As my children and I celebrate the Supreme Court’s lifted ban on marriage equality, I couldn’t help but remember details of our (less than pleasant) stint in the (conservative alternative to Girl Scouts) organization American Heritage Girls. Realizing I never did get around to blogging about that whole ordeal, I decided this was a good time to let it all out. All of that shame, humiliation, and discomfort that my daughter and I experienced… right here.
Years ago, I learned about AHG online. I’d always had ill feelings toward Girl Scouts for their support of organizations that leave a bad taste in my mouth. I have strong feelings against Planned Parenthood for personal reasons and the fact that they (Girl Scouts) financially supported this organization bothered me greatly. Also, I was still trying to do the conservative thing and be the conservative wife and mother. So, mental note, if a troop ever formed nearby, I’d check it out.
We attended an open house and immediately I was bothered by what I saw and heard. I was told that pledging allegiance to the flag was not optional and I had to sign something saying that I believed marriage was between a man and a woman. While I didn’t want to sign this document, I went ahead and did it (when will I ever learn?) because my daughter said she wanted to participate and I’d dragged her there so… I signed. I justified it by saying that, at the time, same sex marriage was not legal so therefore, technically, marriage in our state WAS between a man and a woman. They should have written the statement differently. Loophole. Loopholes everywhere.
I didn’t want to leave my daughter alone with these strangers so I was also required to purchase a membership just to be allowed to sit in the room with her. Okay. RED FLAG.
Once the meetings got going, I could see that my daughter wasn’t happy. She felt awkward at the meetings and like she didn’t fit in. They didn’t allow her to join in with her grade. She had to be put into a group based upon her age and she was significantly more mature than the rest of the girls in that group. Eventually she made one friend but that child was in the older girl’s group because they met at a homeschool activity and were in the same grade.
Also, the joke was on them because I literally did not stand for any of their pledges. I sat during each one, just daring them to try and make me stand.
We are pretty big on follow through here at our house. If you start something, unless there is abuse or danger or some other terribly good reason, you finish it. Just simply not having a ton of fun wasn’t a good enough reason to drop out of American Heritage Girls so we continued. We worked on badges at home and participated in the extra activities outside of meetings. My daughter hated every second of it but, confession, I thought it was kinda fun!
Still, there was a part of me that felt uncomfortable. For one thing, I noticed that at the beginning of one meeting, the leaders prayed, publicly, for “marriage to remain only between a man and a woman.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Were they seriously praying about gay marriage? This would not sit well with my daughter. And it certainly didn’t sit well with me.
At the beginning of one meeting, a girl approached my daughter and the first thing she said was, “Why does your mom homeschool you?” My daughter was taken aback. She’d never been asked this question before so she responded in her most defensive tone, “Um, because she doesn’t want me to grow up to be stupid.” While I laughed hysterically at this response, we did take a few moments to discuss alternative responses should such a circumstance arise again in the future. I believe we decided upon, “Because it’s what she feels is best for our family” to be a better answer. But come on, when someone approaches you with a question phrased in such a manner, they are kinda asking for it!
During our 14 months of being involved with AHG, I felt humiliated several times. Perhaps the most humiliating situation was when my girl was earning her theater badge. One of the requirements was to be part of a production and then invite your troop to attend the performance. This “children’s show” called Goldilocks and the Three Bears had closed-to-parents rehearsals. Great. I have stuff to do. So I dropped my children off at the theater and went on my merry way. My husband and I made plans to attend the very last performance. Meanwhile, four families from my daughter’s troop had purchased tickets.
Little had I known that the show included drug and alcohol references and a lovely little song about bras, with the actors (all children, mind you) holding a variety of bras.
Now, I’m no prude. My kids watch all matter of “not appropriate for children” material and I’m fine with it. But in the context of government funded children’s theater, I take family-friendly very literally. That should mean all (or at the very least most) families should be able to attend the production. Considering what I had learned about the level of conservativeness in the AHG community, I was certain I must do something and I needed to do it quickly. I went home and wrote a letter of apology to the four families who purchased tickets. Two of them responded graciously, laughing it off. Another family didn’t respond at all. And the troop leader? She’d been forewarned about the material from a friend who attended the show opening night and made the judgment call to keep her children at home. She didn’t blame me but I could tell from her letter that we were parenting in two entirely different worlds. Still, I felt like had a level of respect for me, especially when I wrote the appropriate emails of complaint, requesting her ticket money be refunded. I’d done all I could.
So imagine my surprise a couple months later when I asked her to spread the word about my public Q&A session with Veterans at the public library and I was met with great resistance. My homeschool co-op put together a “Meet the Veterans” event. It felt like the perfect fit for AHG since they are all about patriotism and loving on our Veterans (a characteristic of the organization I appreciated). I was called and questioned at length about why my co-op is secular. What did that mean? Why did I choose to involve myself with a secular co-op (which I started, by the way)? After I answered her probing and irrelevant-to-the-event questions, I felt mentally violated. I never could figure out why the answers to these questions mattered when it came to informing the other AHG homeschoolers about our Veteran’s event. I was humiliated.
My daughter eventually experienced humiliation as well. The night of the last awards ceremony, my daughter wasn’t informed that she was to go up with the other 2nd graders. She sat there waiting for the 3rd graders to be called because she was in 3rd grade. Anyone would be confused. She stood there, waiting for the announcer to call her name. They never did. Finally, they saw her there and said her name very quickly just to get her moving off of the stage. She was never actually recognized. She was so confused and I felt terrible for her. Someone should have remembered that she’d been stuck with a bunch of kids in a different grade from her own.
At her final meeting, we both decided that it was high time our family and AHG go their separate t ways. She left that meeting horrified. I did too. She witnessed one of the leaders in her classroom verbally abuse her developmentally delayed daughter over misusing a wipe. I witnessed a mother in the lobby slap a little boy in the face for basically just existing. We were both heartbroken. This was not an environment in which either of us felt comfortable. I told her that night we’d not go back in the fall.
I asked the troop leader, a month or two later, to remove me from the mailing list once she started sending out reminders about the upcoming school year. It was then that she apologized for the embarrassing mix up which had occurred the night of the award’s ceremony. When I explained that my daughter had been crying, begging to not go to meetings, and that I couldn’t keep forcing her, the troop leader kindly offered up prayers that she’d find an activity she truly enjoyed. And I believe she was sincere.
Now that I’ve had a full year to reflect upon the entire experience, I’m, more than anything, just glad to be away from it. I’m sure they’ve issued a formal statement about the decision made by our Supreme Court yesterday. As soon as the Boy Scouts instated their policy of homosexual acceptance, I received an email from AHG stating that they were suspending any and all affiliation with the BSA organization. No doubt there are plenty of AHG members praying about the fate of our country. Certainly the leaders of the organization are making plans to “take back” our nation for the sake of our girls.
Meanwhile, I took this picture of my daughter last night. When I took it, I didn’t realize she was wearing her AHG shirt. But it seemed rather fitting that she’d be donning her most patriotic attire on a day when we were all feeling a little bit more proud than usual of good old ‘Merica. I’m thankful for a daughter who tolerates, loves, and accepts unconditionally. She learned all of those things without the influence of some religious sect disguising itself as a “scouting troop”.