By Christine Burke
Ten years ago, my seven-year-old son thundered down the stairs and barreled into the kitchen. I had sent him upstairs to change for his Cub Scout meeting and he came down looking like a disorganized mess. His shirt was untucked, his fly was down, and his uniform kerchief was, as my brother likes to say, cattywampus.
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As was my usual, I helped him straighten himself up before I ushered him off to his meeting so he wouldn’t be late. After adjusting his kerchief around his neck, I helped him slip the slider onto the points of the fabric.
The slider my son wore—fist-shaped and carved out of wood—had once belonged to my father, a proud Eagle Scout.
When my father heard that our son was joining Cub Scouts, he took great care to send the slider and a few other precious mementos from his scouting days to him. When he visited, Dad charmed my son with stories of sleepaway camps, hiking adventures, and his years as the Scoutmaster for my brothers’ Cub Scout pack.
My father loved being a part of the scouting world. He’s gone now, but I know he’d be over the moon to see our son marching into his final phase of scouting, on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, too.
The rank of Eagle Scout is the highest level or rank attainable in the Scouts BSA program and only about four percent of participants achieve the rank of Eagle.
The process of becoming an Eagle Scout is no joke.
Merit badges that often take several weeks or months to earn, leadership projects, camping requirements, and participation at the highest level over a period of many years all lead to a scout being able to qualify for the rank of Eagle.
And then there’s the final hurdle: the Eagle Scout project. The Eagle Scout project is a community-based service project that is developed, planned and carried out by the scout hoping to achieve the rank of Eagle. The project has to be completed by the day before the scout turns 18 and presented for a board of review.
What they don’t tell you in Scout Mom Club is that the Eagle project is the most stressful few months you’ll ever endure. And not because you are burdened with the heavy lifting of a construction project. Quite the opposite, in fact: because the project has to be entirely planned by the scout, forcing this Type-A mom to the sidelines.
I am here to tell you that my son’s Eagle project might actually be the death of me. Or, my sanity at the very least.
I had heard whispers about the Eagle project from moms who had gone before me. “Make sure you start early because it takes forever,” they said with wink.
I saw exhausted moms and dads sharing crowd funding links and calls for donations toward their sons’ Eagle projects. I’d see desperate pleas from other scouts and their parents begging for help over a few hours on the weekend to build or dig or construct something in a public park. I vowed we’d be more organized when our son’s time came.
Yes, “Before Eagle Scout Project” Me was adorable.
That once disheveled 7-year-old is now a scattered 17-year-old who barely knows where his wallet is most days. And now he’s responsible for planning a massive community park initiative. He has to raise thousands of dollars to carry out his elaborate plan as well as organize a group of similarly scattered teen boys to help him bring his idea to fruition.
Unlike the days when I could step in and straighten up his kerchief or hustle him to a meeting so he wouldn’t be late, I now have to stand back and let him figure it all out on his own.
I have to stifle my laughter when he calls a local nursery to inquire about river rock and mulch and I hear him say, “You want how much per square foot?”
I have to resist the urge to remind him not to forget to bring supplies or tools with him when he heads out to work on his project. And I can’t “top off” his fundraising efforts so that he can breathe a little easier and worry less about how he’ll make it all work.
For the first time in his life, I’ve been forced to step aside and it has been surprisingly difficult.
I wish I could report that he has finished his project, but he is still a few weeks away from completion. As is his usual, my son will likely skid into the finish line with days, or more likely, hours to spare. My sanity will be in tatters and I’m pretty certain I’ll be incoherent with relief that he’s finished.
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But, when we celebrate his accomplishment at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor, I know I’ll look at the fist-shaped slider on his kerchief and feel like my dad is there, giving him (and me) a well-earned fist bump.