But on this Election Day, as I'm up late watching the returns come in, my thoughts are compounded not only by a tea stained mid-term election but also by another, more personal campaign. I've been on a crusade, again. And once again, it is with Scouts. This time, it's a Girl Scout Leader and it is both DeDe and me I'm fighting to defend.
I wasn't caught as off-guard this time as I was with my son. I've known for some time that I was dealing with a bad apple here. This Leader, this woman, has had a shockingly ugly attitude since my daughter joined her troop last year. I should have heeded the mental caution flag that raised the very moment I first spoke to this woman — when I contacted her to have my daughter and the other remaining member of our troop join her likewise downsized group and she replied that she had "just got rid of bunch" of girls to somehow explain why they were reluctant to add any more. "Got rid of?" That stood out, but I rejected it easily, because certainly, she couldn't mean it the way it sounded. Even after I had been vaguely cautioned by a friend that the Leader could be problematic, I still plugged ahead with joining the troop. Hey, this was Girl Scouts! How bad could it be? Maybe she's not popular, but as a scout leader I expected, honesty and caring and all the good intentions the Girl Scout Promise promises. But, you can't judge a leader solely by party affiliations. I should have listened to my instincts then.
From day one, the leaders, especially the 01, turned their back on me. When I came to pick up my daughter at scouts, the leader was cold as ice. When I brought signs to "bling their booth" for cookies sales, she complained about the color and said it shouldn't be put it up. I worked hard on it, dammit, so I put it up myself. That sort of thing. Petty stuff, I know. Really petty behavior. But it hurt all the same. Still, as far as I could tell, it was not affecting my daughter. I was concerned however. These were obvious attempts at exclusion and a horrible example to set for a group of girls. At the time, I just didn't see what could be done about it. And so, I volunteered, I tried to be helpful and I simply tolerated her unchanging attitude as best I could. Later I tried to suggest and then basically insist that she at least say hello to me when I entered a room. But it was clear, I was at an impasse here.
As we entered a new school year this Fall, I tried to remain positive. We signed up again with every intention of DeDe remaining with this group of girls despite the Leader. But I never suspected how far she would take her attempts at exclusion.
While on our family camping trip to Acadia, I packed both the children's scouting handbooks and encouraged them to complete requirements for badges and belt loops. For her first meeting, I sent in a list of the badge work eager and diligent DeDe had completed along with some supporting photographs of her building a campfire, cooking a hot dog over it, that sort of thing. I needed the Leader's approval in order to get her badges and DeDe was eager to have them. After all, her brother had (finally) received his awards already.
Had it been any other leader, I would have expected some praise, at the very least acknowledgement of DeDe's dedication to scouting over her summer vacation. Of course, in this case, I expected no congratulations, at worse reluctance, but I was utterly shocked by the Leader's response. She outright refused to accept the request. She claimed Girl Scouts did not allow girls to earn badges outside of the troop. When pressed, she relented only so far at to insist Girl Scouts discourages girls to work independently.
I was a former leader myself, I know that on the contrary, Girl Scouts encourages girls to pursue their own interests and uses badges as an incentive for both troop and individual efforts. I suggested she check with Council about the policy. Still, I made no headway. The Leader threw up all sorts of road blocks such as the handbook was being rewritten, the badges were probably no longer available — it was unfathomable to me that her reluctance could be so great and so insistent. It was unthinkable that I'd have to push so hard for my daughter to receive acknowledgment let alone a positive response for the work she had completed. If we missed some protocol, ok then, I'd correct it. But to flat out refuse...really?
For round three on this problem, I contacted Council myself. They confirmed what I knew to be correct. I requested they speak directly to our Leader to clarify the policies. Apparently they did, because after over a month of back and forth, she finally relented. However, what I received could hardly be called approval. This is the email that awarded DeDe for all her hard work over the summer:
You can go ahead and purchase the 3 camping badges for the activities [DeDe] performed during her summer camping trip. In the future, we are to do things as a troop together and the leaders should have been informed ahead of time. If this should occur again, [DeDe] would have to present the activities to our troop and/or to Council to see if the activity has met the full requirements to earn the badge. If [DeDe] wishes to continue to do her badges on her own, then I would suggest she becomes a Juliette Low.
For those who didn't catch the meaning of that last line, a Juliette Low is a girl who doesn't have a troop, an independent. In other words, she is suggesting that my daughter leave her group. She's that close to "getting rid" of her. And all this because she tried to earn some camping badges.
So yes, I've been at it again. Crusading.
Exclusion and Outcasting, though often subtle, are serious, hurtful acts. It is the single most common way girls and women bully. But I had hope. I believed in Girl Scouting. I knew their mission is caring and fairness, building community and more; and since, in the wake of an appalling number of students suicides, the school was actively promoting a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, I thought certainly, I would find support..
I wrote our Girl Scout Council a letter of complaint. This proved ineffectual. They apparently only supply training and supplies. Evidently the only recourse in a case such as this, is to leave the troop — which unfortunately means, the bully wins.
I wrote the school Principal. But even though the scouts meet at our school, is comprised of girls exclusively from our school as well as from the same grade, the Principal claimed this problem was outside the school's jurisdiction.
And so I did the only thing I could, I helped form a new troop.
It turned out there were a number of other parents considerably displeased with this Leader's attitude. One had already dropped out after strikingly similar encounters to ours. Many others expressed an interest in leaving the troop and joining a new one, but in the end they chose to stay. Despite their concerns, they were too scared, too intimidated by the power this bully wielded. Her power, I then realized, comes not only because she has no qualms at all about being so blatantly rude and will actively outcast parents/families for any number of reasons, but primarily from the amount of access she has to school and extracurricular activities. She and her husband chair a number of committees and activities. So of course, if you want your child to be favorably received at the 5th grade talent show or other such important events, one might want to curry favor with her.
But I am not one to choose the path of least resistance. I've already committed to the fight for my kids. And I could never trust, would never leave my daughter under this woman's leadership again.
But what about my daughter? As eager as ever to get along with the girls and be a successful scout, to be accepted by a group of friends, she was now caught in the middle of all this. She's already missed her first meeting with the old troop. She's handling it all very well. Still I know how hard it is for a 5th grade girl to suddenly find herself outside a group she once felt she was a part of. It can't be easy.
I have I hopes that all this hard work will be rewarded. I believe in good Karma. DeDe will have her first meeting with the new troop on Friday. I'm not certain how many girls/families will show up. I think we have a solid group of 3 other girls from the old troop, possibly 1 who was coldly rejected by the old troop and so hadn't been able to join Scouts and 2 new girls ... but who knows. Although I certainly understand how risky it can be to take a stand especially one as dramatic as this—a divorce of sorts—I am still disappointed to discover how well meaning parents cowed in fear of this woman and will take absolutely no stand at all against such motives. Do they realize that in doing so, no matter how passive and under the radar they try to position themselves, as they lay low, they are abetting exclusion? It is exactly their compliance that is essential to successful outcasting.
Remember, a bully is not necessarily a boy or a child. Not all abuses leave bruises on the skin, some hits deep within. And don't be fooled by the halo or uniform someone wears. Actions matter.
I believe the only way to thwart a bully or an outcaster is to take a stand. I know first hand how risky it can be. I know the blows you have to take, not only when you stand against something or someone, but also when you stand up for something or someone.
When I look at all this, when I ask myself, why? How is it that my children and myself could be in this position TWICE in one year, fighting for acceptance and acknowledgement from of all things, Scout leaders, I feel certain it is exactly this expectation, this belief that has brought me here. My desire and willingness to defend the marginalized has cost me.
Unfortunately, even though I feel fortunate to have found support and be able to form a new troop, I also realize that I have eloquently illustrated how little protection a family has against parents that bully.
My next post will be about the risks of taking a stand and advocating and the price I've paid for doing it.
Silver Lining: I have bonded with the women who are forming this new troop. I know this troop will be much much more suitable to my daughter and the leader a far better role model. My daughter and I can focus on the positive goals Girl Scouts hope to achieve without facing and trying to negotiate outcasting. And I have shown my daughter how I will stand up for her too and will not tolerate a bully. I stubbornly remain hopeful for a positive outcome and believe the ideals of Scouting can be achieved.