Monday, 28 September 2009

If you cut me, I bleed green

But not because I've suddenly become Irish, or an alien: the green in question refers to Girl Scout green, since the past week or so seems to have been rather consumed by various GS-related events and activities. Or rather, various GS-related events and activities seem to have consumed me in the past week.

It started innocently enough, with the first troop meeting of the year. We now have 10 girls instead of 5, and I think paradoxically it's a great improvement; the girls are less wild, because it's harder to egg everyone on when the group is larger, so I'm happy. Also we have two moms helping out with meetings, and one of them in particular has a very calm, soothing voice, slightly mesmerizing actually, so I look forward to working with her more.

Then we had the leaders' meeting (and remember this comes after a week where I'd already spent a total of almost 9 hours in various GS-related training sessions), which somehow took three hours, what with organising the coming year, and putting the finishing touches on the camping schedule. Then later in the week more last-minute scrambling to get essential camping supplies such as balloons and rope and make name badges.

Thankfully one evening was spared by the madness and we escaped to Philly for a Regina Spektor gig. It was really nice - although she doesn't go in much for audience interaction (apart from having to apologise the two times she forgot her lyrics), or indeed showiness (she was wearing a sort of black shirt-dress, nice but very low-key) - the woman can sing! (and play the piano) It was really very beautiful and fun and good, even if the venue was overridden with girls that looked about 16 and were all dressed up and screamed at an incredible pitch for every little thing. I suppose it's good that there is some youth who go in for sensible demure singer-songwriters who write fun and clever lyrics rather than Britneys and Miley Cyruses (did you know that she sings too? They keep playing her song on the radio, it's terrible), but it was a little overwhelming.

And then, finally, the big event that all this had been leading to: the camping weekend! This took place at a campsite about half an hour from here, and about 12 troops of all ages were there, some just for the day activities, other staying overnight for one or two nights. Apart from a couple of days at a festival a few years ago, I hadn't been camping since I was 15 or so, so I was looking forward to and dreading it in equal measures. Maybe a bit more of the latter actually, once I spotted the 'How to stay safe in bear country' page in our camping booklet.

The campsite was beautiful. It's Scouts only and is run by a very fun, energetic couple who are really into it. I got there before K. and the rest of my troop and had some very peaceful moments just being away from everything, in the quiet-that-isn't-really-quiet of foresty places, and felt nicely set up for the weekend. Over the course of which, we did lots of fun things: a bumpy nighttime ride on the back of a haywagon (a great way to see a forest at night without getting too freaked out), archery (yes, I suck), marshmallow roasting :-), the girls did boating and lots of running around, singalongs, etc.

There were also some difficult moments of course, ranging from trying to get 7, 9, and 10 year olds to get along, to getting anyone to listen to us, having to frantically contact parents of girls who have changed their mind at the last minute about staying overnight, and, of course, waking up in the night to the sound of rain and the slow dripping of cold water on your face and/or sleeping bag. The rain really annoyed us actually, it started raining the evening of Saturday, which meant a rush in the semi-darkness to store everything properly, and went on through the night (hence the damp awakening) and all Sunday morning as we were trying to pack up and clear everything away - not ideal, and it meant we were deprived of our lovely campfire on one of the evenings.

But! On Sunday morning we had a special guest, one Anna Goodale of the US Olympic rowing team, who won gold in Beijing as well as a slew of other world championships. The idea was that she would come and give a talk to the girls and be inspiring, but she went well over that. She turned up before 8am (she lives in Princeton as US Rowing is based here), hung around where the girls were making breakfast, helped out, chatted to them, asked them lots of questions - she was so charming and so nice and so good with them! I was in awe. Her talk was great too - pitched just at the right level and with such a good narrative arc, the woman didn't start rowing until she went to college and a couple of years later she was on the national team!! It's refreshing to hear of Olympic champions who have achieved greatness without having necessarily had to sacrifice their whole childhood to it. Not that she doesn't have to work hard now - training twice a day, 6/7 days a week...Anyway, her talk was great, she also had a video of the Olympics race where they won gold, which she played for us and sort of commented along which was cool - and she brought her gold medal along, which was big and heavy, and let all the girls touch it, and signed autographs for them, and was generally really down to earth and friendly - we were all completely bowled over.

On a more reflective note, I am constantly impressed by the skills and maturity some of these girls display - and not just my own, but many of the ones throughout the troops. They organise activities for the younger ones, get them excited about owl pellets, teach them about outdoor cooking in a really engaging manner - it's fun to be around them, and sometimes you get distracted by how grown up they seem and start to think you can treat them like mini-adults...until their next attack of petulance. Oh well - better than nothing...

Also, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with the other leaders. In fact, I have to say that getting to know these women better, and learning from them, is for me one of the biggest perks of my volunteering. I think it's hard for people my age to come across really inspiring role models who are not their mothers - what we need is people who are a few steps ahead of us, but not too far away generationally - say 10/15 years older maybe - to give us a sense of what the next few years of our life might be like, and what challenges and balancing acts we are likely to encounter. Anyway, it's hard to find these people sometimes. I've been extremely lucky in the past couple of years in having had one such person land in my lap with whom I share not just a field of research but also a sense of...uhm, I don't know what word to use, (in)appropriateness? basically the point is that I can talk about anything without feeling awkward or embarassed or like I'm being judged! Although said person will always remain my biggest inspiration, I feel I have a lot to learn from these other women I am getting to know, too. They may not be my role models in every sense - I am rather disinclined to produce a seemingly endless supply of offspring, for instance - but they have so much energy, so much ability to multitask, to have lots of amazing projects on the run at the same time, and keep a family together, and make sure all their multiple children are having lots of great experiences, and in many cases have really cool jobs too - I definitely look up to them in that respect, and I feel ashamed that at my slightly younger, more unencumbered age, I often lack the willpower to even finish revising a measly article.

So ends the account of the past few days. I think I am still recovering from the camping in some ways, but I am pleased that I did it, and really it wasn't so bad: apparently all those years of Girl Scout camp have somehow left their mark, and I still have it in me...

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