First grade was hard for my son. A classroom bully identified him as a target, and we spent several months working through the fallout of the verbal, and ultimately physical, attacks. Out of school, we had baseball, but an errant ball walloped him in the face, knocking out a tooth and leaving him cold on the sport. And while he continued on through second grade with excellent grades and showing a great aptitude for karate, there was something missing.
By the summer of that year, I had stumbled upon the idea of Cub Scouts. It wasn’t something that had been on my radar, but some of his friends were Scouts and the pictures and stories their parents shared on social media led us to explore in greater depth. Admittedly, neither my husband nor I grew up in particularly outdoorsy environments, and I really liked the concept of getting back to nature with camping and hiking and fishing. When I presented Scouts to my son and husband, we talked about the opportunities for trying new things he might otherwise not learn from us, as well as connecting with a different community where he could make friends with like-minded kids. Finally, we thought it would lead to some great family bonding, mostly between father and son, but ultimately for us all.
He started Scouts as a Bear and fell immediately in love. He met some incredible friends who welcomed him to their group, even though he was new. Right off the bat, he showed enthusiasm and growth of confidence we hadn’t seen in quite a while. I was thrilled, but kept my distance. As a mostly stay-at-home mom who handled most of the extracurriculars, I wanted him and his dad to have Scouts together. Sure, I stepped up when Dad was traveling or working late, but I wasn’t a regular part of the weekly meetings or events.
I’ll never forget his first camping trip: I was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, but I did make it a point to visit the Spook-o-Ree campsite for a few hours on the Saturday to watch him participate in some of the activities. I remember walking up to the site to find the adults sitting near the campfire, while the kids… well, the kids were out on adventures. They were running and playing, making up games and laughing. No electronics, minimal drama… it was just good, honest fun. For the most part, the kids took the lead, and I was so impressed with the independence and seeing what they could accomplish with just a little guidance.
The rest of that Bear year was spent doing all the activities: campouts, service projects, fundraising and events. At his promotion to Webelos, we got the news that his den leader would not be returning, and I got worried. While my husband enjoyed his experience, he wasn’t particularly interested in taking on a leadership position (although he was happy to help in any kind of supporting role), and it seemed that was the general consensus from some of the other parents. I wasn’t about to let my son lose out on something he loved, so I moved out of my comfort zone and stepped up.
Last year, I had the honor of leading a den of nine Scouts through their Webelos Adventures. We learned together, working as a team. We were serious about our lessons and did our very best, but had lots of laughs along the way, too. As a den, we hiked and volunteered, learned how to whittle and cook on a fire. We overcame obstacles, conquered fears and supported each other.
Scouts has done things for our family I never thought possible. It taught all of us to go beyond our limits, trying new things and aspiring to new goals. As a result of our involvement in Scouts, we have forged strong relationships with wonderful families, who we might have otherwise not met. My son has learned incredible lessons about character, self-sufficiency, independence, commitment and responsibility — Scouts has really nailed those points home for him, and he is excited to finish out Arrow of Light and cross over to Boy Scouts. For me, I went from a person who thought that “roughing it” meant spending the night in a three-star hotel. I am now fully able to pitch a tent and set up a campsite on my own, and enjoy spending a few days communing with nature.
It’s been an incredible journey.
The lessons we have learned together will follow us for a lifetime. I am grateful we took a chance two years ago, and my only regret is that we didn’t start sooner.
About the Author
Jenn Leonard lives in St. Augustine with her husband, son and grumble of pugs. She is the creator of RunsWithPugs.com and is a St. Augustine Moms Blog contributor. She is the Assistant Cubmaster and Arrow of Light Den Leader for Pack 329, Osceola District, and the Vice President of her local PTA. When she is not volunteering, Jenn spends her time running, searching for the perfect donut and traveling with her family.