I Didn’t Come This Far

My eye’s widened when the rich black velvety coffin box was opened. Inside was a sterling silver Eagle medal, an Eagle Scout embroidered emblem, an oval pin for the Eagle’s mother and one for the dad. The Boy Scout Eagle Presentation kit was impressive.

I was silent, contemplating the honor of being an Eagle Scout and the work it involved: 21 merit badges, camping requirements, an Eagle project, paperwork filled out and verified.

Everything about this presentation box was great, except one thing.

“Juan Jose’ has two moms,” I said. “Can I exchange the dad pin for another mom pin?”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” the female receptionist agreed. “Let me check.”

I didn’t come this far in scouts with Juan Jose’ to get a dad pin.

Juan Jose’ and Beth

I reflected to first grade when he joined his Tiger den. I thought that I’d be able to drop him off at the meeting, run an errand, return and pick him up. I soon found out that dens were as strong as their parent volunteers. It was also clear that our Tiger den leader needed help with our group of boys. The male den leader and I became a team. I organized the projects and the field trips, and he used his booming voice to bring the boys to attention. When he couldn’t make the meetings, I’d surprise the boys with my wolf whistle when I needed them to listen.

Juan asked me why he had to be in cub scouts. Because you have two moms, I told him. You need to know how to navigate in a group of boys. There are things I can’t teach you. He responded saying he liked his life and I could be his dad. It doesn’t work that way, I said, though his words made me feel good.

Our den at a field trip to city hall.

I was proud of the fact that our den of ten boys stayed intact for five years, with many of the cub scouts receiving their Arrow of Light and going on to join boy scouts.

I had agreed with Juan that once he reached this point, he could make the decision to go on for his Eagle or to stop scouts. I thought for sure he’d quit. Especially, after the camping trip that was supposed to show how fun it was to be in Boy Scouts which seemed more like an evening of hazing. That night, the worst of nights, when it was darker than dark, we were both crying. I reminded him that he didn’t have to do this anymore. He could be done.

During troop visits, he found one he liked, and he stayed. I told him that I’d support him, be right at his side, but since this was his decision, quitting scouts wouldn’t be an option until he earned his Eagle.

Arrow of Light

I touched the softness of the presentation kit. I could hear a woman telling the receptionist that I could swap the dad pin for a mom pin in the Scout Shop downstairs.

In the Scout store, I opened the kit and asked to swap the dad pin for a mom pin. “My son has two moms.”

“Oh no, we don’t do that,” the man said. He was my age, greying at the temple.

“That’s not what they said upstairs,” I told him.

“Who said that?” he countered.

My voice raised, “The only two women up there. The receptionist and the woman she asked.” I was ready to go to battle. He didn’t understand that I didn’t spend all this time in scouts to get a dad pin. The fact that I had to argue about this was ridiculous. Two moms in Juan Jose’s life had been normal for him since he was eight months old.

“I’ll take it up with them,” he said. “Just a moment.”

When he came back with the mom pin, I smiled. I watched as he undid the dad pin, replacing it with the mom pin.

I couldn’t help it, my smile grew. “Maybe two dads will come in and you will have another dad pin,” I said.

He grunted. I laughed, knowing I had spoken his worst fear and that it could happen.

 

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No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

Packing Your Teenager

Juan took this rainbow photo in Alaska

Photo by Juan Jose’

I thought I had Juan packed for life.

In his backpack were all the essentials for his Boy Scout trip to Alaska. He would be Denali hiking and animal watching, Kesugi Ridge backpacking, whitewater rafting, glacier exploring, salmon fishing, sea kayaking and camping by the Columbia glacier.

Inside his internal frame pack, Juan had base and middle layers for upper and lower. He had all the must haves: whistle, bowl, spork, insect repellant and water bottle. I even made sure that he had the optional items: foot powder, matches/lighter, compass, and pocket knife.

Of course, Juan helped pack. He picked out his stocking cap and gloves, sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad and all of the items that went into his backpack.  I was along as his advisor.

Photo by Juan

Photo by Juan Jose’

Juan would be gone for 12 days. His emancipation from his parents, I thought. And, to that end, Jody and I didn’t initiate contact while he was gone. Of course, this was also made easy because he was out of cell range.

There were times while he was gone that I felt smug. I had followed the packing list to a tee even though I’m not one to follow rules. I had helped him bag his items into gallon Ziploc bags so he would be organized and his clothes dry.

This packing had gone so well that I was starting to feel that this is all one had to do for their teenager.

Follow a list, not do the work for him but with him, and then drive him to the airport.

Photo by Juan Jose'

Photo by Juan Jose’

Now it was up to him to dress to stay warm … or not. To stay dry … or not. To brush his teeth … or not. He had all the essentials. He would make the decisions.

I figured when he came home we could follow this pattern in his teen years. Give him the information he needed—like a packing list for life—and then let him decide what to do.

That was until Jody told me that being cold in Alaska … or not and being dry … or not, didn’t equate to other decisions that he’d have to make as a teenager. That those decisions could have a life-long effect.

Juan Jose' Antonio Sol di Grazia

photo by Juan Jose’

I thought about my teenage years and realized she was right. I was pregnant at age 14 and 15. Juan could have a room full of packing lists, all the guidance in the world from friends, teachers and parents, and still make decisions that could alter the course of his life.

Even so, all there was to do when I saw him at the airport was hug him tight and welcome him home.

We’d be walking these years together.

 

Two Moms, A Sister, and a Boy Scout

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Anitqua, Guatemala

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Antiqua

When Juan Jose was ten, he was dumped in the Brule River not once, but twice when I was at the helm of our canoe. Without help from strangers, we would not have made it to the landing.

He’s almost 14, and he recently completed a comprehensive water-based safety course that involved practicing self-rescue and rescuing other kayakers with his Boy Scout troop in Lake Superior. These are necessary skills for the wilderness cold water kayaking that he’ll be doing in Alaska with the Scouts this August.

Juan didn’t join Scouts to learn how to navigate water. He joined Scouts to learn what his two moms and sister couldn’t teach him.

I became a Cub Scout leader by default. He wouldn’t let me drop him off while I ran errands for an hour.

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygenist

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygienist

When it was time for him to cross over to Boy Scouts, he decided to stay in scouting. This surprised me. I was preparing myself for a free evening. Instead, I trained to be an assistant Boy Scout leader. He still wasn’t ready for a parent to drop and run.

Juan was pulling away from me though. I no longer went to all of his campouts. When I did go, he was caught up in the flow of scouts running from one event to another.

Today, he completed his Eagle Scout project in Guatemala. He raised funds for children to receive dental care, and he collected over 130 lbs. of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and dental supplies .

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn't be blinded by the light. That's how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn’t be blinded by the light. That’s how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

The money he raised enabled 14 dental cleanings, 34 extractions, 31 fillings, and 28 sealants. Care that these children would not have received otherwise.

He gave one suitcase of dental supplies to the dentist and a suitcase of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss to De Familia a Familia. This organization is a link between birth and adoptive families. They have over 260 families that they are currently working with.

Juan couldn’t have done this project without help from relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

And, his two moms and sister.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Because of all of us, he’s learned to navigate waters and to pull himself back into his kayak.

Thank you.

A CHRISTMAS DILEMMA

brown treeJody and I have a dilemma. Our kids have Christmas all year long. They don’t want for anything.

Well, of course, they have a Christmas list. But … Antonio won’t get a hoverboard. He won’t get an upgrade to his iPhone 6. And, Crystel will have to wait to meet Ellen DeGeneres.

Jody and I created our own problem. We don’t wait for holidays or birthdays to gift them.

Antonio needed cross country boots and skis for Nordic skiing. We went to Sports Authority, our default store. We learned that they do not carry cross country boots or skis. While there, I encouraged Antonio to pick out five pairs of sweat pants and tops, his default clothing of choice. I had noticed his pant legs were creeping up. In my day, they called those “high water pants.”

Then we went to Dick’s, and they also didn’t have what we were looking for but they had socks for Antonio.

Finally, at REI we purchased the cross country boots, which we would end up returning because they were the wrong style. Still, while we were there I encouraged Antonio to pick out some dehydrated meals to try at home – anticipating his Boy Scout trip to Alaska in August of 2016.

The original purpose of our trip would prove fruitless yet bountiful for Antonio.

I mentioned the ‘Christmas all year long’ concept to Antonio and Crystel.

Though they didn’t disagree, they were not wild about my conclusion. I suppose they imagined a bare tree. Not hard to do when there isn’t even snow on the ground in Minnesota.

Still there has to be something under the tree for them. Something they don’t yet want.

Then there it was – snow boots. They need snow boots. Antonio will be taking a couple of winter camping trips with the Scouts. And Crystel’s no longer fit her. 

This may be the biggest surprise of all on Christmas Eve, since its December 21, 2015 and there is no snow on the ground in Minnesota.