I’ll always remember the night my daughter outed me while we were on a Girl Scout camping trip. Michele was eight when she joined Girl Scouts. I should say when we joined: I resolved to be involved. It was a big step for shy, self-conscious, anxious me. But I was a single working mother, without a lot of friends or extended family nearby, and Michele and I spent an awful lot of time with just each other. I knew I had to find more friendship and support, for both of us.
When Michele brought home a flyer that the Girl Scouts would be at her school to answer questions and enroll new members it seemed like a miracle. We went, read the flyers, walked around talking to leaders of various groups, and signed up. The two young moms who led our group were friendly and energetic and arranged for a lot of great activities. It was the right move.
We signed up for a summer camping trip at the beach. I was pretty nervous. I’m a recovering alcoholic, with thirty-two years of sobriety, but back then I had been sober for just a few years. Sobriety was still a new state of being for me and things got stressful and bumpy at times. They were smoothing out, but still I found the thought of hanging out with Girl Scouts daunting. I felt deep down that I was different from the other moms. I didn’t’ quite belong in respectable society. And worse, I was afraid they would find out who I really was and reject me…and my daughter.
But we went. We carpooled and I really enjoyed Bev, the woman driving the van Michele and I rode in. I knew nothing about camping, but Bev was an expert. I followed her around and she told me what to do and I did it. It was a great system. She could set up a tent and cooking area and all the rest of it with her eyes closed.
After an afternoon swim for the girls and then dinner, we sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows and talking in the flickering firelight. After a while I screwed up my courage and told a story. It was about Michele’s Grandma Myrl, on her father’s side, and a huge crab.
Myrl was on a tourist crabbing boat in Alaska. A crab escaped confinement somehow and was crawling on the boat floor when it speeded up suddenly and raced straight toward Myrl. Somehow it ended up latching on to her glove. “It was scary,” I told everyone. “In the photo it looked like it was dangling from my mother-in-law’s hand. But actually it was only latched onto her glove. Thank God the tour guide had given her gloves that were way too big!” You couldn’t see it in the photo, but there were inches of empty space between the tips of Myrl’s fingers and the huge claw.
Chuckles and murmurs and OMGs rose up around the campfire, and then Michele’s clear young voice rang out. “Grandma isn’t your mother-in-law,” she said matter-of-factly from her perch across the fire from me. “You and Dad were never married.”
I froze. Then I did what I always did, I focused on the negative, and from there I launched into my familiar, habitual catastrophic thinking. Now they knew, I thought, and they would reject me. I would be ostracized. Maybe I would be expelled from Girl Scouts. I wondered, do they even accept unwed mothers as members? I didn’t remember seeing anything about that on the form. Then my anxiety thoughts, that were gaining momentum and increasing in speed, were interrupted by a hearty, long-lasting group belly laugh that rang out around the fire, coming from moms and kids.
I relaxed. “Thanks for letting us know that, sweetie,” I said, to more laughter. And then the troop leader, a single mother like me, said, “I was never married to Lydia’s father either.” There was yet more laughter, and I laughed too, with great relief. I looked across and saw Michele laughing, and talking with her new friends. I leaned into an unfamiliar but very pleasant feeling that all was well.
That’s the night I learned that “normal” society is not uptight and boring and judgmental, as I had thought for years. It isn’t even normal, because normal doesn’t exist, except as a setting on a dryer. And I knew I was right where I belonged. With the Girl Scouts, and these awesome mothers and daughters.