures. On either side of the room stood four sturdy wooden bunks beds, topped with green plastic mattresses and sprinkled with multicolored evidence of previous campers. The graffiti ranged from inane (“I love Kenny,”) to political (“Save The ta-tas!”) to plaintive (“I need a date,”) to inappropriate (use your imagination). Already this trip was proving to be more educational for my daughter than I ever imagined.
Next, our fabulous, hardworking troop leaders Jen and Christal distributed our “Team Olaf” name tags. Having never seen the movie “Frozen,” I was confused about why our name tags featured a picture of a slightly deranged, hillbilly snowman. I could, however, appreciate the irony of this year’s “Frozen” Encampment theme, as it was one of the hottest September days on record.
What does one do at Encampment? You may be surprised. The following activities were led by enthusiastic and energetic Girl Scouts Cadettes who didn’t seem to notice the 100 degree heat, profane graffiti, or walnut-sized wasps dive-bombing their heads. This meant our main responsibilities as parent chaperones were to complain about the heat, make snarky comments, and wait for the day to end.
The girls giggled their way through various animal-named poses, after which they enjoyed strangely bitter snow cones flavored with either sugar-free cherry syrup or cough medicine. A sticky red film soon coated the girls clothing, shoes, and floor, making the rec hall look like the scene of a massacre littered with cone shaped cups.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
The girls developed their all-important rock-painting skills, after which they made a useful cotton-ball (“snowball”) launcher out of foam, duct tape, and a balloon. Then the older girls scouts taught them various educational songs. One particularly cheery song seemed to be about lady who jumped out a window after her house caught fire (“Jump, lady, Jump!…Splat!”)
We lined up for a “Frozen” themed meal of disturbingly named “Troll Stones” in “Oaken’s Secret Yoohoo Sauce.” I was relieved to see the troll stones resembled meatballs, and were quite tasty, as far as troll stones go.
All the troops converged around the flag in the center of camp to trade pins. Amidst the cooling evening breeze and the soft buzzing of ground wasps, our girls exchanged their “Olaf” buttons for other Frozen-themed goodies, only occasionally stabbing themselves with the rusty metal pins.
The Girl Scout troops all gathered around a brightly burning campfire to roast..not S’mores, as you might expect, but…the American Flag. At first, this seemed to confirm my suspicion that the Girls Scout organization has a secret radical extremist agenda. I was relieved (yet also a little disappointed) to find out that a flag burning ceremony is a perfectly acceptable way to retire an old American flag. Or so they told us. In any case, someone had thoughtfully cut the flag into tiny squares, so every girl scout (and mom!) got her turn to burn a little piece of America.
At some point during the day’s activities, something strange happened. I started having a really good time. I stopped working on my exit strategy (hamstring injury? Heat stroke? Wasp attack?) and started truly enjoying myself. As the sweat dripped down my back during the “Frozen” singalong, I was reminded of the great lesson I learned while attending an all-women college so many years ago: when women are miserable together, friendships are forged. The muggy heat, the troll stones, the wasps, the barely controlled chaos of 200 pre-teen girls, and the surreal shock of taking part in a ritualized flag burning all combined to form a single shared experience that created a bond that would never be broken, at least until the next morning when we were rushing to get the hell out of there like the last chopper out of Saigon.
Later the next day, when we were home recuperating, I asked my daughter if she had a good time. She nodded enthusiastically.
“Would you go again next year?” I asked her.
“No.” she said promptly, and then went to reunite with her Kindle Fire. I think a weekend without technology cured her of the camping bug for good. Or maybe it was the wasps.
I’m not sure about “exploring leadership, building skills, and developing a deep appreciation for nature,” but we did have a damn good time, and in the process, developed a deep appreciation for each other. Thank you, Troop 729, for an absolutely wonderful Encampment.
I would totally go again next year. As long as there is air-conditioning.