When I was in the second grade, I dragged my mom to an after-school meeting at my elementary school, McDonogh 15, in the French Quarter. My mom and I share a similar disinclination to leave our homes once we have gotten off work and changed into sweatpants, and to top it off, parking always, always sucks in the French Quarter. But she went because she knew it was important to me – it was the prerequisite meeting for becoming a Brownie Scout, and I had been begging to be a Brownie for weeks.
We sat patiently with a bunch of other girls and their moms as the Scout leader explained how you earned badges and went on campouts and made bird feeders out of pine cones and sold cookies and helped the elderly and so on.
“So what do you think?” my mom asked as we walked back to our car. “Do you want to do it?”
“Oh, yes!” I said.
But my mom knew me a little too well.
“So what are you most excited about?” she asked. “The cookies?”
“No. I don’t really want to have to talk to strangers and make them buy things.”
“Oh. So is it the crafts?”
“No. You know I can’t do crafts.”
(My mom did know. She watched me have meltdown after frustrated meltdown every month after I tried, and consistently failed, to re-create the projects I saw in Highlights for Children. And even now, I still have an occasional Pinterest-fueled burst of crafty inspiration that results in a project that Ruby could have done 10 times better.)
“Oh,” my mom continued. “So is it the campouts?”
“Camping?” I said. “Like in a tent? Outside? No.”
“I know it’s not sleep-away camp that appeals to you,” she said.
“No. I can’t even sleep at Kate O’Connell’s house for one night.”
“Sweetie,” my mom said, “if you want to be a Girl Scout, I want you to be 100 percent. But I really don’t think it sounds like something you’d like. What exactly is it that you like about the Girl Scouts?”
“The uniforms,” I whispered.
“The uniforms. I like the uniforms. I want to wear a uniform.”
My mom said that wasn’t a good enough reason to join the Girl Scouts. She said we could just buy a Girl Scout uniform at Thrift City and I could wear it whenever I wanted and not have to sell cookies to strangers or sleep outdoors. I said that sounded great to me.
I have always been weirdly fascinated by uniforms. I went to public school my entire life, in an age when that meant no uniforms, and I was bitterly jealous of my friends at Sacred Heart and Mount Carmel and Dominican and Cabrini. I ached to wear plaid skirts and monogrammed blouses and saddle shoes.
When I got my first job, answering phones at the Contemporary Arts Center where my mom worked, that was the only thing I asked during the job interview: “Do I get to wear a uniform?”
“No, you don’t have to wear a uniform,” my boss said.
During the pop art exhibit, I bought a Keith Haring shirt from the gift shop and pretended it was my uniform.
When Ruby was little, I almost sent her to a day care center whose educational philosophy couldn’t possibly have been further away from my own and whose headmistress inspired both panic and deep resentment in just the 20 minutes I spent talking to her – but damn, they had the cutest uniforms! In toddler sizes!
Now, as a kindergartener, Ruby is joining the Girl Scouts as an adorable little Daisy.
As in all things, she is my exact opposite. She is super-excited about selling cookies to strangers. “I ask strangers if they’re nice,” she assures me. “And if they say yes, then I can talk to them.” She likes camping and would love nothing better than a week away from home with other kids doing outdoorsy stuff. In fact, the only thing she doesn’t like is the uniform.
“Blue is a stupid color,” she said of her Daisy tunic. “They should have made it pink. Or purple. Or red. Ooh, or rainbow!”
I’m happy for her, but I’m also a little worried. I’m afraid I’m going to get roped into Scouting activities myself, and they hold even less appeal to me now than they did 25 years ago.
I will happily eat Girl Scout cookies, but that’s about where my interest ends. I am definitely, definitely not camping.
And the worst part is, even if I somehow find myself making a lanyard while eating Thin Mints and singing campfire songs in the great outdoors (which, despite my protests, I am entirely sure I will), I still don’t think I get to wear the uniform.