I'm really beginning to hate Girl Scout cookies.
I especially don't like the ones in my living room (still to be sold) and the ones in my car (to be delivered).
The only ones that don't really bother me are the ones in the dining room, because some of them are going to troops in Iraq, and the rest to injured military men and women at the VA hospital.
The rest of the world gets to pass the time debating whether Thin Mints are better than Samoas, and why don't they make those yummy cinnamon ones anymore?
But I'm the Cookie Mom. And that changes everything.
A good cause
My daughter is a member of Troop 263, a great group of sixth-graders with the sweetest troop leader you could ever meet. The leader is so hard-working and giving that I felt I had to help with something. And Girl Scout cookies are only around one month a year, I thought, so how bad could it be?
The first meeting was in January. We received a carefully organized packet of information and forms (in triplicate) that should have been my first clue. Instead, I'm impressed with the Girl Scout organization and think this will be a piece of cake.
Patton would be proud
The second meeting, in early February, opened my eyes. The meeting was to divide up the cookie booths in our area. Booths are a tactic where you, the innocent shopper, go to the store and are ambushed by a troop of excited Girl Scouts with an exhausted mom and a table full of cookies awaiting your purchase.
Little did I know the strategies and competitiveness involved in who gets to set up their folding card table in that coveted space for those precious three hours.
It's a lottery. The troop numbers go into a bag, and as yours is called, you choose one booth time from all those available. Then you wait for everyone else to take a turn.
An experienced Scouting mom friend called that afternoon: Could I pull some booth assignments for her? Sure! Ignorance is bliss.
For two hours we take our turns. The experienced moms are willing to share strategy: Publix is the most coveted, because of the high traffic. The girls like Animal House best because, well, 'tweens love animals. Jim's Harley-Davidson is popular because they're always nice. Another group loves Chick-fil-A best.
I get home at 9:30 p.m., and my husband gives me that "where have you been all this time'' look and laughs when I say it's a scary, quasi-evil machine that I'm getting sucked into. I sound like the kids.
So far, so good, though. The girls have taken orders, hopefully without too much arm-twisting. We've tallied it all and entered our order via computer. I choose a pickup time for the local warehouse.
The warehouse confirmation says: You will need two station wagons or one minivan with seats removed to pick up your order. These cookie folks know their stuff.
So on the appointed day at the appointed hour, we pull into line at the cookie warehouse. Once again, impressive organization. Our order of more than a thousand boxes is ready on the dock. They pack the minivan to the gills. We head for the parish center, where we've reserved a room to sort the cookie orders.
And it starts to rain.
Somehow all the boxes get carried inside. The girls love the rain and run outside to get drenched while we tackle the paperwork. I'm expected to keep track of every box from every case from now until we turn in the money. Right.
Three hours later, the girls have all picked up their orders, but there are hundreds of cookies to be sold at booths that have to be moved — again — to my house. Back into the minivan they go. At this point, both my children are over being helpful.
Sell, sell, sell!
That was Saturday. On Sunday, we have a booth at Winn-Dixie. I load up what I think we'll be able to sell there, fill out form T-4, come up with starting money for making change out of my own pocket, find a tablecloth to make the display look nice and manage to get there on time.
The booth goes fine. Parents show up as promised to supervise, so I take off and return at 4 to pack up.
This is where the paperwork gets, well, messed up. What's supposed to happen: You count the cookies and the money and reconcile everything, such as the box "we dropped and had to eat.''
What did happen: It was time to go to church, where the girls were selling cookies after Mass. So we throw a couple of more cases in the minivan and head out.
We get home at 7:30 p.m., wiped out. I force the kids to help empty the car, then I count the money and put it in a safe place, then pretty much fall asleep sitting up. Forget inventorying the cookies. Too tired.
On Monday, I e-mail a former troop leader whose daughter is grown. "Do the money and the cookie numbers ever balance?''
HAHAHA was the return e-mail.
Trump: You're fired!
Next up is a Wednesday afternoon booth at the Northeast Publix.
Sales are brisk. The girls don't even have time to whine that it's cold. We started at 3, and by 4:30, I know we're in trouble. The cases were dwindling. I borrowed one of the girls' phones, trying to find anybody home who could shuttle more boxes from my house to our booth.
I started to feel like those losers on Apprentice who know they'll be heading into the boardroom.
The Samoas run out first. So now I have to admit defeat to my podmate at work, Holly Braford, who picked Samoas as the best cookie in her "Munch Madness" feature in the St. Petersburg Times' Floridian section earlier in the week.
The Thin Mints are the next to go. By now, we're apologizing to most any woman who stops by our table. You see, the men want Samoas, but settle for the peanut butter varieties. But the women who want Thin Mints cannot be appeased.
We all cheer when Angelina's mom drives up with reinforcements.
After shuttling everyone home and cooking dinner, inventorying cookies is my lowest priority. I did count the money, though. I was curious as to how well the booth had gone. In three hours, we sold more than $800 worth of cookies. That is, if my calculations are right.
The Girl Scouts will be selling cookies through March 16, when my tour of duty will be over. And I put this promise to my husband in writing: I will never be the Cookie Mom again. Honestly, after Girl Scout officials see this, they probably wouldn't let me, anyway.
Jan Brackett is a Times news designer and copy editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.