When I was six years old, I was a Brownie / Girl Scout for all of ten seconds. I remember the mint green uniform, mostly because of this picture — here I am tucked between BFFs, Lisa and Greer. (It’s been forty years but I still remember those names, wouldn’t you?) I love that we each have the Brownie Guide tucked into our skirt pockets and I also remember, like it was yesterday, that I really wanted that (optional) yellow neckerchief.
Sometimes you have to look back in order to see ahead and what I see is innocence. I wonder at the cares of young girls who dreamed and read of magic mirrors, elves, and Brownie friendship. I wonder about my hair and why it is so flippy and short. I wonder what was going on behind the camera, in the lives of the adults who snapped these pictures, because soon after this was taken my parents divorced and we moved far away.
When Sam asks to join Cub Scouts I pause before answering. Do I want to go camping or hike outdoors or build rockets and soapbox cars? Er, no. Mommy likes to knit and draw and walk on the beach. Mommy is not Daddy, but truth? there is no Daddy here. So I sign him up, order the uniform, the Webelo guide. We practice the oath and the handshake and he takes great pride — his memory is made for this, after all. He is eager to belong to something bigger and male even if it’s Mommy bringing him there.
We meet in a clearing in the woods, scouts and parents and… nature. Bugs. Outdoorsy things. Sam joins his pack and John skips into the field. I watch warily — John no longer runs away, he runs around, but still. I am primed for a chase.
Soon I relax because they both seem at ease. Sam and his scouts assemble for the Pledge, and John sits in the grass — “Picnic?” he says. We hike to the pond and scan for frogs on the bank. John runs up ahead and then behind, impatient for us to first get there then get back, yelling with frustration when we stop. “GO!” he says. We eat hot dogs and chips, we swat flies and soon it’s almost natural and not so preposterous. I guess I am some sort of Den Mother.
The next time we meet at the clearing in the woods I leave John behind — I think it will be easier for all and especially for him. Surely he’d rather be at home doing the things he loves best: the ipad, with his DVDs and CD covers. But when we return, he runs up to me. He says, “Cub Scouts?” Then he looks at Sam’s uniform, touches it and says, “Cub Scout shirt?”
Oh, the sorrow of realizing I erred, that I assumed he would not want, could not be a Cub Scout too. His face is growing angles and he is still a young boy — but still so much of his thoughts remain a mystery. Sometimes with the frenetic pace of our days I forget to look deeply into his eyes. Sometimes I forget that I am his conduit to the world and to new experiences, and that he needs me to lead him there.
This is what I’ve come to know: John does not prefer to be alone. He would rather be among the bustling activity of others but it’s so hard to be among those who can effortlessly just be.
He sprawls on my lap and brings my face to his face. I ask him, “A kiss?” He makes a squashing sound to the air. His limbs are long and heavy like logs, and I hold him and spill out my heart like a pitcher of juice. I want to fill him up and I want him to know that Mommy is sorry. I want him to know that I see him, that I see how his thoughts are rattling around inside looking for expression. I want him to know that I know. Of course he can be a Cub Scout.
At the end, I’m empty with sorrow and he touches my face. “So. John. Do you want to be a Cub Scout? Yes or no.”
“Yes!” he yells quickly and jumps down from my lap, excited. And so now I have twin Webelos — Twebelos, if you will. And we have gone camping and touched bugs and built rockets. And even though it’s harder for John, and he protests along the way, he lets me take his hand and lead him through it.
It is not lost on me that, despite our best efforts, history has a way of repeating itself. I will not lie, it has been hard for them, hard to leave the only life they ever knew. It is hard for me to gather the debris, push and mold it all into this new life, hundreds of miles away from our old life, but I am gathering the debris, transforming it with magic mirrors and holding on. But this time it is my boys leading the way.