04 February 2011

Check Your Baggage, Fear the Brownies

‘My Room, My Rules” – Caroline is coloring in a sign that she’s written in bubble letters on a piece of construction paper.  My little fascist has also compiled a visitor sign-in sheet to post outside her door that warns: “Keep Out, Evil Maniacs!”  (a.k.a Paulie’s friends).  She’s frowning, bearing down on the crayons as if she’s had to resort to making these signs, as if she isn’t enjoying every moment of this perceived unrest.
Don't mess with me.

This is my daughter.  She loves rules and loves to enforce them.  While she shares my general sloppiness, she doesn’t appreciate any loose interpretations of rules -- written or unwritten.  She gives me shit every day for not hanging up my coat.   Last week, I had to drive her to school and the bell rang when we were about 10 feet from her classroom.  She immediately did an about face and started running up the hallway, “I have to go get a tardy pass from the office.”  “But we’re right here,” I said.  “No, Mom, I have to! It’s the rules,” she yelled over her shoulder, her backpack careening from side to side. I’d like to think I bear some responsibility for instilling such a fierce sense of right and wrong, but it’s really just her nature. I’m sure it’s largely the result of having a flaky mother.  Despite our differences, we fall into a groove.  


She’s finished coloring her sign and is gearing up to go play in the slush.


“Yes, my dear little fascist.”

“I’m thinking I should become a girl scout.”

I froze. She may as well have said, “I’m thinking I should get a lower back tattoo.”

For the first time, I realized I needed to "check my baggage."  The term is from a parenting book I've been reading on and off for about four years.  It's about not letting your own personal experiences seep into your kids' experiences.

I joke about Caroline being a fascist, but she’s 7.  I am emotionally scarred after experiencing the wrath of a true fascist during a short-lived stint in the Brownies in third grade.

Looking back, I’m not even sure if the group was a legit member of the Girl Scouts organization. It was more like a generic off shoot to keep kids out of their parents’ hair. We didn't sell cookies. We didn't earn badges. We had some jive-looking uniforms, purchased in bulk -- sleeveless, brown sacks with brown or orange turtlenecks worn underneath. If my scanner were not broken, I would share this spectacle.  Most of us looked Amish, except for some of the 9-year-olds with boobs (there were several, one of whom was driving a car by age 11 --a post for another day).

Our troop started out fine, but quickly deteriorated when our leader Mrs. T. had to go in for surgery and her despotic, keg-shaped assistant ”Bindy” took over.  Bindy was a graceless loudmouthed woman of 30, about 4'11'', with a greasy black bob. Every day, she wore a hooded Eastie sweatshirt and elastic waist jeans  She began her iron-fisted reign of terror in the fall of 1979 with her equally-scary daughter Denise by her side. Denise's main role, as far as I remember, was to confiscate people's Doritos.

Aside: Bindy reminds me of David Sedaris’ story about his sadistic babysitter Mrs. Peacock.  Mrs. Peacock was able to act somewhat normal in the presence of Sedaris’ mother, but the second his mom left, Peacock made the kids scratch her back fat with a monkey paw backscratcher and fetch her soda and chips

Our first order of duty at Brownies was to help Denise learn some disco dance steps for one of her dance classes.  Bindy pointed at us with her middle finger, spitting Dorito bits through her yellow teeth: "Don't screw it up, girls! Don't screw it up!" 

Bindy was also parsimonious with the craft supplies.  I don't know what she did with the extra supplies she absconded with every week, but I know she used to make Kleenex box cozies for the church bazaar, so that is one theory.

That Christmas, we were making ornaments to deliver to the local nursing home.  Bindy passed out styrofoam rounds and sprinkles and hoarded the remaining glitter, felt squares and pipe cleaners.  "Just make Christmas cookies!" she barked. Sure enough, one of the nursing home residents tried to eat one of the ornaments and accused us of trying to poison her.  We were asked to leave. 

The rest of the year, we spent our meetings scrubbing the classroom and making useless crap with popsicle sticks. But the absolute nadir was the camping trip. It was like Deliverance.

It was only an overnight trip and was probably no farther than Saugus, but it was many worlds removed from reality. About 10 of us stayed in a ramshackle cabin with Bindy and two chain-smoking teenage chaperones who were even nastier than she was. There was one bathroom.

After a long hike in the woods (in jelly sandals) without sunscreen or water, we were dying for lunch.   But there was no lunch. We just hung inside watching TV.  A couple of hot dog-free hours later, a few of us helped ourselves to some Devil Dogs in the kitchen.  Bindy caught us and said since we spoiled our lunch, there wouldn't be any lunch at all.  What?! It was almost dinner time.

I was outraged. We are on a camping trip and there will be no hot dogs? Are you shitting me? I think it was contrived. I don't think Bindy or her scrubby minions knew how to light the charcoal grill (it remained unused the remainder of our time there.) Dinner consisted of a slice of Wonder bread with a stingy slab of peanut butter and a warm cup of lemonade. 

We could smell the burgers and dogs from neighboring camp sites and our stomachs turned over with hunger. We bonded together:  Should we sneak out? Try to smuggle some grub in a flashlight like the Bradys did in the Grand Canyon?  But we were was too scared to move. And too hungry to be denied any more food.

So, there were no hot dogs. No campfire songs.  No games.  Bindy sent us to bed at 8 p.m.  I was salivating over a pack of raw hot dogs I could see glistening in the moonlight on the kitchen table. They were floating in their own salty broth and hadn't been refrigerated. I didn't even care.

At 10 p.m., Bindy got annoyed that we were talking too much and made us march in a circle for what seemed like hours.

“It’s like we're in 'Annie,'” my friend Danielle said and started crying.  Bindy finally fell asleep sitting up on a filthy futon. One of the 9-year olds with boobs snuck a loaf of Wonder Bread into the sleeping bag circle and we devoured it.  The next day, I crawled across the threshold of my house and kissed the kitchen floor.  And ate until I passed out.

Mrs. T. returned to the Brownies the following fall, but none of us from the camping trip re-signed up for the troop. We remained war buddies, however -- the only Brownie troop to ever experience the fascist regime of dirty Bindy. 


So, I had to check my baggage.  Our local Girl Scout troop is legit and is lead by some kind and maternal women that I'm well acquainted with.  A Bindy couldn't exist today. You couldn't get away with treating animals the way Bindy treated us.  Luckily, the only thing we have to worry about today is pedophiles lurking in the bushes while we're out selling cookies.


Anonymous said...

KJ, Caroline looks just like you. I had the same experience with Girl Scouts but not as scary. Be afraid be very afraid!!! Love it!! -B

schroeder said...

Hey, KJ: In your spare time, could you please write a novel I could read?
(I'm going to re-read "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" now that you've put Sedaris on my radar screen; he's good, but he can't hold a candle to you. Although he doesn't end sentences with prepositions [that's the ever-present, grammar Nazi that's gnaws at my cerebellum talking. Please don't take offense, I still like you]).

You're the best, and Caroline is nipping at your heals.

"Bindy"?! Ha. NK

KT said...

Awesome, KJ! I have a similar experience with Ellie (age 8). She has asked to take cheerleading and I'm severely disappointed. "Don't you actually want to PLAY the sport and have people cheer for YOU??". (she gives me the eye roll). I guess not. Of course, I was a cheerleader all through high school and feel like a giant hypocrite! But those were different times, man. Different times. Help me check my baggage! XO!

kaybee said...

I recently had a 'check-my-baggage' experience with my age 9 daughter. She just informed me,
(the tom-boy-super-jock-has-been), that not only does she hate gym - she also refuses to try climbing The Ropes. Remember The Ropes? I begged my phys. ed. teacher to let us climb! I carved my initials in the ceiling after my first try!!!

Once I recovered from her blatantly inflammatory declaration, though, she asked me if she could take sewing lessons.
"Oh, that's fine, Sweetheart! I love to sew..."
Did I say that last part out loud? I think I did...

Great post, KJ!

Anonymous said...

Kate, Funny as ever....the small things are the funniest, really.
I was a Brownie leader for many years. The girls loved it. I had them for 3 years , then they went to Girl Scouts.
Lots of openings for you to participate. You need to look into your heart, and let her go. She will love it, and you can be a special guest, sharing something.
Hope all is well, still teaching K2...still laughing. I am doing Dibels on the kids. Testing their reading level, so I ask this boy a comprehension question, "Where does the girl see the dog?" ans;the park, His answer: Page 7

Roving Lemon said...

Oh man! I don't have any GS baggage (thanks to my lovely sisters, who saved me from the evil local Brownie leader by starting a new troop for me and my buds), but I'm right with KT on the cheerleading. They start them in KINDERGARTEN here. I try not to put my foot down, but this one is a no go for me. I don't even want to check my baggage: girls deserve better than that.

Alex said...

if there are two worse words together than "dirty bindy", I'm not sure what they are. Well done. Yuck!

Anonymous said...

Ass Velcro!!!!!