At age five, I became a Spark, the branch of Girl Guides for girls up to six years old.
A few weeks earlier, I heard my mom talking on the phone to someone. I wasn’t paying attention, until she said something that immediately caught my interest.
“She loves pink.”
I did love pink. I had no siblings. Of course she was talking about me. I wondered for a second what she was talking about. Then I lost interest, and resumed playing with my gerbil.
After some time, a mysterious package arrived in the mail. My mom said it was for me. I opened it.
There was a t-shirt. It was pink. There were pants. They were pink. I loved them both. My mom explained what they were for, reminding me of my older cousin who wore a blue Guides uniform.
I felt a little nervous before my first Sparks meeting. I needn’t have worried. Soon after setting foot in the school gym where the meeting was held, I was invited to help make crafts with the other girls.
As five-year-old girls often do, I quickly made friends with everyone else. I talked and played with them every week. Once, we made pom-poms out of plastic grocery bags and learned a dance routine to the Spice Girls.
During my time in Sparks, I was introduced to two essential elements of Guiding. The first were the ubiquitous cookies. I wanted to eat them all myself, but unfortunately that was not allowed. I instead sold them door-to-door with a couple other Sparks, along with our parents.
I was also introduced to the badge system. I received my sash, which was empty save for the badge I got for being a Spark.
After two years in Sparks, I progressed to Brownies. The badge system was much more complicated. I was given a book listing the different badges, and what I had to do to get them.
There was an older Guide helping out with my group. Her sash was full of badges, many so advanced they weren’t even in my book. I felt slightly awed with them all, lined up in neat rows.
I was a Brownie for two years. I was eventually able to collect a few of my own badges, which I displayed proudly on my sash. My troop was divided into smaller groups, led by senior Brownies. In my second year, I got to be a group leader, and was assigned important duties like taking attendance and collecting dues.
I left the Girl Guide organization after my second year as a Brownie, choosing dance as my extracurricular activity instead. A few years ago, while cleaning out my closet, I came across my old uniform and sash. All my badges were still attached, a reminder of my past achievements.
I don’t remember what half the badges stood for, but that sash is worth keeping. It’s not about the badges themselves. It’s about the effort I put into getting them, and how proud I felt when I finally added them to my collection.
Members of the First Eckville Girl Guide Unit will start earning badges and marking their achievements this year. They will be proud because of what the badges represent. Years later, the badge is just a piece of fabric or metal, but the effort that won it, whether it was learning a new skill or helping someone else, was real.