Friday, July 20, 2012

Scouts Honor: Where Motherhood Reconciles Indignation

A million years ago, I lived in a small studio apartment in Oceanside, California.  There were about two dozen small apartments in the complex, which was laid out courtyard style.  Imagine Melrose Place, then subtract some teeth and add cockroaches.  Because of the layout of the building and the paper thin walls, I was privy to a lot more of my neighbors’ activity than I’d have preferred.  But I could see a slice of ocean from my kitchen window, and the rent was, like, in the double digits, and I was scrape-the-sticky-change-from-the-ashtray-for-gas-money broke.  On the south side of my apartment lived the complex manager, a woman whose name I don’t recall, who had two young daughters whose names I do recall: Livia and Lexi.  To my north was another studio occupied by a woman named Michelle, who had a low, sultry voice, lightly tinted with the remnant of what had once been a deep southern accent.  She possessed by far the longest legs and most perfectly toned buttocks of anyone I’ve ever known, before or since.  

Both the apartment manager and Michelle regularly brought men home to their apartments in the evening.  Like I said, I wished I knew less about them than I did.  I also wished that the dude across from me hadn’t mounted an antenna on the roof so I wouldn’t have had to hear all his nerd-o CB chatter coming through my radio and phone.  I spent a lot of time at school and work and the beach, but when I was home, I read and listened to music and tried not to listen to the neighbors.  I especially tried not to listen to the apartment manager screaming at her daughters, calling them little sluts and worthless pieces of shit.  I tried not to listen, but then I’d find myself turning my stereo off and listening for the sound of something breaking or the sound of the girls crying.  There was never anything but the mother screaming.  I knew if I’d reported her, the girls would have been mute with terror and loyalty.  I watched closely for signs of physical abuse, but there were never any.  I thought surely this hideous bitch was bound to do something that would leave more evidence than her word against mine.  Something I could point to and say “Look there!  She hurts these children!”  She never left a mark.  She would scream at them and leave the house, then return home two or three hours later, usually with a young Marine.  

Sometimes I had the girls over to bake cookies and listen to records when their mom wasn’t home. The little one loved David Bowie.  Sometimes Michelle hung out with them, too, and let them put on her expensive make-up and high heels.  When she wasn’t working, that is.  We were both busy, but Michelle and I had a shared sense of obligation to bring a little nurturing into those girls’ lives.

Michelle brought home a lot of young Marines, too.  And some older ones.  And some business types, and some cowboys, and some concrete truck drivers.  The types of men she brought home varied greatly.  She was quiet and dignified, always said hello to me on her way past me on the stairs while the men following her turned their heads from me, always refusing to meet my eye.  It didn’t take long to decode that she was a prostitute.

One morning I was on my small balcony sipping coffee and watching my little slice of the ocean.  Michelle came out onto her balcony, long blonde hair falling over her shoulders, sipping her own coffee while a sheer, pale blue robe danced lightly around her long, perfect legs.  My hand to God, Tina Turner had nothing on this woman.  We talked for a minute, then she gave me a smile and a small wave before turning back to her door.  The breeze caught her robe just long enough to reveal to me the most prominent penis I’ve ever seen on a chick.  

Why am I telling you this?  It came to mind the other day when I was talking to my son, a scout of five years, about the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to maintain their longstanding policy against gays or lesbians serving as leaders of that organization.  By some bizarre twist in my associative brain, I was reminded of Michelle and this woman whose name I don’t remember.  I can answer immediately which of them I’d prefer to serve as den mother of my kid’s Cub Scout Troop.  I can tell you that I’d trust the one who is regarded by the leaders of that organization as an abomination, the perverse transgender prostitute, to teach and guide my son in matters of community service and how to load a crossbow over that wretched skank who violated her daughters’ dignity and safety and left them alone night after night so she could go pick up strangers to bring back to their home so we could all listen to her have sex through the thin walls.  

It kills me to know that the leaders of that organization, and the majority of its members, feel exactly the opposite.  I witnessed genuine nurturing in Michelle.  She saw a void in those girls’ lives, like I did, and did her best to fill it where she could.  I’m not saying either of these women would have ever wanted to volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, but if they had, one of them would have been deemed fit to do so.  It would have been the woman who wore a cross on her neck and called her eight year old daughter a bitch.  It would have been the wrong one.  I can tell you without fear of heresy that Jesus himself would have taken one look at the two of them and picked Michelle for his dodgeball team.

After I read the online article about the Boy Scouts' decision, I scrolled down a bit to the reader responses.  I know better than that.  Nothing will make you pray that there is truth in the 2012 prophecy of impending complete human annihilation like reading the public’s responses to any story on  Hey, why don’t you just go start your own Gay Scouts of America, you faggots!  We are not good.  A cleansing is in order.  

I asked my eleven year old son how he felt about the Boy Scouts’ policy of discrimination.  His face grew tight.  “That’s really stupid,” he said.  “Yeah,” I said, “fuck the Boy Scouts, right?”  Whew!  Now we don’t have to sell that damn popcorn.  Not so fast.  “Mom, they’re a Christian organization.  I get that.  They have to hold true to their values to do what they’ve been doing, and what they’ve been doing has been good for me.”  He said it doesn’t mean he has to think like them, but that he’s learned CPR and how stop someone from bleeding to death and how to build things.  He said the Boy Scouts has made him a better, more interesting person.  The survival skills he’s learned there make him feel more confident.  He hasn’t learned to hate gay people there.  He’s still my kid, even when he’s with the Boy Scouts. He just skips right over all that morality stuff and gets right to building his tent.

Oh, this kid.  This kid works me over.

He effectively told me that maybe if more parents like me, who are teaching their kids that heart and character are the traits by which we choose our friends, let their sons be Boy Scouts even though some of the policies are offensive to us, maybe those boys can be more effective from the inside than they’d ever be shouting “Haters!” from the outside.

It takes a tremendous amount of commitment to volunteer for the Boy Scouts.  I am in no position to judge those people, having never done more than bake brownies for fundraisers.  I could never get past the part where you have to tuck that khaki shirt into your jeans.  I love my kid, but that is exactly where I draw the line.  

I’m grateful to all the volunteers who have touched my kids’ lives, the troop leaders and den mothers who humbly and courageously tuck their shirts into their jeans, the retirees who serve as docents at the museums, the author who came to read to them in kindergarten, anyone who has spent any amount of time doing something for free to enrich their lives even a little, just like Michelle did for Livia and Lexi.  There was something about the care she took, her willingness to share her very expensive perfume with little girls who didn’t know the difference between her real Chanel No. 5 and Designer Imposter’s skunky attempt at replication.  She was a nurturer, and I’m pretty sure a healer, judging by her popularity and repeat clientele. You might argue that her profession and lifestyle were unChristian, if that's your bag, but you will never convince me that she didn’t serve those children better than their own mother.  She nourished them.  She never damaged them.  

She would have been an awesome den mother.  

I’m going to take my cue from the boy on this one.  I’ve folded my knee-jerk indignation and neatly tucked it into a drawer way back in the closet of my psyche.  I did that, not because I’m not pissed off at the Boy Scouts, but because I love and support my Boy Scout.  I love the boy he is and I will love the man he becomes.  

My son has redirected the conversation in my head to this thought:  I wish that someone like Michelle would be not only welcome but enthusiastically recruited into volunteering for the Boy Scouts of America.  I trust that someday that will happen.  In the meantime, I take comfort and pride in knowing that if she were ever in need of CPR or a tourniquet or someone to help her build a campfire, my son would be able to help her because of what the Boy Scouts have taught him... and willing because of what I have.

On my honor, I will do my best...


  1. This is beautiful. And your kid is smart, smart, smart.

  2. Thank you Meg. I want my kids to be Boy Scouts (even my daughter; as much as I wish Girl Scouts were comparable, the troops near me never seem to be), I love what Cub Scouts was for my son, and I have faith in my kids' intelligence and moral compasses. Do we want to just abandon something good to the idiots? Why not show them how to do it right?

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  4. Thanks for that! We are trying to raise kids with values. Having a code to live buy and an orginization that supports that is really important. Finally my daughter is old enough to switch to Venturing. We teach our kids other things too. To be more open and accepting of people in general, but having an orginization with values they want to be a part of is great.