Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts on Boy Scouting After a Bittersweet Weekend

My sons and I have just returned from the annual Boy Scout Troop year-end family camping "Big Trip". This is the one trip a year that the parents and all siblings are invited to attend. Every other year the focus shifts from a fun trip to an educational trip. This was the fun activity year and we visited the Catamount Ski Resort's High Adventure Park. The Troop told us it was ziplining but in actuality it was a high ropes adventure course with challenging and harrowing activities many feet off the ground with some zip lines in between. The whole thing capped off with a long zipline that zigged and zagged down the mountain. I was one of the brave adults who participated in it, and it was unbelievable. My sons had a blast. I think that each of our self-confidence levels grew.

The rest of the trip was the usual good stuff: sitting around playing board and card games, talking, and lots of laughing. We prepared and ate food and we sat on our butts and just relaxed. Some of us swam in the pool while others played ultimate frisbee.

I tried all weekend not to get upset about moving and leaving all of our friends. Three years ago I carefully selected a Troop for my oldest son to join based on contacts I made while volunteering at Cub Scout day camp and based on the great reputation of this Troop. Not only has it been good for my older son (my younger just joined a few months ago) but I have found that almost all the parents are great people who are more than acquaintences.

Through the family trips and my volunteer work with the Troop, plus the time spent at meetings, since I don't do drop-off's because I live in another town and the ride is too long, I have really gotten to know some of the parents (and Scouts). I have learned things, perhaps most important, I have gotten parenting wisdom about raising boys through puberty and the teen years as well as specific guidance about raising responsible citizens.

One thing that has been cemented in my mind is the importance of shared experiences for forming bonds. Through the good times and the bad or challenging times both the boys and the parents bond and grow closer. While Cub Scouts was a more pampering and entertaining type of experience which seeks to make boys have fun in a "let us entertain you" fashion, Boy Scouting attempts to have good experiences but along the way bad stuff happens. I am not talking about major bad things, nor am I talking about intentional bad stuff, but just the focus on camping with good intentions for fun can result in learning to find fun and gettin through a sopping wet with rain camping weekend or it can mean experiencing a camp-wide evacuation to better shelter during a close thunderstorm.

Much time together without electronic devices that forces kids aged 10-17 to mix together and do things like play a four hour game of Risk or to learn a new card game they didn't know existed is not just fun but leads to other hilarious social experiences. "Do you remember the time..." is a frequently overheard thing at Boy Scout functions. Bonding is further deepened by little things such as nicknames the boys create for each other.

(Actually my son's positive experiences with people of different lifestyles and backgrounds through Scouting have made me think that this is kind of like what can happen in schools with shared experiences and being together so much, which would make school not such a bad thing. In seeing how well my kids have socially navigated Boy Scouting, with both of my kids being well liked and surprisingly, even seeming to be "popular", I now know that my kids could not only survive school but may thrive there, in certain ways.

 However there are distinct differences in the extra-curricular and optional activity of Boy Scouting with its rules and regulations and with at least this Troop's strong leadership and active parenting, the not so optional public schooling with its lower level of supervision and less clear expectations and much less consistent application of rules and discipline.

Not all Troops are created equally so I not only can imagine but know that Scouting experiences are not the same across the board; the same can be true of public and private schools. I am grateful we have the freedom to select our own Troops and that so far we have not chosen the path to just join the Troop at the church we attend or to just join the not good fit for our value system that exists in my town of residence.)

Our Troop is an eclectic one. Although it is chartered through a church, the Scouts come from all walks of life. We have Scouts who are Jewish, various Protestant denominations and Catholics. We have Scouts of various ethnic backgrounds and wealth levels. Some  Scouts come to that suburb from the rougher area of Bridgeport which lacks thriving Boy Scout Troops.

One of my top priorities after moving to Texas will be to find a good Boy Scout Troop to join. I of course want to be close to our home but other than that I am open to options. Scouting is bigger in Texas than in Connecticut, where some boys feel it is nerdy or stupid, and where sports is much more high pressure and frequently done so it conflicts with Scouting more.

(My investigation into sports in the Houston area shows that it is much less Type A and is just not as frequent. For example here travel lacrosse starts at grade K. In grade 4 my son had 5-6 lacrosse activities per week. In the Houston area lacrosee is not in every single town and seems to just start at grade 6 with only 3 nights a week. I've found just three crew rowing clubs in all of the Houston area with only participation in grade 9-12 with restriction to low numbers for participation.)

In just one minute using Google's search engine I found six Boy Scout Troops very close to our new (rented) home. Most are affiliated with churches and one is for homeschooled kids only. Although the fit to be with a Christian homeschool Troop is a natural choice for us, and one I would have only dreamed of previously, now that it is a reality as a choice, it made me think of the good that has come from my sons mixing in with kids from other walks of life through Boy Scouting.

As our family moves toward closing one chapter of our lives with this Troop we are doing everything it offers instead of bowing out due to needing to spend more time packing up and preparing for the move. I want my sons to have more good times with these boys they call their friends before they part ways. In doing these simple Troop things we formerly took for granted like attending the year end picnic and the camping trip we are trying to extract as much of the goodness from it as possible, we're breathing deeply from the proverbial roses as we stop to smell them on our way out.

We are happy to move on to a new adventure in Texas where my husband is already enjoying his new job. I can't wait to be in a place where the economy is thriving, it was so strange for me to see the change last week when I visited the Houston area, leaving the hurting economy and scared people of Connecticut and walking into a place that looks on the surface and feels like things were back at the peak of the economy a few years ago.

I have been asked why the kids and I don't stay living in Connecticut permanently and just let my husband live in Texas and to commute back once or twice a month for a weekend visit. I have been told that if we do that, my kids and I can continue to live the lives we know and love in this place that's been my home for all my life. It has been said that it would be best for the kids to keep all their same friends and to continue with relationships formed at Scouts and sports and through their homeschooling here. The reason we're not choosing to do that is that we are a family who wants to be all together. Staying physically close to friends, doing Scouting with the same Troop, or living in a physical place I love, continuing to garden in the soil I created with the compose we made from our food scraps and other such endeavors is a lower priority than being together as a family. I also think that the move with all of its changes is character building for my kids (and perhaps even for me).

However I have my work cut out for me as I seek to find a new Troop to join. I don't know if what we're walking into is better or worse or just different. I do know that we have really enjoyed our time with our current Troop and that we are all sad to leave them.

As I think back to the fun we've had this last weekend what's really on my mind today, now that I'm home and the body and mind preoccupying activities are over, is how much I will miss our Troop and our lives here. This melancholy that my sons and I feel are signals that this chapter is already in the process of closing (it doesn't close on the day we physically leave for good, it started closing slowly on the first day that my husband accepted the position).

The experiences my family had this weekend were different than the others who were in that other frame of mind of "living life as usual" and "doing the same old thing" which some may be taking for granted. This transition phase is a hard stage to be in because since we are still here and not yet ready to leave, the new and good things about living in Texas have not yet started. We don't really know what to look forward to and the kids and I are all not quite admitting that perhaps some situations we'll be put in may be worse. The only way I can get through this is by holding onto hope and trying to keep an open mind and a good attitude. It's just not always easy, especially when feeling bittersweet.


christinethecurious said...

I moved when I was 15, I was processing the sad feelings when I learned of the plans, then when I actually did move, it became real to my friends.

The lag in emotional recognition was odd.

It sounds like you are doing very well.

Christine in Mass

K said...

Sports in TX are far more intense than in CT but not sports like lacrosse and rowing. If you were looking into football, basketball or baseball you would find the schedules and requirements sucked up the majority of your free-time. Most kids who play a sport-a-season do nothing else and often neither do their families. 6-7 days a week devoted to practice, conditioning and games.
Stick with lacrosse and rowing, you may actually have a life if you do.
Houston my not be AS bad as the more rural areas as there are so many other options of activities but for the most part male Texans under the age of 17 are expected to be uber-competitive sports nuts and everything, including academics, is secondary

Ina's 5 and our Native Homeschool Blog said...

I think they play different sports in Texas. Lacrosse and rowing are (I suspect) very east coast sports.