Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Girl Scout Birthday: Part One (AKA the Swish Bag Massacre)

The time has come for you to know about The Girl Scout Birthday. I have kept this notorious family folk tale to myself for selfish reasons. It’s not exactly a proud moment for me to recount, and it is a disturbing portrait of 11 year-old me. If you think I am at all even a slightly neato person now, trust me- you would not be able to stand 11 year-old me.

I barely can myself.

Let’s Build-A-Frances, not a Bear. The ingredients for 11 year-old Frances are as follows:

Start with Tracey Flick. Add a hazy cloud of exploding perm, goggle-like glasses, and a burning need win all possible spelling bees.  A nerd love of mystery books rivaled only by a legitimately nerdier love of writing mystery book reports, and a complete ignorance of boys which continues to this day.

11 year-old Frances once laid the mack down on a male contemporary by telling him she was impressed that he was so punctual. Because 11 year-old Frances found nothing more attractive than a boy who was on time to class.

I am quite certain my hippie parents were not entirely sure of my origin. They are go-with-the-flow-ers, and for a very long time I was not. Almost like a reverse superhero, I landed in their field from a planet light years away-not to save anyone or demonstrate nifty powers, but to complain about the heat and win the affection of teachers.

Like many other well-rounded and interesting people, my mother attended and adored Girl Scout camp as a Florida youth. From what I understand, children willingly slept outside, explored the wilderness, and washed their dishes in streams.

She is perfectly equipped for this sort of activity, my mother. Resourceful, energetic, and can cook anything anywhere. I imagine her white-blonde Girl Scout ringlets bouncing up a rocky trail, singing an authorized Scout slogan-song.  These sunny happy days of fresh air and group activities were when her fishing skillz, and all her freckle maps were born.

But I was a dark middle-schooler with shin splints and a legitimate envy of the asthma that got my classmates out of gym.

In the sitcom of my life, The Girl Scout Birthday is a season finale. Personalities clash, secrets are revealed, and there is a cake.

My extended family sits sun-kissed around the table after a day of swimming and merriment. We have come together to celebrate 11 year-old Frances’s birthday. My father has the shoulder-mounted-missile sized home video camera that completed the role of “Dad” in the early 90’s. The red light is on, and the tape is rolling. It is gift time, and this night must be documented.  And we go live, to my grand-parents dining room…

My little sister who is so gracious and selfless today, sits beneath an obvious cloud of roiling jealousy and contempt-her delicate eyebrows twisted with a quiet and sizzling rage.

She is not wearing pants. She never wore pants at that age.

I sit Don Corleone-esque in a centrally located seat of implied honor, wearing the black and white polka-dot dropped waist birthday dress that indicated I was not effing around.

My mother stands to my side as my birthday consigliore, Beaming with pride and affection, she has chosen my gifts according the fact that, in her legacy I will be attending Girl Scout Camp that summer.  As I begin the ritual gift-opening with all the tribe gathered before me, a chasm grows between what I think, and what I say out loud for the benefit of the camera.

 I unwrap the first gift. A Girl Scout t-shirt. Oh good, lets get this out of the way.

“Thank you so much, I LOVE it!!”

Next gift: regulation green Girl Scout shorts, significantly pocketed and with the necessary elastic waist. These will be returned, I do not wish to ever need to carry so much around on my person.

“Perfect! These will come in handy!”

Next: another Girl Scout t-shirt. Damn, is there really going to be no candy this year?

“Oh good, a back-up so I won’t have to do as much laundry!”

Then: a second pair of shorts. This is a joke, everyone knows I am simply not active or fun-loving enough to ever get a pair of shorts dirty and need a second pair.

“Boy, I am really all set now!”

I unwrap: a canteen. I hold it up for the video, pretending to drink water that isn’t there, and my wonderful grand-parents gasp genuinely at the blazing usefulness of this gift. Oh God. I think this is the theme of my birthday. They think I am going to love camp…that I am going to be good at it…How can I explain that nature makes me anxious and I develop a rash when I cannot access a television? I already know I will be put in the bottom-most level for swimming and be forced to wear a brightly colored vest and remain standing in waist-high water at all times for safety. When will they see that which I already know?! 

The gifts continue and I become more and more ungrateful and irritated, unwrapping  things only far enough to see what it is, then casting it aside with overtly fake muttered thanks. I open a swish bag, and my grandmother shows how I will use it to wash my dishes in any available naturally occurring water source. I almost faint.

11 year-old Frances has made this day a nightmare for everyone involved. The diminutive bitch-queen has made no efforts to conceal her resentment for the summer camp theme.

The final battle scene plays out across the landscape of my face, when the cake arrives. In a sweeping Deus Ex Machina ending I proclaim: “I just hope it’s not chocolate!” as my knife slices revealingly into what is obviously a very beautiful, very chocolate cake.

I recently celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday, and milestones have an interesting effect on people. Everyone asks cryptically if you’re ok, and are left in amazement when you respond that yes, you are. People start asking if you thought you would be different than you are at this age. Living in a gurt teaching english to the children of undeveloped nations? In an off-broadway show? Running for local office? Not waiting until the last minute to get your smog test? And I am SICK of being asked when my hip-hop record drops. I do not lay my beats down on your timetable...

But I’m just glad that I am no longer the birthday tyrant with a sweet tooth and mean streak. What I want the most for my birthday these days is to see the people that I love, and to eat something that can be classified as “birthday food.” Something no one can hold against you, because if you want bacon-wrapped bacon and a glass of maple syrup with a straw, it’s your birthday.

This year I got every wish I never even made. I spent time all week with friends I am beyond lucky to have, I went on an adventure, and I purchased an eye cream with retinol.


You’ll have to come back see what it was. But here’s a hint:

Ever heard of an Apple Pie-nini…? ;)


  1. I laughed till i peeded my pants :)

  2. I'm having trouble breathing I'm laughing so hard. Like Mother Like Daughter. I wish I could find a picture of your Mother going to Girl Scout Camp. I can say that she was the best Girl Scout Cookie salesman I have ever seen. Those blonde curls, blue eyes and if that didn't make you buy some she would hunt you down until you did. Thanks for the memories.