Being a Cub Scout Leader has made me a better person. I’ve found new levels of patience, faced my own fears with strength (although the other leaders laugh at that thought), developed a level of trust in others and learned that it is not the end of the world when things don’t work out as planned. Let me elaborate…
Going camping with 13 boys aged 8 through 10 is an interesting and exciting endeavor. Add to that equation the 4 male leaders. Yes, I was the only female at camp. Was it a problem? Not at all. I slept at the end of the row of bunks in the main room of the bunkhouse, while the male leaders slept in the more private areas at the back. I was always the last to crawl into my sleeping bag and changed into my very modest, long underwear in the above ground pit toilet cubicle. Let me tell you, changing into thermal underwear in a camping toilet is a feat in itself. Rule number one – do not touch anything. Rule number two – minimize stretching of limbs so as to avoid getting anywhere near spiders or webs. Eeek! In a previous life I must have been a contortionist.
Aside from the spider-webby ick factor, it was a beautiful weekend. The sun shone and the cubs stayed warm and dry (therefore happy). Everyone worked together to ensure that all of us had a lot of fun at camp. A big part of the fun for me was morphing from “Mommy” into “Bagheera”. And trust me, playing the role of Bagheera is much more fun than spending the weekend at home folding laundry and doing dishes. (Yes, Daniel, that means your mother isn’t technically here, you must wash your own dishes. If you choose not to… enjoy eating your next meal off dirty dishes). But along with the break, came having to face some personal challenges.
By far, my biggest challenge was facing my fear of heights while on our long hike on Saturday. When Akela asked if I wanted to come along on the hike, I had no idea what I was in for. “Sure, I’m up for a hike. I’m feeling really good these days.” So our pack headed out in the unseasonably beautiful sunshine… (If this were a movie, the twittering of birds would have had a dark, foreboding rumble in the background.)
I stared in astonishment at the first uphill portion of the hike. Ropes? Akela hadn’t mentioned anything about ropes. Mentally, I had to ignore the little voice in my head screaming “are you crazy?! You can’t possibly climb that steep terrain!” I couldn’t humiliate myself by chickening out at the very beginning of the hike. Besides, the cub motto is “do your best”. I couldn’t very well leave without trying my best. How would that have looked? Suck it up buttercup. Push (or pull – as the case may be) yourself. Everyone made it safely up the steep hillside. I made it up without looking down. Yay!
The next difficult portion entailed two sections of threading our way up through steep sections of rock. The leaders (the ones not afraid of heights) spotted for the cubs as we wound our way along a very narrow path up and through the rockface. Empowered after climbing the rope section, I smiled, focused and made my way up, not wanting to be the weakest member of the group.
Thank goodness the other leaders were good climbers, as I was quite useless on this hike with regard to helping the cubs. No, not quite useless, I was a good motivator, but a poor spotter. Our trail is, or rather was, marked with blue flagging. As soon as we had crested the bluffs, we lost the trail. Within the last few days it had been obliterated by heavy machinery clear-cutting a swath through the forest to put in a new power line. Not only were our blue flags cut down, they were buried beneath tangled heaps of just-fallen trees. The unstable heap of trees was a hazard in itself, it would have swallowed any of us whole in one gulp, or impaled anyone not staying clear of its wayward broken branches. As descending the path we came up seemed like flirting with disaster, two leaders went out looking for the lost trail or a safer way to descend the bluffs. Some of the cubs began to worry about whether or not we were stuck. “Of course not, we’ll find a way down, don’t worry.” Internal voice: “Panic now, start signalling to airplanes now, don’t wait for nightfall.”
However, unable to find a safer path, we had no choice but to descend the bluff and decided to use the machinery roadway for the remainder of our descent. God help me. Seriously, I didn’t know how I was going to manage. Akela was prepared: he was carrying some rope. He called out “Bagheera, is that tree stable enough to anchor the rope?” I gave the tree a firm shove and it shifted alarmingly. Five minutes later, a sturdy stump and employment of his knot tying skills and we were ready for our descent. After the 13 fidgety cubs had safely picked their way down (spotted again by the other fearless leaders), it was my turn. Hanging onto the rope for dear life, I backed my way down the “path”. Mang, another leader, called out for me to place my feet differently, completely opposite to where they were. I stopped. Frozen. I couldn’t do this any more. “I didn’t sign up for this!” They thought I was joking. Ha. Not so much.
After dropping my backpack I was able to turn myself around and get my feet into the correct position. Once we were all safely off the bluff we began making our way over to the heavy machinery roadbed. Relief. I have my fellow leaders to thank for getting the cubs and me safely back to camp, for which I will be eternally grateful. Fittingly, the hike has since been named “the Hike of Epicness.”
Overcoming challenges and fears is so powerful. I hope the cubs got as much out of the hike as I did.
During other activities I learned that patience is an emotional place where it’s acceptable to keep gently reminding others of their responsibilities without getting frustrated or becoming the resident ogre. Patience is also giving a child the tools and knowledge they need to complete a task, then leaving them to their own devices to do their best. Some will proclaim that they ‘can’t do it’ and others will rise to the challenge and focus their energies on getting the task done quickly and well. Of course I’m there to provide further support to the ones that are having a difficult time.
At camp we try to tackle as many badge requirements as possible while fostering their independence. We did the usual setting up of tents and emergency shelters, discussion of safety in the woods and what to do if you get lost. For dessert on Saturday evening we planned on having the cubs make oranges filled with chocolate cake. The idea was to hollow out the oranges, fill them with chocolate cake batter and bake them in the campfire. Sounds like a fun treat, right? This project even sounds easy.
Oh my. As soon as the oranges were distributed, exclamations of “I can’t do my orange” filled the air, quickly followed by “my orange fell apart – I need a new one” and “I didn’t bring a spoon to camp – give me yours”. Give me strength. Deep breath… another deep breath… that’s better. Finally, the oranges were all set for the campfire – after a few rounds of “use your spoon to slice down the inside of the orange”, “your orange will be held together with foil” and “next time you’ll bring your spoon, right? In the meantime, if you ask nicely perhaps someone will lend you theirs when they’ve finished.”
Unfortunately, the results from baking the oranges in the fire weren’t particularly edible. I think the boys were a little hasty when mixing the batter as some oranges tasted like salt and others were overly sweet. And the campfire didn’t improve the final results either. It left the oranges either filled with lukewarm chocolate pudding or burnt the orange skins and caused the cake batter to ooze like brown mud down the outside of the foil. Ick.
Other highlights from the camp were:
- Frogs, frogs, everywhere. You couldn’t walk across the clearing without encountering many teeny tiny frogs. Most of them were dark brown, but there was the occasional green one thrown in for good measure.
- Campfire was a lot of fun. We had the usual songs, a skit or two and Daniel and I stood up and led an action song. Again, I was very much out of my comfort zone, but thoroughly enjoying myself. After campfire I was told that I’m “coming into my own”. If that’s a compliment, I’ll take it.
- Dined in luxury! We ate the world’s best tacos, oatmeal and the sandwiches were to die for. Food prep and dish washing were challenging. Interpret as: frequent applications of bleach in food prep areas to kill the nasties and the fridge had to be sanitized before use. And who knows how clean the cubs got their dishes after each meal. Thank-you sanitizing rinse (bleach) in preventing the cubs from getting terribly ill.
All things considered, it was a fantastic weekend. I don’t think I could have wiped the smile from my face if I had wanted to.