I spent Friday night at a zoo. Not just a few hours – the entire night, from 6 pm to noon the following day. It was a Brownie overnight trip. Along with about 100 other moms and daughters, I slept in a sleeping bag, on a frigid floor, about 10 yards from a live rat exhibit.
I had two problems. First, I am terrified of rats. I don’t think they’re cute, and I don’t think they make good pets. I think they are the scariest and most devious creatures on the planet, and they might be rabid, and I shudder uncontrollably whenever I see them. Second, unlike nearly every other person there, I did not bring an electric air mattress. Right after the Separation, I went through my house, wildly decluttering and throwing things away with abandon. It was fun, and it was liberating. During the decluttering, I threw away the never-used air mattress, and I hadn’t missed it.
But oh, how I missed that mattress on Friday night. Around 1 a.m., I started feeling really bad about my impulsive purging. Maybe I shouldn’t throw things away. Instead, I should acquire and keep more things, like everyone else. Obviously I had failed the golden rule (and motto) of the Girl Scouts: Be Prepared.
And maybe I was failing something else: motherhood. Do all good mothers keep spare electric mattresses on hand, just in case a last-minute overnight trip to the zoo popped up?
In any case, I don’t remember sleeping at all, though I must have dozed off a few times because I dreamed about the rats chewing a hole in their cage. But I did not complain (much). No one complained. We are all Good Sports. Not only are we good sports, but we are helpful. In fact, this is how the Girl Scout motto is explained: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”
In other words, we help, we serve, and we MUST know how to do the job well.
What does this translate to? We must be pretty darn close to PERFECT. When serving others.
And this is why Girl Scouts annoys the hell out of me. Somehow, under all the cheery, esteem-building exercises, all I can see is a bunch of seven-year-olds looking a bit jaded, like teenagers forced to visit an art museum, while their strung-out moms try to figure out how to contribute in a meaningful yet not-too-time-consuming way. And when the girls get excited about something, like really excited, like seven-year-olds tend to do, and then they get really giggly and silly, their troop leader swoops in and reminds them that they are supposed to be paying attention to the lecture on the effects of trash bags on marine life in Antarctica.
And then I watch those bright happy eyes swivel over to the speaker, and the light in them goes out.
We help, we serve, we’re polite, we are respectful, we know how to do things well. We are perfectionists in training.
And I’m pretty much done with it. This is the way I was raised back in the seventies, in my traditional home. And it really hasn’t worked out for me. Because when you teach young girls to ignore their feelings, to tamp down on their joy, and to serve others, you end up with young women who don’t know how to think or feel. They believe their value lies in being good, polite, perfect. They can not accept their feelings of rage or grief. In fact, often they can not even identify their feelings at all.
Brene Brown writes, “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
I don’t blame the Girl Scouts for all of this. I believe it’s an organization that strives to make positive changes in girls’ lives. I don’t even blame my neighborhood or school or troop, where perfect, soft-spoken, skinny moms are found everywhere. However, I am going to try my hardest to make sure that my daughter understands that she is not valued for being perfect. We love her for all her imperfections: her sly wit, her shyness, her over-the-top sassiness with certain friends, the tiny beauty mark on her lovely chin,how she reads book after book in bed every night with a flashlight and then can’t wake up in the morning, and the fact that she will haul off and punch her big brother sometimes. She is magnificent all the time to me, not just when she’s learning, or striving, or showing us all that she’s a good little girl, prepared for anything.