Melissa Carter: I’m a badgeless woman in a Thin Mint world

It’s Girl Scout cookie time. The glorious season when eager young leaders, in their outdated green uniforms and misguided berets, go door-to-door with such offerings as Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs. Who am I kidding? It’s really a time when the precious feminine youth of our country ask their parents to take the cookie form to the office and guilt their co-workers into buying boxes for said children. Stacking our freezer with these annual staples not only makes me feel guilty for the calories I am about to intake, it also reminds me of how I was the worst Girl Scout of all time. That’s because I never earned a badge.

For those who were not a Scout, you have to be a special kind of lazy to never have earned a badge. The Girl Scout Badge Book, which highlights all there is to earn in the Girl Scouts, is 237 pages long. Troops are set up for the sole purpose of propelling their Scouts forward, and setting up situations during which their members can earn these ever-important patches to be sewn on their Miss Girl Scout sash. This year when you receive your Girl Scout cookies, the boxes even have samples of these badges and what has to be done to earn them. It’s as if the boxes themselves are mocking me.

First, let me say I was a good Brownie. That’s the second level in the whole Scout organization, and you join as early as 7-years-old. My Brownie leaders were the life of the party, and kept our meetings fun. And since I was quite shy at that age, it certainly helped that my mother, Millie Pete, was one of those troop leaders. The first person from another country I ever met happened during a meeting. Family members of one of our members were visiting from Ireland, and for small Columbia, Tenn., that was quite exotic. We recreated their flags, and hosted a celebration for them that included Irish music and food. Another big celebration was getting your wings. Much like Pan Am flight attendants back in the day, when it’s time to upgrade from Brownie to Girl Scout you stand on a symbolic podium and are given a pair of fabric wings to attach to your uniform. It’s quite empowering, and I was so excited to discard my brown uniform for the famous green attire and enter into what seemed like adulthood.

In order to move up the Scout chain, I also had to change troops. Our Brownie group was based in our elementary school, but the Girl Scout troop was based in our neighborhood. Despite my mother and I sharing a home together, she was through with her Scout duties and left me to my own devices in the church down the street where the new troop met. Those meetings were more like study hall, with a lot of sitting in silence to work on individual projects. Since these other girls seemed to work with a needle and thread most of the time, and I was far from a seamstress, I left my Scout days behind.

So when pictures of happy young girls selling cookies appear on TV and the Internet, it brings back these memories of failure for me. However, in the spirit of the Scouts, maybe I still have lessons to learn from it all. For instance, change isn’t always good and some new spaces are simply not the right fit. Or understanding that as enthusiastic as you might be, there are just some things you aren’t going to be good at. For every Miss America there has to be a runner-up, for every Olympic medalist there has to be a 4th place, and for every decorated Girl Scout there should be someone like me happily buying her cookies.