Kate Abbott | Longreads | July 2017 | 11 minutes (2,730 words)
My 8-year-old son Henry believes in Santa but not in God. I frequently question when to break the news about Santa, but I’ve never worried about his religious beliefs, or lack of them. He is so young; surely existential questions can wait. At least that’s what I thought before the Cub Scouts required him to choose between his own beliefs and a desire to go camping with newfound friends.
Friends are a problem in his life right now. Henry has had to jump from school to school in his short scholastic career, and since we’ve moved to a new town, he’s had trouble making new pals. My friend is a Girl Scout leader, and her daughters enjoy Girl Scouts, so after a particularly lonely day for my kid, I thought, why not try Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts for younger kids? I imagined boys in uniforms with caps and kerchiefs, huddled around a campfire after a day of hiking and learning to tie knots. I had visions of Scouts helping an old lady cross the street. I thought of Henry learning the names of plants and constellations and, most importantly, the names of other boys in the pack. I emailed the nearest den leader right away.
Convincing my shy, reluctant joiner to go to a den meeting exhausted me, but when we finally got there he played with the other boys during free time near the end of the meeting, which was more playtime than he’d spent with any kids recently at all. He ran into the living room where I had been talking with the den leader and his wife, all smiles and out of breath. “We’d love to join,” I said.
We were all in: we drove 40 minutes to the closest “Scout store” and the adult Scout employee picked out all of the required bits of clothing and ornaments, down to official Cub Scout socks. I didn’t even blink when the register totaled $148.66. I handed over my credit card and told Henry he was going to have so much fun. He even seemed to think so. His enthusiasm increased and I didn’t flinch when I met with the pack leader later in the week to officially register him. I signed off on the forms freely, not reading them carefully enough, and gladly wrote a check for $100 (the fee for registration and a pack t-shirt). As I saw it, I was paying for more than stuff; I was paying for instant companionship and camaraderie.
At the next meeting, Henry balked at wearing the uniform, but I reminded him that Grandma had spent four hours sewing on all his starter patches and all the other boys would be wearing it too. He deemed the uniform “hideous” but put it on. He really wanted to try because he knew I wanted him to try.
We joined Scouts midyear, so we started off already “behind” what the other kids in the den had done and we would need to work at home to “catch up” on requirements before April. (Feeling slightly contrary already, I asked “Or what?” but I didn’t really get an answer.) Still, we had committed, so we taught ourselves how to tie a square knot by watching YouTube and I signed off as we sped through the basic requirements in the official Cub Scout handbook (spiral-bound edition, because it was far superior to the paperback edition, the guy at the Scout store had assured me). We were going to do this right, down to the spiral-edition book.
Henry has had to jump from school to school in his short scholastic career, and since we’ve moved to a new town, he’s had trouble making new pals.
When we got to the next requirement on the list, though, I had to pause. This one was called “Duty to God” and consisted of several parts. We would have to complete part 1 and choose some of the options from part 2.