A few months ago, I started a new Girl Scout troop in the South Bay of Los Angeles, to the surprise and puzzlement of many of my friends and of my husband. They didn’t think of me as a former Girl Scout or believe I would have the spare time to put this all together. When people asked why, I explained that I was doing it for my daughter, Ava, who is 5. But I also wanted to honor the values and traditions of an organization that meant so much to me.
I joined the Girl Scouts because it was a very American thing to do. My family immigrated to America in 1975 from Vietnam when I was a year old. With help from two amazing sponsors, James and Muriel Bristol (Uncle Jim and Mrs. Jim to my brothers and me), we were the very first Vietnamese family to move to Shaker Heights, Ohio.
A few years later, we moved to Virginia but stayed in close touch with the Bristols, with whom we spent many summers. Uncle Jim and Mrs. Jim felt it was very important that we become assimilated into American culture and learn to make friends. They suggested that our parents enroll us in group activities, including Scouting. I also had heard about Girls Scouts from classmates and made sure that my mom signed me up.
As one of the few Asian kids at school I wasn’t really treated any differently, but I felt that I was different. In first Girl Scout Brownies and then Girl Scout Juniors, I was taught that we were all sisters in the troop together, and it didn’t matter how we looked or where we came from. It helped me to feel like I was just like any other girl in the troop. Also, because I had two older brothers, I always felt left out; the Girl Scouts gave me something to belong to that was mine, along with the “sisters” I didn’t have.
I knew that one day if I had a little girl of my own, I would want her to share that experience.
Last fall my daughter, Ava, started kindergarten. Ava attended the same South Bay daycare-preschool from the age of 6 months through prekindergarten. By the time she was ready to graduate from preschool, she had built a special bond with two other girls in her school, Jia and Regan. But this is L.A., with its crazy-quilt mix of schools, and Ava’s two best friends were going to different kindergartens. The three musketeers were going to be split up.
This didn’t seem to faze the girls, but I was sad to think they might not see each other again. The obvious solution to my own semi-invented problem was the Girl Scouts.
I did a little research and discovered that we could start up a new troop with five girls. I recruited Jia and Regan, and we started asking other moms from our preschool if their daughters might be interested. Soon enough we had seven girls. Now all I had to do was fill out some paperwork, get a co-leader, take some training classes, set up a checking account (shockingly, the hardest part of the process), and just like that, we became Daisy Girl Scout Troop #15155. Woo-hoo!
Since our girls are young and busy with other activities, we decided our troop would meet just once a month. (Older Girl Scouts often gather weekly or bi-weekly.) Meetings typically consist of a craft activity such as creating friendship bracelets and artwork—most recently the girls hand-designed some fun posters for our cookie booth. We also do Girl Scout lessons like learning about the first Daisy Girl Scout, Juliette Gordon Low, and activities to earn badges for their Daisy uniforms. We finish each meeting with a “Friendship Circle,” representing the unbroken chain of friendship among the girls.
The Friendship Circle was one of my favorite moments when I was a kid, and remains so today because of how excited the girls are to do it. The girls stand in a circle, putting their right hands over their left hands, and holding hands with the girls on either side. One girl will start by squeezing her right hand, thus sending that squeeze to the next girl and then the next around the circle. At the end of the chain, the girls lift up their arms, turn, and face outside without breaking the circle. Our first time ended in a knotted pile of laughter, but the girls soon got the hang of it and are now experts.
I’ve never led a group like this before in my life. Sure, I’ve led meetings and given presentations to presidents and high-level executives at my work in the entertainment industry, but a group of seven demanding little girls is more intimidating. We’ve had four meetings so far, and it’s amazing how loud seven little girls can be. There’s usually a lot of squealing, giggling, and running around, especially after snack time.
Slowly, I’m adjusting, but it is a lot of work and planning. As a full-time working mom, I used to be intimidated by “traditional moms” who are actively involved in school and extracurricular activities to enrich their kids. Girl Scouts has taught me that I do not need to be so intimidated—that I have more in common with the other moms than I thought. Leading this troop is my contribution to helping out the community. It’s not so different from what my own troop taught me back in Virginia.
I can feel myself, and Ava, beginning to build confidence. I’m hoping my daughter can overcome her shyness and make new friends while staying close to her “best friends” from preschool. Ava is an only child, and Girl Scouts can give her sisters. My husband also seems to be managing; he doesn’t seem to mind escaping the house during Sunday meetings so he can watch more football with his buddies.
I’d forgotten how to recite the Girl Scout Promise and Law I knew when I was little. It’s been nice to relearn it with my daughter. The Girl Scout Law insists that the values that Uncle Jim and Mrs. Jim wanted me to imbibe as a child—to be “honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others”—are fundamental. After all, Girl Scouts isn’t just about selling cookies. But it’s worth pointing out that Ava is in the middle of selling season right now—and she’s got a box of Thin Mints with your name on it.