Given that there’s not much to do here, there are actually quite a few things for kids to get involved in that will eat up their parents’ time and money. There are tennis and karate lessons, football clubs (in the whole world, only the US calls it soccer), ballet, piano lessons offered in her home by the Russian wife of a Mauritanian man. The French School offers some after-school activities; there is the French Cultural Center where they can join a library or learn karate or ballet; there are a few private clubs.

We usually allow each child to do 2 activities, subject to parental approval on price and amount of driving involved, since both Donn and I are congenitally allergic to playing chauffeur. (You know, I bet there’s no legal driving age limit here. Hmmmm. If only they were taller…) Most activities begin in the fall, and this year we had some spirited exchanges on what, how often, when, etc.

The boys announced there’s a new club, “Football Brasilian,” where the coach actually trains and teaches the boys. This is opposed to other local private clubs, where you pay for the privilege of letting your kid just play a game with some other kids and the coach yells at them when they do something wrong—sort of a negative reinforcement method of training. Both boys are part of the “Football Brasilian” and are really enjoying it. Friends who live near play too, so there’s opportunity for car pools. Ilsa is in the school choir again, in spite of a painful experience at last year’s school concert (but at least people remember her!).

A year or two ago, a group of Americans here started a Boy Scout troop. The first year, we were the ONLY English-speaking family not involved. This was painful for our children. But who knew? Even the English and Portuguese kids were in. ONLY our children, of those in the right age group, were left behind. So last year, we knew we had to, even though I was initially informed that the Webelos group (for boys 9-11) was the short form of “We Be Loyal Scouts.” Although I had serious issues with allowing my children to join anything with such extreme grammatical problems, I did look into it and found out it is actually “We’ll be loyal scouts.” Still stupid, but at least not wrong.

This year, Elliot is a Boy Scout, Abel is a Webelos, and Ilsa is a Jr. Girl Scout. There are 4 girls in the troop, all 9, and I have to admit they are darn cute in their little green skirts. So far no cookies though, except the ones I make myself for snack. I mean, aren’t cookies the point?

I am not the ideal Scout mother. I lack energy and team spirit. I think the pseudo-military emphasis on the placement of belt buckles and shoulder loops is silly. I am far more likely to sleep in and make pancakes on a Sat morning than take my kid to the Scoutmaster’s by 6 a.m. for a 10-mile hike—and I believe in my heart of hearts that I am right about this. I tend to giggle when they salute and say, “A Scout is thrifty helpful brave cheerful friendly clean” etc., because my boys want expensive and useless toys and refuse to go upstairs with Ilsa when she’s scared of the dark and show signs of physical timidity and are often grumpy and whiny, not to mention that no one has seen the floor of their room for several months. But I’m really beginning to see the good points of scouting.

The other day at school, a kid got hit in the head and was bleeding. Elliot was right there with his 1st-Aid Scout training. He spoke calmly to the kid, ascertained where exactly he was bleeding, got blood on his own hands so rushed to wash it off, and was secretly REALLY disappointed when the kid’s parents showed up and he was unable to bandage or possibly cauterize the wound. (With Elliot, who knows what he would have done?)

So I was impressed, and more inclined to be patient with their weird faux-military insistence on the placing of each fiddly little badge or patch. I don’t sew, so I wait until he’s got about 5 things that need doing (and the level of whining has increased to fever pitch—“Mo-om! WHEN are you going to put my Arrow of Light on? It’s been MONTHS!”) and then I go to a local tailor, where for only about $1.50 I can make 7 trips to have him redo all the badges he’s put on upside-down, or on the wrong side, etc. while Elliot waits by jiggling with worry that he’s going to be late to the meeting and mess up the uniform inspection. So it’s lots of fun for the whole family.