Heat and animosity, contest and conflict, may sharpen the wits, although they rarely do; they never strengthen the understanding, clear the perspicacity, guide the judgment, or improve the heart.

~ Walter Savage Landor

My daughter is bummed. A hint of disappointment has floated to the surface of her beautiful brown eyes and, for a couple of months now, she just hasn’t been herself.

It’s the Girl Scouts.

Not the organization, but her local troop. What was once a raucous weekly gathering of elementary school friends and adult parent leaders – all eager to explore new vistas of knowledge, create projects of varying complexity and color schemes, and eat cookies and giggle – folded at the beginning of the school year. In the past, the troop has always been slow at starting up, allowing time for the routine of school to establish itself before adding yet another activity to so many already crowded plates. This year, it just never got off the ground. There were no planning sessions among the parents, no flyers passed around and, despite numerous one-sided phone calls and left messages, no word from the former leader. Instead, Aryn learned that there would be no Girl Scouts this year, several weeks into the semester, via a passing comment by a friend of the leader’s daughter. These girls have been together since kindergarten, sharing birthday cakes, holiday parties, cookies sales and summer camp each and every year.

Now there is nothing. And her sail is sagging.

There is another troop in the area she could join. They don’t meet as regularly, and the faces, while somewhat familiar, are still new, in a “they’re-not-my-old-friends” sort of way. She attended one meeting, felt out of place, and rather begrudgingly admitted to hearing rumors of chatter about “the new girl”. All part of growing up, but no fun nonetheless.

So she wants to write a letter. To let the old leader know just how disappointed she is about the way this year went down. Her and mom typed it up on the computer and I got a chance to see it last night when I got home from work.

Her bummed out feelings have blossomed into full blown anger, and I fear a conflict is on the horizon.

Perhaps there are legitimate reasons to be so mad with the former leader. My wife made literally countless phone calls to the leader’s home and cell in the weeks after school started. None were ever returned. Not one. Granted, she is a busy lady. She works odd hours and has a sleep schedule I would never desire to emulate. We know this because we know her. She lives within a ten minute walk of our home. We’ve attended the same church as her and her family in the past. We see them on weekends during Upward basketball season. We occasionally share carpool duties for early-morning choir rehearsals.

She could have, at one time, been considered a friend. And probably will, for years to come, be considered at least an acquaintance. In this day and age, when neighbors barely wave hello anymore, one may need someone like this person to go to in a pinch.

But she dropped the ball on this one. If she didn’t want to continue leading the troop, something should have been said. The earlier the better, so that perhaps another parent could have decided to step up and take over as leader. Frankly, anything would have been better than nothing.

And as a parent, as a father, I am now faced with a most delicate, teachable moment. My wife is understandably upset. She has to bear the brunt of all the annoying things kids do when they are frustrated but don’t really know it. And she has a very black and white way of handling these situations; just let it all hang out, say what you feel, and let the chips fall. I love her for her spunk. She is the go-getter yin to my tentative yang.

But I am hesitant to create a conflict so quickly. For such a letter as the one they drafted last night will surely spark a flame, one that may not be easily extinguished. Conclusions will be pounced upon with no concern for facts. And bridges will be burned.

In pursuing resolution to a conflict – in seeking to reconcile that which has been estranged, in daring to admit that, from an extremely personal and one-sided vantage point, such an estrangement has occurred – there must be recognition of the hurt one feels. More “I feel this” and less “because you did that”. This is most important if you want to continue in a relationship with the other person, for saying these things demands some sort of response. Where it goes from there becomes more of a dialogue between two people working toward a resolution, seeking a mutual understanding of the situation, and less of a solitary harboring of bitterness and assumptions.

The world needs fewer dramatic soliloquies and more rational, genuine conversations.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe she needs to be torn a new asshole.

Or maybe some relationships aren’t meant to advance beyond painted smiles and theatrical greetings. Talk about the weather, but keep your pearls close instead of casting them before the swine.

My wife, in her own words about this, is the mother bear, seeking to protect her young. Her heart tells her to lash out at those who have caused damage to her children through their careless actions, or lack thereof. And a part of me is with her completely; I have a long history of bluntly making people aware of their shortcomings, as I perceive them. But there is this other, newer, and slightly uncomfortable, in a new shoes sort of way, part of me that no longer looks for a battle behind every slight. Maybe I’m a coward. Maybe I just hate all the drama.

Or maybe I just think too much . . .

(For those who may be wondering, my wife has read this post and has allowed me to publish it. It’s not meant to be a rant against She Who Must Be Obeyed . . . )

[photo credit]


27 thoughts on “Irreconcilable

  1. Hmmm…I’m wondering what’s really going on with Old Troop Leader Lady. I guess I try not to assume anything before I know the full story, so I would probably hold off on pouncing. I understand your daughter’s disappointment and your wife’s protectiveness, but you just never know what’s going on on the other side of the fence. Then, even if it turns out that Old Troop Leader Lady dropped the ball for no good reason, I would wonder what ripping her a new asshole would really achieve.

  2. Exactly, Erika. In my way of thinking, is this even something worth pursuing? There are options for a new troop, an opportunity to grow past the “I’m the new kid” feelings, and a chance to do what she wants to do as a Girl Scout.

    If the answers as to why this happened aren’t important, then let it slide and move on.

  3. As wrong as this sounds, I would rather let down my own kids, than someone else’s. I volunteer for a couple of things (mostly a before-school athletics program), and I can’t imagine facing those kids (or those parents) if I dropped the ball that badly. (I’m not familiar with Scouts, but what would it take to start up a new troop?)

  4. I can’t help but wonder what’s up with the ex- GS leader – why didn’t she let someone know she couldn’t carry on? Is it too late for someone else to take it on? Could a team of parents be the leaders, so it doesn’t rest on one person?
    Maybe a group meeting of the girls and their parents would help determine how many kids and parents want to continue this troop. Hopefully, with enough heads working together, a solution will arise.
    Don’t cut anyone. yet. The prison time is going to make everything more complicated, though it might be good for catching up on one’s reading list!

  5. Yes, she was wrong in not returning calls or communicating to parents and kids. That’s inexcusable. But I’ve been a GS leader (and a Cub Scout leader) and I know that sometimes you just can’t go on. That doesn’t excuse it.

    While I think it’s good to get our feelings down on paper, and I encourage my own kids to do so, I also feel it is a good idea to get the feelings down, put it away for a day or two and then re-visit the writing. The re-visiting should bring a new draft in which the anger is taken out (as much as possible) so that it does not become a confrontational piece. Yes, your daughter had every right to let the leader know what the lack of GS means to her but she also has a duty to state facts, not just her emotions. Instead of “because you did this…” she should go with the “Because we have no Girl Scouts this year, I feel …”.

    I hope something positive comes of this. Is there any way that some of the other girls and their parents can form their own troop, formally or informally? You can have a group of leaders that take turns, yet there are others there for back up. The meeting schedule can be played with, too. My girls met every other week and my Cubs met during the weeks that the Girl Scouts did not. It was the best I could do with 22 GS and 23 Cubs!
    Maybe your daughter’s friends can meet once a month instead of more frequently? Something is usually better than nothing.

  6. Glad I’m not in your shoes at the moment my friend!!! …. I’ve kind of been there, those mother and daughter things, how they gang up when things go a little a stray. Advice – stay under the radar, tip toe around, don’t defend the actions of the GS – or it will be 2 on 1 …

    Girl Scounts overated … join the Marine Core … meet new friends, go to foreign lands ..

  7. That a shame for your daughter, but could someone else not take up the leadership of that particular troop? I don’t know what you have to do to be a girl scout leader but surely you could just start up the new troop under different leadership? Just an idea.

  8. Although I am wont to take “sides” with and agree with the handling as described and executed by she Who Must Be Obeyed, and taking aside the two very real other concerns: 1. Will there be a new troup/can someone take over and 2. we don’t really know whats going on in the GS leaders life – my niggling sneaking worry / overarching concern is: “What will it serve?” Yes your daughter has a right to, and should be encouraged to express her disappointment in the actions of others but…and bear with me while I formulate this… in this case, only to people she is in trying to have a relationship with. For example, in your example the “I was hurt” does beg for some reconciliation on the part of the other person. But this GS leader is not someone who is “in” a relationship with your daughter that she wants to further/protect. So what is the outcome? She gets the letter, feels bad, and what – ignores your daughter thus ruining any chance of future reconciliation? What if she starts a troup again later? What if her own (the GS’s) daughter misses the troup so she begins it again? What if SWMBO decides to lead the troup herself and wants information from the GS leader. This letter will only burn the bridge irretrievably. As someone (sorry I should reread who) said above, perhaps the letter should be gently put aside for 3 days (ie Even Jesus waited 3 days before HE reacted..hahaha) and a new letter in the spirit of empathy can be constructed. Something along the lines of “I was so disappointed when I learned that we weren’t continuing. I thank you for all your years of service and I hope you will welcome a call from me because I’d love to host a reunion of the girls monthly and I’d like your support and presence…” The GS knows what she did. Having her ass handed to her isn’t likely necessary.

    Ohhh let me just go ON with my unsolicited advice.

    very well written btw, thank you again.

  9. I was not allowed into the Girl Scouts. Literally.

    They were “full.” Twice. I know this is because Michele, the daughter of the troop leader, didn’t like me. Parents are stupid. Just because I was friends with Brian Donahue and Michele had a crush on him (and he told her could only be friends with one girl at a time), doesn’t mean she had to kick him in the shins and give me an inferiority complex.

    Ahh, third grade.

    Don’t think I was ever more pissed off in my life, especially for an eight or nine-year old.

    Frak the Girl Scouts.

  10. I hate to spend time telling people how they have hurt me and done me wrong when they have just repeatedly shown they are not really interested (for whatever reason) in my feelings.

    Numerous calls to home and cell unanswered?

    As the dating book written by a man but it applies to women as well, “He’s Just Not Into You.”

    My guess: she throws the letter away unread.

  11. I think its sad that nobody (troop leader) bothered to tell anybody (the rest of the troop) in time for somebody else (another devoted parent) to take the lead and get things going.

    I feel for your baby girlie. Scouts were my daughter’s life all the way through middle school.

  12. I don’t like scouts, for all of these reasons. Sorry to say, I like to pay for the kiddos organization and then I never have this problem. But I am not a joiner or people liker. Have you considered a nice sport?

  13. Brian,

    I agree with most people that giving the former leader a load of your mind is patently a bad idea. The act of telling the person off is basically an act of vengeance. You hurt me, so now I want to hurt you.

    There isn’t really an upside.

    If this was my daughter, I would try to talk with her and help give voice to her true feelings, the feelings of sadness and loss. And I would encourage her to then write these feelings down.

    I would also try to get her to reflect on how much that person did for her in her past. After all, the sense of loss does come from having something in the first place. It sounds like your daughter loved being in the troop with her friends. And you do have to give some credit to the leader who was there over the years for the troop.

    I might even encourage her to bake the leader cookies, or make card to say thank you. To write a letter to say she is disappointed. That she misses her time with the leader and your daughter’s friends. A letter that says she is disappointed with the situation, but that she isn’t angry with the leader. A letter that says that while doesn’t understand what happened, that she hopes the leader is well and that she values the years she spent in her troop. That she misses her and that she continues to care and respect her.

    Whereas a letter, written in anger, dripping of vengeance does no good. Showing compassion in the face of what has happened may make all the difference in the woman’s life.

    My hope would be that my daughter learn to see disappointment for what it is, and not use that disappointment as a vehicle to hurt others. Lets face it, we have all been disappointed in our lives, it is a condition of living amongst people. A good person, in the face of disappointment, will show compassion.

    I hope your daughter feels better soon.


  14. An interesting problem. An opportunity for growth (yours; perhaps also wife’s and daughter’s). And mine, as it turns out (you seem to be doing that to me.)

    My response in the early part of your post was along the lines of, “Why didn’t someone else just pick up the reins? She was a volunteer afterall- she was under no obligation to continue with her leadership.”

    Of course, I read on. I wanted to see where this would go. I love the insights: your daughter’s pain, your wife’s protectiveness, your mixed reactions and awareness of a repertoire of possible responses, the implications for community and relationships.

    I also love that you and your wife have been able to put this out on the ‘net jointly, as it were. Speaks to a healthy relationship.

    ’bout the leader/neighbour/friend/acquaintance? Has she had a tragedy in her life? Is there the possibility that she might be dealing with a bigger loss than is immediately obvious? The fact that she has disappeared from the common realm so thoroughly suggests that something might have happened.

    I’m not condoning her actions, nor trying to excuse them; I’m looking for explanations and opportunities for learning and growth and compassion. I am sorta obsessive about doing this in my own life, with my own kids- I’m just spreading my circle of influence a little more broadly this time.


  15. Thank you all for your extremely thoughtful comments. I just love my Tweakers!

    After much discussion of options and proper responses, Aryn has decided that Girl Scouts is important to her and that she wants to continue. (She’s not an organized sports kind of kid, and way too young for the Marines ;-)) So, to ease the transition into the new troop, she plans on calling on some of the girls from the old troop and seeing if they’d be willing to visit the new troop as well. One friend in particular has already considered this, according to Aryn, so the solution may have been there the whole time.

    If anything, Aryn is learning an important lesson about how things can grow out of proportion when allowed to fester for so long. Heartache of this magnitude should be dealt with in as close a proximity to the actual events as possible.

    Regarding this leader . . . since she lives so close, we have so many other acquaintances in common, and do see each other fairly regularly, it’s unlikely that anything monumental happened to force her to distance herself from the troop. More than likely, she just got burned out and chose not to handle the situation in a way that would benefit others. During her tenure, there were always more than enough other moms to help out. Since the leader’s schedule is so erratic, there were many times when the other moms, including my wife, picked up the slack and led meetings or organized events. Had she, at some point say in August, called a meeting of the moms and told them that she couldn’t continue as leader, then someone would have surely stepped up. As it is now, there is no one that has taken the training required by the GS, and by the time that could be accomplished and start-up meetings organized, the school year would be nearly over.

    In her defense, her husband also served as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader with their two older boys, they help coach at the local Upward basketball program, and are involved in many other “extras” that keep them hopping. They are wonderful people once you get through the busy exterior and get them to open up a bit. But those are rare times, as they are so very busy busy busy.

    There was a day when all that seemed like the right thing to do, to run myself to death so that the kids could be involved in every little thing I felt they should be involved in, but that is no longer the case. I value the quiet time. The family trips to the library. The things we do to help our children grow that don’t involve shelling out dough or loads of time away from being with them as individuals. How they choose to live their lives is up to them. It’s just a shame that when it came time to scale back, they didn’t come clean with their frustrations and allow someone else to step up. No one can recognize the signs that burnout is approaching if you aren’t honest about your commitments and the help you require.

    Now I’m rambling . . .

    Funny how a lot of what I’ve been writing lately (This Is Our Need, I Don’t Know) seem to have been leading toward a resolution of this situation unawares.

  16. Well, anything I would write at this point about this post has already been stated. I think YOUR last comment, Brian, about the solution and about cutting the “extras” in our families lives could be a post all on its own.

  17. Since I live in an empty nest, I can only offer my hindsight as perceived wisdom….

    All three of my kids were in various scouting troops. I was the leader 80% of the time. The Cub/Boy Scout organizations were awesome. The Brownie/Girl Scouts sucked. At one point, my daughter begged me to join the Cub Scouts!

    Now, I have a theory, which might get me banned by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed: dealing with a gaggle of females can really stink. They stood around gossiping, wasting time on frivolous stuff. All the Moms wanted to tell me what to do, but didn’t want to offer actual time. They planned elaborate crap that had small value to actual fun or learning. They dropped their girls off at the door. Each craft activity was a competition to see who could outdo the other Moms.

    The guys in the Boy Scouts showed up just in time for the meetings and STAYED with their sons. They played games and brought Kool-Aid with store-bought cookies. They had a sense of jovial competition. They didn’t gossip about one another. The activities were task oriented and produced a final result that didn’t take weeks and money to finish. They raced cars made of wood.

    I was a Cub/Boy Scout leader for 8 years, a public school teacher for 10 and a Brownie/Girl scout leader for 2. I know this sounds terribly sexist, but it was honestly my experience. I did four sleepovers at Boy Scout camp and never felt half as threatened as the one night I spent at Girl Scout camp. There were girls, supposedly being supervised by their parents, running around the camp pulling out tent stakes and pouring water through tent flaps (reminds me of that horrible internet suicide case this past year).

    Maybe this chick had just had enough.

    P.S. Thanks for dredging that memory…. might use it as a post sometime 🙂

  18. Hey Tasses, SWMBO here.

    Your entitled to your experiences and opinions! No banning here. I do think one of the positives of my daughters girl scout troop is that we moms and the girls all got along. It was a very small troop – only 8 girls at it’s largest, and 6 last year as two of the girls moved to different schools and joined different troops. Compared to my younger daughter’s troop of 16 girls – the smaller troop was MUCH easier to deal with! But I’ve also had nothing but good experiences with our younger daughters troop as well. There is a trio of great leadership and a nice group of mothers willing and able to help out whenever needed.

    We also had/have boy and cub scouts. Quite honestly the experiences you had with the girl scouts, I had with the boy scouts. I was hounded all the time for “more money” to do “more activities” and was treated like I was depriving my eldest of something when we just couldn’t afford to send him to Jamboree’s and on camping trips or whatever. We have 4 kiddos – with all of them in activities, a single income, and a hubby that works evenings – well I simply can’t do it all. Plus we had folks in leadership in our area boy scout troop that seemed to just eat, breathe and live scouts. Their entire lives seemed to revolve around scouts. And scouts for us was just an extra – not a required – and some just didn’t understand when our eldest decided to step out of scouts and not continue. It was HIS decision. Scouts just wasn’t “fun” for him anymore. The strange thing is is that it seems that the vast majority of the leadership at least at the boy scout level in that troop is women. I don’t know how many times I dropped my eldest child off at a boy scout meeting and got nasty looks when I asked around if someone could bring him home. It was like I was a bad parent because I chose to care for my three younger children and not spend our meager income on a babysitter so I could stay with a 13 year old for a few hours.

    At least with our younger daughter’s current and our older daughter’s former girl scout troop, I wasn’t made to feel guilty if I said no to an activity, by anyone except maybe my own child! 😉 That I can deal with.

    Speaking of racing wooden cars! Our youngest ds has his 4th pinewood derby coming up in a few weeks! Got to get that car cut out soon!

  19. 🙂 Glad to hear you had better experiences with the girls.

    Honestly, the Girl Scout thing just wasn’t as big as the Boy Scout one in my small Indiana hometown so I think that also contributed. The boys had so many people willing to chip in and it ended up being less stress. The girls had a few overzealous Moms that were the talk of the town anyway… LOL. I think my Girl Scout troop might have been hijacked by the “snooty-toots” as my mother always called them.

    Plus, my kids were country kids. They liked the camping and the outdoor stuff. My daughter, though very beautiful & feminine, is a true tomboy, currently in Veterinarian Medical School so she had some difficulty with the cooking, cleaning, fashion type stuff her troop seemed to be into. Their idea of a trip was to go to Neiman-Marcus in Chicago! She was MUCH happier once we sent her to 4-H. (Do they still have that?)

    I hope your girl finds a new troop or some leaders willing to put in the effort (and, man… it’s a effort) for her old troop. One of the hardest things as a parent is seeing your child suffer for any reason.

  20. That happened to us, the leader just up and quit. The troop was set to disband and my daughter was so unhappy I stepped up to lead them.

    It lasted another two years and was one of the toughest “jobs” I’ve ever had.

    I do know this about scouting. You stick with it long enough and it will get you into some mighty fine colleges.

  21. The troop leader was definitely wrong to just up and quit without any warning. But isn’t there a local council that oversees such issues? (Pardon me if this is redundant…didn’t read all the comments word for word.) On the other hand, as someone who has volunteered A LOT, I’m always amazed at the people who treat you like their indentured servant.

    Either way, it sucks for your daughter. In solidarity, I pledge to buy no cookies this year.

  22. NOOOOO!! Buy the cookies! We still have one that is in a mighty fine troop and she STILL needs you to buy the cookies!!!!

    Now in the words of my little Brownie Scout, “How many boxes do you want to buy?

  23. Being one of those who, in the past, may have been a disappointment to some because I simply couldn’t continue with the amount of work I had bitten off, I can tell you that I hope I handled it much better than your former troop leader did. Who knows what led to her dropping out of sight. There could be something serious going on that she doesn’t want to share. How would Aryn feel if she found out the former troop leader was clinically depressed? had found a lump? had hit a wall of intractable stress? I’m not defending her “if I don’t answer, they’ll go away” actions, but I have known enough people with problems that it makes me wonder.

    If your wife or one of the other mothers wants to step up and be troop leader, I’d say that would be more worth the energy than attacking the one who dropped out.

    All that being said, I can imagine how frustrated Aryn is right now. I feel for her. It ain’t easy being a little girl…

    Peace – D

  24. WAIT A MINUTE!!!! Doesn’t Aryn have a blog? What else is a blog for, than to write this kind of stuff? Maybe she could get it out there, rather than having to send it?

  25. I’m glad I didn’t get to this post until everything was worked out to a more positive attitude because I was livid as I was reading your original words! I’m sorry, but as adults when we commit to something like that, we need to stick by it. I’m not saying this woman should have continued with something that might have been that she no longer enjoyed or could handle in her life, just that she should have spoken up and let everyone know in advance. Hiding from everyone was extremely childish. I, like SwMBO would have gone straight into momma bear mode. It’s so hard to see our children let down and disappointed.

    Upward rocks! (so far) I didn’t know about this program until this year! My little girl is a cheerleader for it. We signed up, and I was afraid at first that we were going to have a situation of disappointment because it seemed like the churches doing it were having a hard time getting organized and started. But they finally got it all together and her first game is today! She’s a cheerleader, and she’s so excited. As a first grader, she’s too young to cheer at school, and this program seems to be so positive. I’m really glad we found it.

  26. i think that you should have gone to her and spoke kindly
    and asked if she was ok and thanked her for all the work she already had done.

    brother! what a fuss.

  27. The point is Nancy, is that it is painfully obvious that all is fine. From what I’ve been told by her daughter and her husband (still not her) is that she and her co-leader they couldn’t find a day of the week that worked for both of them so THEY just decided to drop it.

    I spoke to the leader in question this weekend at our first Upward basketball game. I mentioned that my younger daughter’s troop was collecting pop can tabs for the Ronald McDonald house locally, and she told me that she had an entire bag that she was planning on using for her troop that we could have since they weren’t going to need them anymore. So I asked, “what was that all about? Aryn is kinda bummed out about not having scouts.” And all she said is that it just didn’t work out this year. No sorry, no explanation, NOTHING! From what I’ve heard from our scout coordinator at our school is that she didn’t even bother notifying the district office. All it would have taken was a phone call. PLUS we still have a scout bank account and each girl has funds in that account. What’s happening with that? I know there is money in there because we were planning an over night at the local zoo and had enough money in the account to do it.

    I guess I’m of the mind that if I’ve made a commitment that not only involves my children but other people’s children and then can’t do it any more for whatever reason – I would like to think that I would take a bit of time to make the appropriate phone calls and let those that needed to know know what was going on. It, to me anyway, is common courtesy.

    Anyway – I’m still mulling things over.
    Aryn seems to be moving on. She is willing to try the new troop again especially if one of her former troop members can come with her, and we are working on that.

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