What being a Girl Scout leader has taught me

During a photo scavenger hunt at Camp Texlake in October, the girls of Troop 1124 had to pile onto a bench and jump in the air with the lake in the background.
During a photo scavenger hunt at Camp Texlake in October 2012, the girls of Troop 1124 had to pile onto a bench and jump in the air with the lake in the background.

I wrote this column four years ago about being a Girl Scout leader and what it has taught me. It still rings true:

Beginning Saturday, you’ll start seeing Girl Scouts at many of the stores you frequent.¬†Cookie sales officially started today.

This might cause several reactions: glee, irritation, or the need to flee. It all depends on how much you love/hate those cookies.

Regardless, cookie season is the time of year Girl Scouts becomes the most visible. For the past four school years, I’ve been leading a troop of girls who have turned into some of my daughter’s best friends. I think I’ve learned as much from them as I have taught them.

Nicole Villalpando leads Troop 1124, a group of eighth- and seventh-grade Girl Scouts.
Nicole Villalpando leads Troop 1124, a group of eighth- and seventh-grade Girl Scouts.

Here are 10 things they’ve taught me.

1. It’s not about the cookies. There’s much more behind when a girl asks you to buy a box of cookies. She learns how to set goals, speak in public, practice good manners and use math skills. She also has to have the grit to make it through the almost six weeks of cookie season.

2. There’s a mother bear in all of us. I’ve seen seemingly mild-mannered moms go bananas when it came to their daughters. Each of us has family rules that we’re sticking to even though it might seem illogical to another mother. We have to respect our parenting differences.

3. Girls are amazing. They are funny, smart, compassionate, empathetic and sometimes a little wild. They have a lot to teach adults about enjoying life and caring for the world. My troop makes me proud almost every time we gather because they come up with amazing ideas. I see glimpses of who they will become, and I have no fear of our future.

4. Sometimes when members of the same sex get together, instead of supporting one another, they cut each other down. That’s true for girls and women. There’s not a meeting that goes by that we don’t talk about how to be “a sister to every Girl Scout.”

5. Girls are growing up quickly, both physically and emotionally. Things that I never knew at age 9, my daughter knows a lot about. This year, especially, I’ve been reminded that I can’t keep her or her friends babies forever. My first-aid kit for my troop of third- and fourth-grade girls now has feminine hygiene products just in case someone starts her period. Many of the girls are now wearing deodorant, and some have sports bras.

6. You can learn a lot about your troop and your daughter at a meeting, but you learn even more chaperoning a trip. They think the driver is invisible (until they have to go to the bathroom or are hungry). I learn what music is cool, what music is lame, what boys in their classes are “hot, ” who the mean girls are, how they relate to other girls and what their friends think of them. My daughter probably wouldn’t tell me most of these things, but I get to hear her talk about it to her friends.

7. As parents, we don’t really know our kids. They are completely different people when we are not around. I’ve seen girls who supposedly would not get their feet wet or ride roller coasters, hop onto a water ride at an amusement park when Mom wasn’t around. I’ve seen girls who are obedient for their parents go wild away from home, and I’ve seen the opposite happen.

8. Every girl has issues. Some of my scouts have anxiety. Some are dyslexic. Some have short fuses. I just act as if I don’t know any of that and they often will rise to the occasion, but if they need help, I give it to them. I don’t judge them; I just take them where they are and try to move them forward.

9. Mothers and daughters fight. Everyone in my troop knows that my daughter is going to act impossible for me but delightful for another mother. At one point, we had a rule that no mom could chaperone her own daughter. We took a troop to Houston, and my daughter was not allowed in my car or in my hotel room. She needed her own experience. The beauty of Girl Scouts is having time with your daughter building memories, but it’s also time for her to develop other female role models.

10. Building confident children means letting go. It means allowing children to be away from home without us either at camp or on a Girl Scout trip. That child who would never get dressed by herself or take a shower by herself at home will do it away from home when she doesn’t have her parents to do it for her. Never underestimate what your child is capable of (both good and bad). As much as we think we know our children, they will surprise us – especially the “quiet” ones.

I know that as my troop ages, the girls probably won’t always think I’m cool or fun (heck, they may not think that now.) I’d like to think they will remember this time together as pretty cool, pretty fun and that they learned lot about the world and about what they can do.

Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at austin360.com/raisingaustin. She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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