Monday, December 5, 2011
Putting the Merit in Merit Badges
HALLIE EPHRON: First, here's a baby who's who. Were we adorable or what?
Winners are ... Ann Oxford and Edith Maxwell, for coming closest. (Email me your mailing addresses, please, prizes are on the way to you! hallie "at" hallieephron dot com.)
Moving on... A lot of us were, once upon a time, Girl Scouts. I was, briefly. But it seemed like while Boy Scouts got to do neat things like go camping and race around in homemade "soapbox" cars, all we ever got to do was weave potholders. It was like in sports--the boys played baseball and basketball while we girls lined up for throw and catch or learned to duck in dodge ball. It was wonderful training for life.
So I was happy to hear that the Girl Scouts have updated their merit badges. There are still badges for Cook, Athlete, and Naturalist. Cookie badges have survived, of course.
But the Fashion, Fitness and Makeup badge is out. The Science Of Style badge is in (girls explore use of nanotechnology in fabrics and the chemistry of sunscreens). Orienteering is out and Geocaching is in. There are badges now for Digital Movie Maker. Screenwriter. Website Designer. Locavore. Comic Artist. Car Care. Savvy Shopper.
I was fine with all this albeit tumultuous change until I got to the Science of Happiness badge. Apparently girls earn it by working for a month on strategies based on the research of psychologist/author Martin Seligman ("Authentic Happiness" and "Flourish").
I can't put my finger on exactly why this one gave me pause and Savvy Shopper didn't. I'd be all for the Science of Resilience, but happiness?? It reminded me that we were always told that whatever else we did, we were supposed to SMILE. (Remember: "I've got something in my pocket that belongs across my face... It's a good old Brownie smile!")
Were you a Girl Scout, and did you earn badges? How'd it work out for you? And what about all this change?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Good grief..I've got something in my pocket that belongs across my face? We could have had a field day with that in my Brooklyn neighborhood.
I went to exactly one Brownie meeting as a kid. I thought we were going to look for arrowheads (there were Indians in Brooklyn...) but instead we made beanbags. What the heck was a beanbag for? I didn't join another group until Sisters in Crime.
Savvy shopper? And this is judged how?
RHYS BOWEN: I was a Girl Guide in England and I loved the camping and outdoor cooking (even if we got rained out on my first camping trip). Being an over achiever I got all kinds of badges first aid, child care, hiking etc but none of being happy. We had a good group of girls and we laughed and had fun. Good experience for me.
JAN BROGAN: My mother discouraged me from becoming a Brownie, saying "do you really want to wear that ugly uniform?" I think maybe she didn't want to buy the uniform or get asked to lead a troop. And then years later, I found out that SHE had been a GIRL SCOUT.
But the truth is, I'm not big on practical skills so I think it would have been a bust anyway. The shopping bothers me more than the happiness, especially since they have to research the psychological component and probably because it is absent those practical skills that I lack.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout, and I still remember how ugly I felt in those horrible brown, then green, uniforms. (Campfire Girls were cooler AND had cute uniforms.) And I don't remember ever doing anything that I enjoyed (argghh, those woven potholders! The trauma!)
I think it sounds much more fun these days (and hopefully they've improved the uniforms.) I hope Savvy Shopper teaches things like budgeting and not being taken in by advertising gimmicks (um, Black Friday?), and having read a bit about Martin Seligman's book, I don't think the Happiness philosophy is "put on a smile no matter what" but rather learning strategies for life-long emotional health that don't depend on things or relationships--both huge pitfalls for women since we tend to put our worth in things outside ourselves. I say go Girl Scouts!
LUCY BURDETTE: I agree with Deb about the Happiness philosophy, though I'd love to hear what the Brooklyn kids have in their pockets!
I was a huge girl scout and a rabid badge collector (evidence in the photo!) right up to junior high at which point it became hugely uncool (a problem I had already:). My mother was the Girl Scout leader for many years and I'm sorry to say she was probably more lenient with some of my badge requirements than a non-relative might have been. That said, I had badges that went all the way down one side of my sash and halfway up the other. I totally regret losing or throwing that out--though probably no one but me would want it at this point!
ROSEMARY: Lucy, I can't envision a time when you weren't cool. I've seen those hippie pix of you in your overalls! No merit badges but I do have a denim jacket that has travel patches all over it. Too embarrassed to wear it these days but can't throw it out. In fact, I buy new patches for it whenever I travel. (Remember stitching them on backpacks?)
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Former Brownie and Girl Scout here. Deb must have had an earlier-developing fashion sense than I did, because I liked the uniforms. Of course, I was an Army brat, surrounded by men in uniform 24/7, so that may have colored my perceptions. I remember wearing the sashes, and I know I worked on some badges, but I can't for the life of me recall what they were now. As I remember, we did a lot of crafts.
My favorite was the waterproof seat cushion we made to sit on while toasting weinies around a campfire. I don't think we every actually made it to camp, but I had that oh-so-useful cushion forever. I wish I still had it now.
HALLIE: Oh, I know those seat cushions. They were called Situpons!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I'm so with you, Lucy! I had NO FRIENDS as a kid. None. In Brownies, they HAD to like you. And, continuing to be otherwise friendless, I went on to Girl Scouts, yes, even with the hideous geeky uniforms. (I drew a line at the stupid hat.)
And confession: I was ridiculously obsessed about the badges. It was so--doable. And success was so obvious. I lusted after them ALL. I even tried to get Beekeeper, but couldn't finagle a way to do it without being around bees.
I do wish I had that badge sash. Sigh. I did need those stinkin' badges.
HALLIE: And there you have it. Another Rorschach!
Tell us about your Brownie/Girl Scout/Girl Guide/Campfire Girls experiences... Did you make a Situpon? A potholder? Search for arrowheads in the wilds of Brooklyn? If you were a Boy Scout, torture us by how much more real fun you had.