Category Archives: scouts

we built this city on inside jokes

I was chatting on Google Hangouts a few  weeks ago with my two best friends and revisiting last month’s BBQ birthday party.  It’s not often I have people in the same space from all my  social worlds.  I have my “non-parent” friends, the friends that I made a decade and a half ago when I moved to L.A., and then I have my “parent friends”, the friends I’ve made since moving to Brooklyn.  Of those two sources, the latter are overwhelmingly “Scout people”: the community built through what was original “5th Brooklyn Scouts” and is now the “718 Rovers”.  My two besties, who pre-date all my parent status, therefore find some amusement in watching me interact with the other Rovers, because they knew me before this round of Scout nerdiness entered my life.

It was in recanting this Hangouts anecdote that I quoted the use of inside jokes as part of this new village we’ve built in Brooklyn.  There are a lot of inside jokes with the rest of the Rovers; you don’t work together for five years without building up a lot of shared references.  At my birthday event, I was describing my experience volunteering at the Bed-Stuy YMCA and how the most popular skit I taught was Invisible Bench, and everyone yelled “INVISIBLE BENCH!” and immediately attempted to call their kids over to demonstrate it even though we were laughing too hard to call effectively.  “Invisible Bench” is a running gag in our group, along with a couple other popular skits, just for being the skit that our kids irrationally love to perform every single camp.  It’s one of many inside jokes, but it was one of the strongest moments of nerdy hilarity I remember from the party.

Realizing that we have these kind of shared references, inside jokes and a common language of anecdote though made me suddenly see my Scout people community in a way I hadn’t before.  In college, I was part of the Arts Undergrad Society, the council of students that volunteered to run the Faculty of Arts.  It was where I made my friends.  It was where I spent my time.  It was how I identified myself, I am part of the AUS.  We ran not only the Faculty but also spent the year building up to Arts County Fair, the end of year charity one-day music festival, which, by the time I graduated, was a 16,000 attendee event with two stages, rock and dance.  Because we spent so much time working together on ACF, we all shared a set of inside jokes and references in addition to our common working goals and status as students at UBC.  (In fact, as I recall, we documented those inside jokes in a running list of quotes throughout the school year.)

It was the phrase “inside jokes” that made me suddenly see the parallels between my college community and my Brooklyn one.  In both cases, it is a community of overachievers who have wholeheartedly committed to a goal in a way that is very pure of heart.  In both cases, these are communities of people who simply wish to do good, while also prioritizing the building of friendships and a social experience in the process.  In both cases, there are a lot of liberal arts nerds involved.

Basically, I identify strongly with anything where a montage set to “We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)” can be created, whether that’s an ACF setup or the 2018 Moot.  If there’s several hours of literally building something with actual labour to be done, then it needs a montage like the Muppets:

I feel it’s important for me to realize this.  I gravitate to communities of nerdy overachievers!  These are my people!  This is also who I am!  I am an over-committed do-gooder at heart, but I am happiest to do so if I can throw in a certain amount of goofiness with my earnestness.  It is a very Muppet approach, but it also means I approach my work and my effort in Scouting with a certain amount of open-heartedness that keeps it joyful.

camp needs a montage

There is a scene in the Muppet Movie (the new one) in which the Muppets transform an abandoned Hollywood theater to the soundtrack of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City [On Rock & Roll]”.  I actually have a memory of building Arts County Fair 11 to the same song playing over the T-Bird stadium speakers.  Whether this is a real memory or my brain creating a montage, I can’t say – but there are many parallels between the Muppets and the Arts Undergrad Society and it would certainly have been apt.

The same montage came to mind when I was walking around camp this weekend at Fahnestock.  We had three troops out: the 5th (the O.G.s of alternative scouting in Brooklyn), the 67th (my new troop that I started last spring) and the 89th (a troop that started with minimal assistance from the 5th).  We even had a couple of our friends from the 91st in Kingston stop by.  It was the Empire State Hullabaloo – and it was a small city.  We had close to two hundred people, youth Scouts, Rovers and parents, all camping despite the rain, all happy to be there.  We built this city more on Google Docs and Slack than on rock’n’roll, but we built it.

It hasn’t always been an easy road.  The difference between the Brooklyn Scouts and Guides Canada is that, in the latter, I had an infrastructure.  I had best practices.  I had meeting plans.  I had a national organization handling registration, payment, uniforms, insurance, waivers and background checks.  In B-PSA, I have a program, but it doesn’t come with any of that.  I have to figure out how to register my people and collect their dues.  My fellow leaders had to figure out how to get an insurance policy.  I found the background check partner we work with.  I have things to do every single day that would have been either handled or guided by Girl Guides if I was still with that organization.  It’s exhausting, especially at scale.

It’s still been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life though.  I see my son, who understands the timeless moral framework of the Scout laws.  I see the Otters gathered around and singing at meetings.  I see the Timberwolves learning how to treat a broken arm in a sling at camp. I see the Pathfinders hiking a mountain.  I see these Scouts I’ve worked with for years, all growing and developing, learning and becoming their own people with the influence of this century-old “game”, and each of them being better for it.  And I see myself, committed to something solid and real, building a community, giving back to an organization I got so much out of: it’s made me a better parent and friend, a better manager, a better person to return to an organization so similar to the one I participated in for a decade in Canada.

This weekend, so many of the families camping have become our friends that for me, it’s a social event as much as it is work.  It’s my village and my community.  We have all made so many friends and met so many wonderful people through 5th Brooklyn Scouts that we haven’t felt like transplants since we joined.

I’m one of the prime movers of this organization.  I drive hard, and I push hard, and I work to move it forward, to grow our group, to bring new Scouts in as I did building out the 67th Wallabout Bay group, and making sure we have everything in place for all our Scouts to participate.  I’m there, behind the scenes sometimes, other times in front of the Scouts.  I have done service to grow this group, more than I think at times I have to give.  There’s a lot of days when I’d rather be in a spin class than at a meeting or at a Depeche Mode club night instead of at a camp – but I am there anyways, doing my best (as our Timberwolves say).

I entirely wasn’t sure why I did it until this weekend, when one of the other parents came up to me and told me my parents were at camp, that my mother and father were there.  Wrong Gillian, of course, but it made me a little sad thinking, what if my parents were there?  What would they have thought of the temporary villages we put up, of Otterland and Timberwolf Village, of the camp with all those Scouts, that I helped so much to build?

That’s when I realized, my parents helped me become the person who would do this.  My mother would see this as a new version of her Lasqueti Island commune.  My father would be astounded that Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s teachings were still being read in the twenty-first century, and in Brooklyn of all places.  Between my American mother and her years on a BC commune and my British father and his childhood in Scouting, lies a Scout camp with 109 youth Scouts and their families in 2017.

My family history is one of the narratives that forms my vision for the Brooklyn Scout movement.  That in turn makes me grateful that these are the values I got from my parents.  For better or worse, this is the person I am, the leader I am, and I am thankful that the motivation to contribute to this new Scouting movement and community is intrinsic to me.  There are many things flawed with my childhood, yet I got so much from my parents that I keep discovering new aspects of their teachings, even into my adulthood.

We built this city on rock’n’roll, and we built this camp on the belief that we could create this movement and bring this Game to Brooklyn.  Walking through camp this weekend, I was unbelievably proud to have been able to contribute so much to it over the past four years, and to have had a hand in working with so many people to build it.  I think my father would have been amazed to see it, and I know my mother is reading this and thinking, at least I didn’t have to bake bread for seventy people in the process on a daily basis.



we are the woodsy family

You know those families that go out into the woods for fun as a vacation? We’ve become those wholesome people. We just did two weekends of camping in a row: one with the Scouts, and then another at Frost Valley YMCA, a camp up in the Catskills. At the first, we slept in a small tent all together. At the second, we slept in something more akin to a retro hotel room. I may be Wilderness Mommy, but I do enjoy sleeping on a mattress Ina warm room.

I take a lot of pride in the camping trips I run with the Otters. I have built so much of that group, and I’m never prouder of the accomplishment than I am at camp. Seeing two dozen happy kids (27 Otters total, including my own) engaged in free play, who have all totally forgotten that screens even exist, is amazing. I love seeing my own son tearing around a campsite with his buddies, too, being a forest creature, Ben is so happy at camp, and I’m so happy I was able to be part of building the Scout group that gives him that experience.

And this camp, we also accomplished a lot. We learned songs! We reviewed lashing skills and the. built obstacle courses using sticks and rope! We practiced skits! We sang more songs! We washed dishes! We made wind chimes! We had a tug of war! We hiked for miles and cooked hot dogs over a fire and had a feast at dinner. It was, without question, our Best Camp Ever, with a solid mix of structured activities and free run-around-in-forest time.

High points included:

– the “camp den” names. I divide the kids up into “camp dens” at camp, since there’s rarely even distribution from their regular dens. They then get to name themselves. That’s how we ended up with the Warriors (an all girl den of second graders), the Rock-Climbing Corvettes (they couldn’t decide between Rock Climbers and Corvettes), the Legal Eagles (who all got disbarred and became the Illegal Eagles) and the Zombie Den (the littles kids, who I guess like zombies). All awesome names. Good work, kids.

– chore time! This is not a highlight for the kids. This is a highlight for me as a leader to see six year olds washing dishes with minimal complaint. When the Zombie Den was on dishwashing, one little boy looked up at me at the last meal and remarked, “Even the littlest kids can do the biggest work”. Parents whose kids learned how to wash dishes? YOU’RE WELCOME

– community time! To heck with my son hanging out with his friend, I want to go to camp to hang out with MY friends. I like all the parents I get to camp with, so going to camp is fun for me as an individual, not just as a mother.

-hike time! I hiked two and a half miles. Ben and Paul hiked almost FOUR. Ben apparently sang camp songs with a buddy for the back half of that hike, too (I was leading the rest of the short hike group back to camp). My kid loves hiking. I’m so proud.

So that was the weekend of then17th to 19th. This weekend, we re-packed up our warm clothes and headed to Frost Valley. This is a summer camp in the Catskills built on an old family estate. We stayed in a hotel style room, but we could have stayed in cabins or, had we been a group, a lodge. The place is huge, and full of activities: climbing wall, archery, hiking, pond discovery (aka Lets catch Salamanders), zip lines, open spaces for games, and a dining hall with board games after supper. This was a special Halloween theme weekend, so there was also a Halloween party for the little kids on the Saturday night (My son wore his Yoda ears with jeans and a T-shirt. He is SO his father’s kid).

Unlike the weekend before, this was just us at camp. There were other families like us, but really, this was our time together. I’ve been on the road so much lately that I just wanted to spend the time with Paul and Ben. And this is now What We Do as a family: we go on hikes, and then come home to drink herbal tea and play board games. There was no TV in the room, there was no set schedule or place to be outside of mealtimes, there was just us, in the mountains, for a weekend. (of course, Ben and I watched the latest episode of Top Chef Boston on the way home. I’m not that anti-screen)

I feel like I should balance this out somewhere with a weekend of debauchery: drinking and bar hopping in the East Village, going to a speakeasy on a Saturday night, going to a dance party somewhere (shouldnt Bootie be back by now?). But although I have Halloween partying this Friday, I can’t stay out late like I used to. It’s either stay out late with my friends or spend the time with my son. It’s either go out into Manhattan on a Saturday, or spend that evening decompressing at home with my husband. If I’m out late, it throws off the next day, and those days belong to the little boy I don’t see for more than a few minutes in the mornings and evenings from Monday to Friday.

And hence the sheer simplicity of going out into the forest as a family, and being all wholesome about it. When I’m in a camp environment, I don’t think about the rest of my existence: I am very much in the moment. And when I’m there with Paul and Ben, that’s a moment I’m in with them. And that’s something I can carry with me, even when I’m away from them, even when I’m caught up in the million tasks that make up my day.

from santa monica to the sunshine coast

And now, ten years later, here I am with a child of my own, and another troop of six and seven year olds to spend time with. A decade has passed, and I still feel the same way about being a leader: that I’m lucky if I’m able to give these kids great memories, that I’m lucky to see them experience joy in Scouting. But most of all, I’m on the motherhood journey that I realized, as a Brownie leader, that I might someday travel on.

Jillian's Blog

In the course of a week, I have gone from Los Angeles to Sechelt. That’s the most extreme contrast I can think of inside of a week, inside the boundaries of my known world of the West Coast.

I sneaked out of the campsite last night while the kids were asleep and went down to the beach to make phone calls. I finally connected with the girl at the house in Los Angeles I want to live in. I’ve been overstressed since Thursday night with regards to the whole roomate and housing issue.

I’m better now though, because I’m going to be living at this Mar Vista house, which is right around the corner from my adopted aunt in Westlake Village. It’s also less than three miles from my office in Venice Beach. And it’s in a house, with a yard – which is something I really like the idea…

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