Be Prepared!

Everybody has a their own personal “What were you doing when (fill in the blank)” memories.  For people in my generation it was “the day President Kennedy was shot” and “the planes hit the twin towers on 9/11” .   For me and my ninth grade classmates at Levey junior high it was “when the Tigers won the World Series in 1968”.

But today’s  story is even more personal. It does not relate to an external event that I had no control over, it is about a moment in my personal history that helped define my character. It is a disaster that I could have prevented, had I been prepared.

I have several memories of being a Cub Scout. When I joined the Scouts at the age of 8, their motto of “Be prepared” didn’t make much sense to me. I thought, “How difficult can it be to “be prepared”? What I didn’t realize then was that many of my setbacks in life were to be born out of my NOT being prepared!

My mother always took a prime leadership role in our family and, of course, when I became Cub Scout age, she became the Den 3 Den Mother. We had a lot of fun as Cub Scouts and we learned quite a bit too. Tying knots, building things, camping, field trips… it was all great. But what I wasn’t personally prepared for was the gut level leadership training that I received. And of course the motto “Be Prepared” was at the heart of my learning.

My personal “what were you doing moment” came when my mom, in front of the other 8 cub scouts in Den 3 asked me to explain the steps I took in building a birdhouse. Specifically, every cub scout had a project to build something and we were given plenty of time to complete the project on our free time. My project was to build a birdhouse… it’s not the most difficult task but it does take some preparation time and dedication.

Of course, I waited to the last minute or should I say the day before the Den meeting and I was not prepared. My dad, who was a real “handy man”, built the whole birdhouse himself and painted it so that at the den meeting the next night I would have my project done. My dad was a good egg and a real gentleman. But, the birdhouse was MINE to build and the moment of truth came at the den meeting when each scout had to describe to the other den mates how we had built our project. Mom, knowing that I did nothing to build “my” birdhouse, called on me to go first. I’ll never forget her saying, “Joe, you go first, tell us the steps YOU took to build YOUR birdhouse”.  I could feel my face becoming flush with embarrassment. The anxiety was killing me. The moment of truth had arrived…what would I say? I couldn’t take it any longer.

After a pregnant pause, I said “I didn’t do any of the work, my dad did it all”. After another long merciless pregnant pause in the room, my mom asked the next cub scout how he built his project.

I felt like a total loser in front of my buddies. What my confession did do, however, was give others permission to tell the whole truth as almost every other scout had some help from their mom or dad in building their project. After the meeting, they all came up to me and said that it took courage to admit what I did. They obviously didn’t know my mom that well because I took the path of least resistance.

Thanks Mom, I love and miss you.

2 thoughts on “Be Prepared!

  1. Joe, I love this! When I was a Scout mom, I was the handier parent, and it fell to me to assist with pinewood derby cars. We lived in Okemos, near Michigan State and Oldsmobile world headquarters. That meant there were a lot of engineer and scientist dads. They saw the derby as their competition, and a matter of professional pride for “their son’s” (wink) car to do well. Many of the entries looked like the professional products they were; these dads were serious.

    Though I was capable of building a car that could make a respectable showing against the dads (and I was sure tempted), I made my son build his entry himself. I advised, and sometimes controlled power tools in his youngest years. Predictably, especially in his first few derbies, my son’s cars finished poorly. I was incredibly proud his fourth grade car finished near the top against the pros.

    Restricting myself to advising when we knew engineer dads were building the cars against which my son’s would race was a great lesson for us both on many levels. The best lessons were these: My son learned that, though he suffered public losses, he knew inside that he had followed the rules, and that felt better than winning by cheating. I learned to stay in my own lane, even when I knew my son would be disappointed when his car was slower than if I had “helped.”

    Thanks for sharing your story. Your mom was always terrific. She and your dad did a great job turning a typical kid into an outstanding man!


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