Penny Park & Grace

Over the past few years, I have come to the realization that I have been a feminist for quite some time. I’ve seen and pointed out the inequality that my gender has afforded me on many occasions that are only recently coming back to my memory. I’m fairly certain this has been the case since before Kindergarten… Allow me to explain:

***

In late 1989 and early 1990, in a neighborhood of Evanston where I grew up, children and parents were collecting pennies. As many pennies as they could get their hands on. Kids went door to door, asking folks for the pennies they weren’t using, or had collected in a jar someplace in their house. It was an easy ask, because giving away pennies seemed silly, because what was 7 cents here, or 13 cents there?

These folks also held garage sales, art auctions, and amassed so many pennies that they presented the money to the City of Evanston with a proposition: “We want to build a park!”

The city was impressed, and donated a plot of their land that was not being used in this neighborhood, and the pennies paid for the materials. There was another catch, however: The city couldn’t afford to pay all of the full time workers, contractors and foremen it would take to build the park, and neither would the pennies. Of course foremen would always be present, but they needed volunteers! Luckily, the neighborhood had already proven their worth and they banded together once more for six straight days in the summer of 1990 to build their park: Penny Park. (Check out this local public access documentary video, especially from 17:36-20:48)

I was four years old in 1990, due to start preschool that fall in the Teddy Bear Room (not to be confused with the Sail Boat Room) and would turn 5 that December. My parents both worked full time, but we found the time to volunteer and help to build the Penny Park. We arrived ready to get our hands dirty, and the foreman came over to my Mom and I as we arrived. He was tall, and on the larger side. His hands were dirty, and he wore a hard hat and brightly colored vest over his stained t-shirt. He wore work boots with scrunched up dingy white socks and denim shorts cutoff at the knee. He bent down to speak to me with his hands on his hips, and it went a little something like this:

Foreman: Well hello there, little lady!

Me: Hi!

We shook hands.

Foreman: I’m sure you’ll be a great help today! It’s nice to have little girls around to help. We’re going to be laying sod this afternoon.

Me: Ok!

Foreman: Do you know how to lay sod, little lady?

Me: Green side up. Duh.

The foreman stood up, and looked at my mom for help, but there was none to be found. She was stifling her laughter. She had nothing to say to him, because I had a point, didn’t I? How could anyone argue? Could she blame me for delivering a snarky sarcastic bite to a man who was patronizing me?

***

I told my Mom that I wanted to be a Girl Scout when I was little, and in the fall of 1991, at the start of my Kindergarten year, she certified to be a troop leader, and an announcement went around to the girls of the Kindergarten class that there was a Girl Scout troop starting. We were Troop #007 (Yeah, I’m serious!) and there were between 5 and 9 of us each year all throughout grammar school.

In Kindergarten, in Girl Scouts, you’re what’s called a Daisy. In 1991, Daisy Girl Scouts were a very new development, so our curriculum was limited, and we were too young to begin selling cookies, but learning what it meant to be a Girl Scout and spending time getting to know one another, as well as work as a team and as strong individual Kindergartners was what existed on the docket for that first year. (The curriculum and programming for Daisy Girl Scouts has skyrocketed since we started)

One of the girls in our Troop was very sensitive. She cried at the drop of a hat, and one of the other girls loved to tease her. Nearly every meeting, Teaser teased Sensitive, and Sensitive would cry. Then Teaser would feel bad for making Sensitive cry, and Teaser would start to cry. Then I would start to cry, because I’ve always found crying to be ultra contagious. Then, one by one, every other girl in our Troop would start to cry, either because they felt bad, it’s contagious, or because they were the last one not crying and wanted to be in on the club. My poor Mom!

Learning the Girl Scout promise was one of the first steps. (Remember: 1991! Back when it wasn’t really addressed that we talked about God in blanket statements!)

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

The Girl Scout Law, you may be wondering, is this:

I will do my best 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,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.”

Really good stuff to teach kids, in my honest opinion. Those were non-negotiable, and are still accurate to this day in Girl Scouts.

Other parts of being a Girl Scout could be catered to each Troop. We voted on things to make decisions, and debated when there was a gridlock. One of the earliest things we voted on was to say Grace before we ate together. (I’m pretty sure it was probably just ingrained in us, in our home life, and a force of habit, so why not bring it to Girl Scouts, too, right?) And so it was: We said Grace before we ate.

One of those times, after grace, and once we delved into snacks, the wheels in my brain began to turn and I just couldn’t keep quiet about it any longer. So I brought it up:

“Why do we say Amen at the end of Grace?”

All of the Kindergartners looked around at each other, waiting for someone to come up with an answer. – SILENCE-

My Mom piped up, “Well it’s the way that a prayer is ended, at church.”

Me: “Well ok, but this is GIRL Scouts. Why is about Men?”

Mom: Paused for a second, and it clicked. She stifled laughter, again. “I don’t think that’s what that-”

We cut her off, because the light bulb had gone off in all of Troop 007. When we said Amen, why was it all about men? Why couldn’t it be about GIRLS, or WOMEN?!

We debated this with my Mother, our Troop Leader, and ultimately won. From then on, Troop 007 ended each and every Grace with “A-women”.

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