Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Reluctant Den Mother


            I’m willing to do a lot of things to help with the activities my children are involved in. I’ve baked for class parties, worked at school book fairs, and hosted an end of soccer season pizza party at my house. This summer I found myself writing and directing a couple of skits for Vacation Bible School. When it comes to Cub Scouts I’ve been more than willing to cook for the blue and gold banquet, ferry kids in my minivan the end of a parade route back to the beginning (where parents had parked). I’ve offered to help design posters and even work on getting a website going. But I have sworn that I would not become a Den Leader. It just isn’t my thing. There are plenty of ways I am willing and able to contribute, but Den Leader (or Den Mother as they used to say in the good old days)? Maybe you ought to talk to my husband about that sort of thing. He’s a guy after all—good with his hands, outdoorsy, not to mention far more patient with other people’s children than I am.
            I didn’t go to many of the den meetings last year. My husband took Owen to Scouts and I stayed home with James unless I was working a night shift—in which case Dan brought both boys along. Cub Scout meetings are torture for children old enough to understand what’s going on but too young to be a scout (it’s equally torturous for the parents of said children). But this year, James was old enough and was itching to sign up.
            This year, my husband has had rehearsals on Wednesday nights, so I’m the one going to Scout meetings. At the first Pack meeting of the year, they asked for volunteers. The Assistant Cub Master suggested that if each parent took on the responsibilities of Den Leader for one month, it wouldn’t be too much of a burden on any one parent. You know what happens next, right? No one raises their hand and says, “Pick me! Pick me!” So I took a deep breath and broke that solemn promise I made to myself, “Mike,” I said to the Assistant Cub Master, “I’ll take the Tigers (first graders) for September and October.” The next thing I knew, he gave me a binder with a weekly curriculum to follow and a website I needed to go to complete something called, “Youth Protection Training”.
Okay, okay, I'll be a leader. But NO uniform. I have to draw a line somewhere.
            Anyone who knows me (and probably someone who has been reading this blog) knows that I don’t do much in half measures (except maybe housecleaning). So I spent a lot of my free time the following week reading the program book, planning and gathering materials. By the next weekend I was prepared—but terrified.
            When we arrived for my first meeting as Den Leader, Mike, said to me, “Jack (the Cub Master) is stuck in traffic and probably won’t get here. Can you take the Tigers and the Wolves and I’ll take the Bears and the Webelos?” I pasted a look of supreme (and phony) confidence on my face and said, “Sure, no problem.” Thank God I have theatre training (it has loads of uses in the real world—believe me). So I took the boys—James, James, Jonathan, Jonathan, and Joshua (seriously—God must have been smiling down on me because I am HORRIBLE with names) downstairs and we made scouting scrapbooks and talked about the Cub Scout motto and the Cub Scout pledge. Much to my surprise, the meeting went well. So well in fact, that the following week I was still the Den Leader for the Tigers and the Wolves, which wasn’t so bad because it was only five boys. Preparation was a bit of a pain in the neck because I needed to create one program out of two to suit the different levels of scouts. It had to be at a level that first-graders could follow and wouldn’t bore the life out of the second graders.
            And then Cub Master Jack called on Saturday afternoon, “Great news! We had a sign up at the Hancock School Friday night and signed up nine new boys!” Um. Nine. New. Boys. “Wow,” I said after I regained consciousness, “How many of them are Tigers and Wolves Jack?”  The count was eight. Eight new boys for me. How was I going to handle this? I bet some of their names don’t even start with the letter J and then I’ll really be screwed I thought.
            Fortunately another parent stepped up to lead the Bears, which allowed the Cub Master to take the Tigers off my hands. Now I have a manageable sized group all the same age. Plus, October’s over right? So, I’m done, right? Because I just volunteered for September and October. Right?
            During my boys’ last check up, their pediatrician told me that he had been a Den Leader for years. Years.
“You know,” he said. “I think there is a gene we could call the ‘V’ gene for people who always end up volunteering for stuff—Den Leaders, soccer coaches, little league.  I hate to disappoint the kids.”
I thought about this conversation when Jack approached me at the last pack meeting. “Are you going to break my heart?” He asked.
“In what way?” I responded.
“Well, you only signed up for September and October. It’s November.” Jack thinks I’m really good at this Den Leader thing—either that or he’s flattering me so I’ll stick with it.”
I looked over at the boys who had become my Cub Scouts over the previous few weeks and I thought about what my pediatrician had said. “You know Jack,” I said. “I think I can stick with these guys through Christmas.”