Last week, I attended my first Cub Scout Roundtable Meeting. I have been a Cub Scout leader for two years, but have just recently learned that I am supposed to be attending these monthly meetings wherein all the local leaders join their khaki-clad forces. (I don’t know…maybe someone told me about these meetings awhile back, but I was probably too busy focusing on the spiritual needs of our boys to put it on the calendar. You know.) Anyway.
So Thursday night I showed up, sat down, and watched as a delighted middle-aged woman began to dance and sing, leading the council members (me!) in a rousing rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. She wore a yellow scout shirt, a blue neckerchief, a highly positioned belt with a supershiny buckle, and a Grin for the Ages. She had her audience intensely engaged, laughing and singing loudly, producing the animal noises assigned to their sections. My section had been assigned The Pig. Oinking in my turn, I took a good look around me and thought, “How did I get here?”
Well, I’ll tell you how I got here. And as a cautionary tale, I’ll tell you how, one day, you’ll get here. Don’t assume yourself immune, my faith. I was once where you are now.
It will start with an assignment to be a Cub Scout Leader, probably through your church, which means that no way in-the-bad-place can you say no. Having never worked in scouts, you’ll take the assignment with apprehension. See, you’ve been around, you’ve seen a few things, and you know full well what can happen to mothers who start out normal–hot, even–and then go the way of All Things Scouting. But being the pleasant and accommodating person you are, you’ll agree to help out and you’ll decide that your fate will be different. Unlike any other scout leader in the history of scout leaders, you will find a way to do it and still be cool. Because you, my friend, have cool enough to spare. It will take more than a khaki-colored-collared shirt to suck it all out of you.
You’ll begin meeting with your co-leaders and planning activities for the boys. In the beginning your ambitions are simple: flag ceremonies, uniform inspections, an occasional skit in which you do not have to participate, merely oversee. But as the months roll slowly by, the game begins to change. Soon you find yourself in charge of what you once considered distant and peculiar events: a Pinewood Derby here, a Blue and Gold Banquet there, Cub Scout Day Camp everywhere. You try to keep your faculties about you, but find yourself gradually immersed in heated conversations about popcorn sales and online training and which leaders’ manual–out of the nine hundred leaders’ manuals available–will catapult your den meetings to superscout status.
You’ll become a regular at The Dollar Tree, always pushing through the front door with clenched teeth and sweaty palms, hoping against all hope that they’ll have the puffy paint pens you promised to bring to the bike rodeo, which starts in ten minutes. You’ll create your own account with orientaltrading.com–the very store whose catalog covers have ever provoked your rage–and spend an unseemly amount of money on fifty child-sized sombreros for next month’s Cinco de Mayo dinner.
Despite this flurry of productivity by the sweat of your own brow, you’ll maintain that, through it all, you’ve managed to keep one foot out of the mire. You haven’t changed, you’re simply doing your duty. You’ll almost believe it, too, until one dark and unforeseen weeknight when you’ll find yourself standing in the front of the boys on a makeshift stage wearing old jeans, white shoes, and a khaki-colored-collared shirt, leading fifteen boys and thirty parents in a booming rendition of On Top of Spaghetti. Nobody will know the words and a pianist is out of the question, so you’ll stand and sing alone–you, who can not sing a note to save your life. To gloss over the awkwardness, you’ll began shouting the words instead of singing them, then resort to full-on screaming when forty-five blank stares becomes too much too bear. You’ll then make a desperate attempt to laugh at yourself (really loud!) hoping that will dilute the shame. Instead, you will now be screaming and psuedo-dancing across the floor, laughing (really loud!) between verses, proving to everyone how “comfortable” you are with yourself.
But through it all, you’ll tell everyone you know, loudly and repeatedly, that you are doing all of this out of obligation–nothing more! You’ll roll your eyes every time the subject of scouts comes up and emphasize to outsiders that you have no personal investment in this assignment. It will become very important that people understand this. You’ll tell your friends, over and over again, that you are still normal. Cool, even. Yes, very cool. You’ll say it at church. You’ll say it at book club. You’ll say it at Wal-Mart. You’ll say it, alone and aloud, in your dusty minivan on the way to Roundtable. “This is only temporary. This is not who I am. I am better than this.” You’ll say it, you’ll believe it, it’s true. It’s true.
And then you’ll find yourself obediently oinking for a woman who looks exactly the way you did at pack meeting last Tuesday. She catches your eye and smiles at you just like the serpent did to Eve; you can almost hear her whisper: You’re mine, lady. All mine. You’ll be trapped in her gaze while reciting the scout motto and striking the salute. You’ll know, of course, that she’s right. In this life, there are places that we go from which we never can return.
And that, my friend, is how you’ll get here.