Pack mentality

One of the attractions of moving to a smaller town was the chance to get my kids involved in Scouting. Which isn’t to say they don’t have Scouts in New York City. They do. But what kid deserves to learn how to canoe amid 27 billion gallons of raw sewage?

Ha! Actually, that’s a cheap shot. The Great Outdoors exists all over New York’s environs, even if it’s harder and more expensive to get to. But as a suburban kid, city life and Scouting are like Oprah Winfrey and John Tesh: I’m sure it’s possible for them to hook up, but to me they just don’t make sense together.

For one thing, it’s all the GEAR. When I was a kid, Scouting was all about hikes and overnights and jamborees. Which meant tents and backpacks and sleeping bags and clothes that stunk like a campfire after three days in the woods, and there’s only so much of that you can air out in a 4×8 bathroom. Then there’s all the storage you need for lanterns, pots and pans, tarps, hatchets … and the three-sided smoke-shifter that every Tenderfoot is sent on a convoluted search to find before he realizes there’s no such thing.

I stayed in Scouting until I graduated high school, and for all but that year when I discovered girls, I loved it. One of my strongest memories as a kid was at the beginning of first grade, when I tried on my first Cub Scout uniform. As most uniforms have, it made me feel cool, like I was part of something–especially after I went to my fist pack meeting and saw all the other kids with the same red numbers on their sleeves. On days when I could wear it to school I’d jump out of bed and wear my shirt and neckerchief to breakfast, and my mom had to turn the neckerchief around so I wouldn’t dribble Cheerios on it before I disappeared into my cereal-box fort.

And whatever level of Scouts I was in, my dad was always with me. He’d been a Scout in the same troop, and his step seemed just a little bit springier when we put on our uniforms and headed off to meetings. And the day I got my Bobcat badge remains my first memory of him telling me he was proud of me.

[pause for dramatic effect]

So you can sort of see why I want to have that with my kids. And so far, the experience seems to be paying off.

The other day we went to the local council office to get uniforms and patches, and Robert’s eyes went agog when he saw all the merit badges. He was especially taken with Nuclear Science (which, sadly, has no requirements involving the Incredible Hulk). And then he said, “Dad! This place is awesome! Why do all the work to get merit badges, when I can just come here and buy them instead!”

The next day TwoBert bounded out of his bedroom at 6:30am, with his full regalia (pictured above) buttoned over his pajamas. And he asked me when he can have a jackknife. I told him he can have one after he does one off a diving board.

Next weekend, we’ll be outside the Kroger selling $200 worth of high-quality Scout popcorn, priced to move. Any takers?

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