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Life with Liz: A lot of merit

I’ve had enough bumps in the road to know better than to wallow in the sadness for what has been lost, and instead try to focus on the good and unexpectedly positive things that have come from a path I wouldn’t have chosen. I continue to go back to what a blessing this time together as a family has been, but there have been several other bright spots along the way that never would have happened if it weren’t for the quarantine.

The boys have been working their way through their Boy Scout ranks as time and other activities allow, but this shutdown has brought an amazing opportunity. Scouts pride themselves on being resourceful and adapting to their surroundings, and it didn’t take long for councils across the country to spring into action and start to offer merit badge opportunities online.

Since the boys don’t have a heck of a lot on their plates right now, I took the liberty of signing them up for any and all sessions that I could find.

Right away, I saw that there would be a benefit to this method. Because G is about a year and a half behind A in advancement, he has missed some of the required merit badge opportunities that the troop went on before him joining. G has been able to knock out two of the required merit badges that the older scouts had already earned, and in just a few weeks, he’s only a handful of badges behind his brother.

One of the first sessions A participated in was about American Labor. The counselor for the class was a pilot who is a union representative for a major airline. I don’t know what was more interesting, the stories he told about flying jets, or the work he has been doing on behalf of the pilots union due to the airline crisis brought on by COVID-19.

It was pretty amazing that this obviously busy professional found time in his schedule to mentor a large number of Scouts from all over the country. Our family has a long history with labor, on both sides, and it was truly a unique opportunity for A to see how labor is still such an important part of today’s workforce.

While the mining merit badge is certainly something G could have completed locally, he thought it would be more interesting that the other courses that were offered that week. Kids from all over the country called in to the session, which meant that G got to learn about a lot more than just anthracite mining. However, when the class discussed the famous mine fire in Centralia, G was the only kid who could say he’d actually been there. He was quite a celebrity.

I took advantage of a little thing called time zones to completely book the boys for back-to-back badge sessions one Saturday. When A started to complain about having to be online for approximately 12 hours over the course of the day, his first course started at 9 a.m. EST, and his last one ended at 9 p.m. PST, or midnight here, I was quick to remind him that his other plans for the day were to play video games with his friends, so, if he ever wanted to be allowed to do that again, he should tough out five different merit badges.

Along the way was the Scouting Heritage merit badge, and joining a counselor in Las Vegas, as well as Scouts from all over the country, drove home the many similarities and the many differences that all Scouts have.

One of most truly unique experiences that A has ever had in scouting came later that evening. He attended a Space Exploration merit badge session with a longtime NASA employee who had worked on the Cassini space probe mission to Saturn.

I must admit, I eavesdropped heavily on that session, particularly as she described her team’s reactions to photos of Saturn that had never been seen on Earth before. I got a little misty-eyed, and while I’ve always been more interested in what’s at the bottom of the ocean than what’s out in space, for just a minute, I think she might have changed my mind.

Over the past few weeks, the boys have racked up over 20 badges between them. While I occasionally get an eye-roll or a grumble when they have to sit down and complete some prerequisites, once they are a part of the class, I see a newfound enthusiasm for whatever subject start to bloom.

Almost all of the badges they’ve participated in have a requirement to research a career related to the topic and talk about why it might interest them. By the time they’ve completed these requirements, I truly think they’ve spent some time thinking that this particular subject may be something they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Currently, I’m listening to G earn his fishing merit badge. He’s darn lucky that his parents have documented his catches so well, so that he had photographic evidence to complete the parts of the badge that required him to actually get out and fish.

I have to say, there was a good portion of that class devoted to telling fishing stories, and since there are Scouts from all over the country participating, they all have ideas about where they want to go on the family’s next fishing vacation.

Another session about American Culture drew a Scout who had recently come to the United States from Portugal, and a Scout who lived in Hawaii. Listening to those Scouts talk and answer questions about their own cultures and how American culture has elements of both of them was another unique opportunity that I doubt my boys would have had if we had worked on the badge ourselves.

As crazy as life is right now, it is even crazier to think how much the boys have virtually traveled while we’ve been in shutdown. They’ve virtually toured Machu Picchu and the pyramids in Egypt on an archaeology expedition. They’ve gone searching for the California condor with conservationists. Along the way, their own stories have entertained and inspired others. This wasn’t an experience that I ever expected, but it has been an amazing silver lining for them, as well as a lot of work that they should be proud of accomplishing.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.