I was never a group person. I don't join clubs, I don't get picked for jury duty, and I'm proud to tell anyone who will listen that I spent the summer of 1995 not doing the macarena. There's no getting around it; I'm a wallflower at the proverbial orgy—and I've come to like it that way. Besides, it's not as if I didn't give the team thing a try.

The year was 1969 and the group was the (pre–Camp Fire Girl) Blue Birds. Things went okay at first. We sang "Silent Night" in a mall, we decoupaged empty cans of Minute Maid frozen pink lemonade into pencil holders, we brought hot soup to old people. And then one day, there was...an incident. Let the record show that I did not intentionally flip the switch to the garbage disposal in Debbie Schiller's mother's house, nor did I know there was a large glass stuck in it when the aforementioned switch was flipped, nor do I accept responsibility for the tiny glass shards that flew across Debbie Schiller's mother's kitchen and made 11 Blue Birds look like extras from the invasion of Normandy scene in Saving Private Ryan. Suffice it to say everyone pretty much agreed, I was just not Blue Bird material.

Raise your hand if you remember the Brownies. After my Blue Bird career ended, I'd watch these future Girl Scouts going off to meetings in their matching cocoa-colored shirtdresses complete with little felt cap and tangerine necktie, and I'd find myself wondering what it was like to be born with all your homework done. I didn't know what took place at a Brownie get-together, but I knew it involved cookies, and I knew they got merit badges, and I knew that their moms stitched those badges to the sashes they wore to display their many achievements. And thanks to the carnage of 1969, I knew one other thing: I would never quite fit in.

I'm still not particularly gifted at being one of the gang—uniforms make me panic and crowds make me claustrophobic. But I've learned to wear my eccentricities like little badges of courage. Still, an actual Brownie badge of merit...well, I wanted it. I wanted it bad. And I don't mean I wanted it in the metaphorical, your parents say they're proud of all your accomplishments sense; I mean I wanted somebody to teach me the secret handshake and toss me a Thin Mint.

That's right, at 49 years of age, I have cast off my outsider status and finally finagled an invitation to my first Brownie meeting. I will be part of a community; I will set right an old mistake. As God is my witness, I will merit a badge.

"Hi, I'm Lisa," I say, doing my best to mingle. "What's your name?"

"My name is Nia T. Montero and I'm 5 years old."

"What's the T stand for?"


"What do you like to be called?"

"Nia T. Montero."

Karolina, also age 5, asks me how old I am, as she narrows her eyes and zeroes in on the crow's-feet that appear every time I smile. "How old do I look?" It's a rookie mistake, but now that I've made it, all I can do is suck in my stomach and brace for impact. She circles me, does some calculations in her head, and finally replies, "I dunno...maybe 15." I think I'm going to like it here.

Failed icebreakers, awkward questions and Lisa's answer to the question "Have you ever met Lady Gaga?"


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