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GAIL WHITE I couldn't say then that I loved leading Scouts, but I can now

Friday, February 27, 2004

I can't say that I've loved every minute of it.
In fact, if I were completely honest, I would have to admit that there were times when I downright despised being the den mother for a group of Cub Scouts.
Times like when I was hiking up a cliff or sliding down one on my rear end. Times when I found myself sleeping in a tent -- or at least trying to sleep -- while chasing mice away in the middle of the night.
And all those times, 30 minutes before a den meeting, when I realized I did not have a tool I needed or a prop for a lesson or I had completely forgotten about the snack.
For four years, I have dealt with times like this, all the while holding onto the thought that after these boys completed their second year of Webelos, I would be done. I am ashamed to admit it, but I couldn't wait.
Saturday evening my den of six Cub Scouts will cross over into Boy Scouts.
Signs of promise
Sitting around the table at our last den meeting earlier this week, I looked at these boys that I have spent every Tuesday winter evening with for the past four years. They were so little when we began; now they are showing signs of being promising young men.
When we first started, these boys couldn't remember the Cub Scout Promise from one week to the next. Once the words became permanently implanted in their brains, you couldn't hear them or understand them when they stood slump-shouldered reciting them.
Now, they arrive at our meetings, set up the flags and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Promise with their shoulders square, two fingers placed firmly on their foreheads and, the greatest accomplishment of all, in unison.
One year, when we were working on our citizenship beltloop, we made Christmas cards and sang at the local nursing home. The experience was somewhat jarring for some of the boys who had never been inside a nursing home before. But the next year, when the holidays rolled around, all of the boys wanted to go back.
Once, a kind, elderly woman bounced her fingers off the spiked hair of one of the boys. Another time, a man in a wheelchair followed us through the entire facility. All the boys remember the woman who danced to our songs.
In all the years we visited the home at Christmas, we only ever sang four songs. We couldn't seem to expand our repertoire. But the boys' sense of compassion and lovingkindness was expanded a hundredfold.
Learning chivalry
Thanks to the efforts of our den assistant, Dan Fowler, the boys learned all about chivalry. If you look in a Cub Scout book or manual, you will not find this word, but it is an underlying factor in the scouting mentality, and Dan was determined to have the boys understand its meaning.
Part of this chivalry lesson was learned at the hardware store. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, the boys stood at the local hardware store and opened doors for customers.
Many of these patrons expected to be asked for a donation. When they learned our mission was simply to serve, they shared words of praise with the boys. The pride that gleamed on the boys' faces cannot be given to a child, it can only be earned -- and these boys knew they had earned it.
As I completed the final paperwork for my Cub Scouts to receive their awards Saturday, I thought about all the activities and projects we did together to earn each beltloop, badge and pin.
The boys loved earning the fitness and athlete pins. The outdoorsman pin was a real adventure.
Creating a budget for their family member pin and making a poster for their heritage award were not as much for them.
That's when the tears welled up in my eyes.
Just like me, there were times when these boys wanted to quit Cub Scouts. Times when they didn't want to come to a meeting. Times when they would rather be doing something else, just like me.
They will receive a symbol of their hard work and dedication in the form of an Arrow of Light badge.
The true award is the one that has been planted in their souls.
Even as an adult, struggles over time and desires will pull at their minds, just as running this den has pulled at mine.
It is easy to quit.
But these boys have learned a valuable lesson very young: Anything worthwhile takes time and effort, even when you don't feel like it.
They will take that lesson with them as they cross over the bridge to become Boy Scouts.
As for me, I will stand on the other side of that bridge, left with memories.
Funny how hard work and accomplishment taint the mind.
Even now, as I think back to all our time together, I swear, I loved every minute of it.