You Know What I Miss? Scouting

You Know What I Miss? Scouting

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.

When I was in ninth grade, my mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on top)  but said, “But I’ll take this back if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”

It worked.

But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.

I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)

And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.

Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.

In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.

It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.

Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?

Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.

The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)

And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.

What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?

I reflected on how scouting made me better at being adventurous when I camped twice with my kids, this summer. They were skeptical, at best, and I anticipated a high amount of whining and me kicking myself for the effort.

But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.

We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.

Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.

But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”

This is for sale on ebay. It will not be warm or lightweight. So.

I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.

I don’t know how on earth my parents’ generation of wannabe John Denver campers found it remotely fun to schlep such awful equipment anywhere, let alone on their backs.

(This blog is adorably nostalgic, but none of the people in these pictures could possibly be happy schlepping the ungainly equipment.

Anyway.

At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).

At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”

Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)

I mean – no forest fire are going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was prepared to quickly stamp it out.

This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.

I didn’t bring Swiss army knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we will carve wood next summer.)

But this wasn’t glamping, either. I mean – my phone didn’t work for Christ’s sake.

But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!

(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)

But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.

Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .

On that note, the Mormon Church, which once made up 20% of the boys in scouting, will officially separate from the BSA at the end of this year. I wonder why?

So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.

I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).

When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.

There are several NYC-based Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a ten-minute walk of our apartment.)

Wouldn’t it be awesome to start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground zero for the gay rights movement?

I love the irony.

And hopefully so would the BSA.

But this is not a manifesto for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.

Can someone else do this for me, please?

Potty Training Kids to Poop Healthily

Potty Training Kids to Poop Healthily

During a recent conversation with parents about potty training kids to poop healthily, a friend of mine stated unequivocally, “Pooping in the ocean is the best.”

Meaning: when they are at the beach, they have no problem just letting a turd slide out and float away.

I thought, “Really? It’s that easy? And don’t you think that, even in the ocean, that’s pretty disgusting and a turd could float next to a child who’s playing in the surf and they could ingest that shit?”

Then again, I get the curiosity…. you’re on a hike on the NaPali Coast of Kauai and there is literally not a soul around you and you’re on a gorgeous beach all to yourself and you might or might not be clothed and you’re like, “Hm. I wonder what it would be like if…”

Not that I would know.

This all makes me think that we, as a society, are far too preoccupied with our bathroom habits. I mean – don’t get me wrong, I don’t want someone else’s poop floating past me. Ever.

But as a parent, I’ve had a lot of poop on my hands; and I survived.

A couple of years ago, I had my kids in France visiting family. We were at a playground and I had with me my own two kids and my niece.

Seconds after our arrival (and certainly after I’d said “before we got to the playground, anyone need to poo?), my older kid approaches saying, “Daddy? I need to go.”

Me: well, go behind the bush.

Kid 1: No…I need to poo.

So I grabbed my kiddo’s hand and we jogged over to public toilets that strike fear into the hearts of Americans – just two foot prints in the middle of a porcelain square with a hole in the middle.  The French call them “Turkish toilets”, which I’m pretty sure is tremendously derogatory and not one that immigrated with the “technology” of a squat-and-hole. Oh, well.)

Anyway, yeah: a squat-over-the-hole-and-go.

Luckily, my kid wasn’t remotely fazed. When you gotta go…

So I hiked up her dress and watched as she squatted all the way down (surprisingly easily), one hand holding the dress, one hand paranoiacally on a questionably-dirty porcelain wall. She relaxed and went.

Phew. Crisis averted.

Then I looked around for toilet paper.

None to be round. Zero. Nope. No toilet paper.

Only after this visit to the squat-over-a-hole-and-go did I learn these Turkish toilets are meant to be a clean drop. Even in diarrheal emergencies, it’s how our bodies were designed, you don’t really need to wipe, and it’s how we should be pooping all the time, anyway. The toilet (most likely an invention by European royalty to separate us from the “savages” have resulted in generations of IBS, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids. We really just need to squat in the woods and go, like our ancestors.)

No toilet paper necessary.

But I digress.

So I’m looking around for toilet paper and see nothing. In desperation, I searched in a trash can to see if there’s something, ANYTHING I can use.

Nothing.

My kid’s yelling at me from the toilet, still hovering.

I’m in a flop sweat frantically searching for anything for wiping.

“Oh, well, I thought. Don’t some societies wipe with their hands and consequently don’t eat with that hand?”

So…

I walk into the toilet and reach over to wipe my kid’s bare ass.

It was completely clean (see aforementioned discussion of clean drops.)

A second sweep for good measure (still nothing), at which point slow-motion set in:

I felt a movement in the breast pocket of my button-down shirt as I slowly felt my Ray-Bans fall…

…out of my shirt…

…and straight toward the 4-inch Turkish hole of French poop.

One hand was wiping, the, the other hand steadying myself against the wall, and I’m literally bent over my child who’s squatting under me. The probability of a disaster where I fall on top of her and we both end up sitting in a (remarkably clean) 3’x3’ porcelain basin that catches poop AND pee, was high.

I couldn’t catch my glasses.

They fell out, circled the hole like those quarters–in-a-spiral-thingy at museums, and plopped.

Basically: my glasses into the toilet hole.

Into my kid’s poop.

But reachable.

And you bet your sweet ass I got my kid safely out of the way and re-robed, and then I figured, “I already have one hand dirty,” and reached into the hold and got my glasses.

They were shitty, for sure, but just a little bit. I washed them at the sink, nearby (that didn’t have paper towels. Because of course it didn’t) and, well…put them back in my pocket.

Fear not – I wasn’t going to wear them, and the shirt needed cleaning, anyway.

Sigh.

That was a lot.

I happened to be at the playground with a friend (a French dad) and I asked him about the toilet paper situation, and he said, “Well, Gavin, that’s why French parents carry this.”

He pulled out Kleenex from his denim jacket.

Mind you, it was summer, hot as balls, and this guy wore a jacket to the playground. Because that’s how you do it in France. Shorts aren’t fashionable – it’s just the Germans who would wear shorts in public (along with their Birkenstocks and socks.) And you bring a jacket. Just in case. Or at least a scarf.

Some guy demonstrating the French fashion of using a scarf to regulate body temp and eating a chocolate croissant, because of course.
Just a scarf and a choc croissant. Squatting. But in a different way, of course.

(And mind you – I love French scarf culture. We need to adopt that, America. Do you realize how effective it is just to wear a scarf in the fall and spring? No jacket necessary.)

Anyway.

Kleenex. Carry Kleenex. For toilet paper.

Noted. I should’ve just brought my ECKnox. (Wink wink.)

Seconds later, my younger kid told me he needed to poop.

I exchange a look with French dad friend, he hands me his Kleenex, and away we go.

Second kid also needs to poop badly. And he’s never done a Turkish toilet, either. We run up, he squats, balances, all’s fine, no biggie. Funny how, in the moment, apparently potty training kids to poop healthily won’t stop them from squatting, like this. When you gotta go…

And thank goodness I won’t have to sully my hands, again. Phew.

He poops super fast (partly out of necessity, partly because this is the WAY WE SHOULD BE POOPING, PEOPLE – IN THE SQUAT!) and I’m ready with an (unnecessary) tissue.

I find my balance, bending over his squatting body, reach behind, it’s a clean drop (nothing on the Kleenex) and…

Yes. You guessed it.

My glasses fell out.

Again.

Because I’m an idiot and forgot I’d replaced them.

Same scenario: same unnecessary wipe, same retrieval of my Ray-Bans from poop.

Because obvi.

I wash off poop, return them to my pocket, and off we go.

By this point, less squeamishness. I’m a veteran.

Also, though? – gag.

But that night I sanitized the shit out of my glasses (pun intended), and tossed the shirt in the laundry.

And it was all fine, and no one had rashes from insufficient wiping and no one got pin worms from sunglasses.

But let’s face it: parenting seriously lowers the bar for excremental evacuation, don’t it?

And that’s a good thing.

In the process of potty training kids to poop healthily, we all need to give less of a shit and move on with our lives.