It is not often that participation in a young child's extracurricular activity is decided upon by much else beyond the broad question "Does this work for my family?" Several considerations come into play: the activity's cost, frequency and duration, location, ease with which it fits in with the schedules of other family members, and more.
Sometimes comfort level is the deciding factor. For example, flag football may be chosen over tackle football because it is safer. Rugby was available to my eight-year-old son this fall, but I would not let him play because I got injured in the sport in college. I was diagnosed with torn cartilage. However, that was only part of the story. Seventeen years later it came to light that I'd actually suffered a torn ACL as well. My orthopedic surgeon called it "a medical miracle" I'd been able to carry on playing tennis at a high level on teams and in tournaments, traveling around the globe with a heavy backpack, trekking to Everest Base Camp, skiing, and much more without incident other than the occasional "popping out" episode I'd learned to manage. I required and underwent major reconstructive surgery that included a patella-tendon graft to replace the ligament that had atrophied down to nothing. With this kind of history, I most definitely DID NOT feel comfortable green-lighting rugby for my third-grader.
Cub Scouts posed a different challenge for me altogether. First of all, the activity did not pass the litmus test of being in sync with the rest of the family. For two years while Christopher was a Tiger then Wolf Scout, my younger son Charlie resisted attending pack meetings at the elementary school and den meetings at the local community center. ("Pack" refers to all the Scouts in the school; "den," just the Scouts in Christopher's grade.) Married couples usually didn't bring their other children to meetings because one parent stayed behind at home with the other youngster/s. And divorced parents traded off, with the father doing the lion's share of attending meetings in most cases, I observed. As a full-time single mother, however, I had no choice but to bring my reluctant younger son along every single time.
Charlie, a preschooler then kindergartener during those years, would jump out of his seat in the school auditorium and run up and down the aisles or leave altogether and wander around the front of the school or the kindergarten wing. Meanwhile, I needed to stay at the meeting to listen to important announcements, yet I couldn't when my unruly son was taking off on me repeatedly. The final straw occurred toward the end of the year last year when Charlie ditched not just the gym where the Scouts were engaged in physical activities but also the front lobby. Yes, that's right. He pushed right through the outside doors and could not be persuaded to come back in, preferring instead to hang around on the sidewalk in the cold and dark. I absolutely HATE it when he does this or something similar because it's always so public. He has no concept of being judged by other people and doesn't care one iota that I do.
Once again it was a case of being split in two between my two sons . . . or needing a leash.
At den meetings, the space was so small that Charlie's rambuctious behavior was even more noticeable, if that's possible. I started discreetly slipping him a Nintendo DSi XL to play with upstairs in a tiny game-table space. Unlike the only other younger brother in Christopher's den, Charlie did not want to be a Scout when he became a first-grader. No way, no how. Without specifically articulating it to me, I believe Charlie didn't like the regimentation of Scouts. It's just as well. From my perspective, he is not Scout material anyway.
Fast forward four months: Charlie is now a first-grader and not a Scout. Christopher is not one either. I explained the difficulty I had at meetings to my older son, but it was certainly unnecessary because he saw it for himself. In any case, Christopher is not broken-hearted. He gets it that continuing with Scouts would cause me hardship and overload our schedule. As far as the outdoors goes, we as a family are way beyond what the Scouts do for boys Christopher's age anyhow. We have camped out five nights in a row and climbed several mountains; the Scouts sleep over one night in a science and nature museum or (this year) on a naval ship and hike a hill marked by two boulders in our town.
As if these reasons weren't enough, the tip of the iceberg for me was the Boy Scouts of America's stance on gays. As a division of the BSA, the Cub Scouts -- like little brothers in the same family -- abide by the same set of principles, one of which is that gays who have come out of the closet are not permitted to be either Scouts, Scout leaders, or Scout volunteers of any kind. I was not aware of this long-standing stipulation until this year when the BSA reaffirmed its stance and made national news doing so.
Many people were upset that a large, well-respected youth organization could continue to hold such a prejudicial, seemingly outdated position excluding a segment of the male population. Eagle Scouts came forward to turn in their hard-earned awards, and letters of protest were fired off to the BSA. Just this month, a San Francisco Bay-area teen named Ryan Andresen was informed that he would not be receiving his Eagle Scout honor after working toward it for twelve years because he is openly gay and opposes the BSA's "Duty to God" Scout Oath and Law.
Incidentally, I do, too. I am Christian, but I don't believe a worthy candidate who happens to be an atheist, agnostic, or follower of a non-Christian faith should be discriminated against by being banned, thrown out of, or denied his rightful accolades by the organization.
Now it would be easy to say, "Oh, well. My son is in CUB Scouts. I don't need to bother myself with a BOY Scout matter. It doesn't affect me." Perhaps other parents are telling themselves this. Perhaps they don't want to think about it. Or perhaps they just don't care. Now I don't want to sit in judgment of other parents. They will have their sons stay in or leave Scouts as they see fit. But, for me, I need to be true to myself and stand up for the principles that I believe in. I want to be a role model for my sons in this way. They don't have a second parent to also look up to so, hell yeah, I'd BETTER be a role model for my sons!
Yet it's not just about teaching them not to condone an exclusionary policy. It's also about teaching them to embrace all kinds of people without prejudice. It's about teaching them to take action when they find themselves unwittingly caught up in something they don't subscribe to. This lesson can be transferred to cyberbullying, cheating, underage drinking, etc. -- issues they likely will encounter in coming years. It's about teaching them to have enough courage and strength of character to say, "NO, this is not for me. I will not participate in this activity because it is not in line with my core beliefs." It's about teaching them to walk away with their heads held high, knowing they have done the right thing. This is much easier said than done, of course, but who are we if not our honest selves?
While I am not gay, a couple of my cousins are. I have gay friends in and out of my single-mother-by-choice community, and we have gay women in our extended donor family -- mothers of some of my sons' half-siblings through their anonymous sperm donor dad. And even if I did not have these real-life gay connections, I would feel the very same way toward inclusion because it is the only democratic way.
Today is the eve of the release of the BSA's "perversion files" -- 14,500 pages of secret files on Scoutmasters and Scout volunteers suspected of child molestation between the 1960s and 1985. These files, which came to light via court cases against the BSA, are being made public by order of the Oregon Supreme Court.
Clearly, this issue of child sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America is poised to blow wide open. With it, I suspect, will be renewed calls -- shouts, I imagine -- for changing the organization's policy toward gays.
At least I know where I stand.