It was supposed to be like a scene from a 1980s coming-of-age movie: two soft-focus kids being left at camp, looking back wistfully at their parents, as they slowly waved goodbye. Mom holds back the tears, while dad puts a comforting arm around her shoulder, as they watch their kids take a giant step out into the world, all alone.
In the event, as we left the older two kids at scout camp last weekend, there was barely a glance over their shoulders as we retreated through the excited melee. The kids have often stayed over with family and friends, but this was their first weekend away in their own right, and it felt like a milestone. Luckily, lots of their school friends are also Beavers and Cubs, so there would be plenty familiar faces at camp.
They burst out of school on the Friday before camp brimming over with anticipation. A quick trip to the shop was required to pick up the permitted “small quality” of sweets. At home, the camping cupboard was raided to check off the lengthy list of required kit: torches, sleeping bags, boots, hats, gloves and camping crockery were all gathered and soon our 7- and 8-year-olds had enough outdoor equipment to survive for months in the Arctic.
Eager faces peered out of the car windows as we approached scout camp. We snaked though a magical old oak woods, with its own shoreline, and arrived at the cheerfully ramshackle bunkhouses and campsites. We dragged in all the kids’ gear and set them up with all their bits and pieces carefully laid out, torches placed under the pillow. With Beavers as young as five, bed-wetting could be a risk for the smaller kids, so parents held whispered conversations of what to do in case of such a calamity.
My older boy, just newly a Cub, was the smallest of the group as he stood around with the older Cubs, but his endearing and confident demeanor always sees him welcomed into the centre of the action.
One of the great changes in childhood I’ve noticed since my day, is that nowadays older kids tend to automatically look after, and even dote upon, younger kids. In the dog-eat-dog world of my childhood, older kids typically considered younger kids as fair game – something to be ignored at best, used as servants, or at worst, pushed about and mocked.
Gangs of “bigger boys” roaming the neighborhood were an everyday menace, like stray dogs. I think the anti-bullying messaging which has become so prominent at schools is to thank for this. Older kids nowadays take pride in being kind to the younger ones and can put themselves in their shoes.
The house was eerily quiet for the weekend. This meant we could have special time with our youngest, who was treated to a trip to town for new shoes, a new t-shirt and new fish for the aquarium. She glowed at being the centre of attention.
At pick up time, we found the big kids still bodily intact after camp, if covered in mud, and wide-eyed. Beneath their manic and delighted exterior, it was clear they were utterly shattered. As we drove home, their babble of words could not come fast enough to describe all the incredible things that had happened at camp: crabbing, climbing, exploring, building bridges, games, bonfires, cooking outdoors, football and assorted hijinks.
The story from our Beaver contingent was that the Cubs had kept them awake all night, but our Cub representative blamed the Beavers for the very same offence.
I asked the kids if they had been homesick at all, maybe missing their bedtime stories. They both hesitated before my eldest conceded: “Well, I did miss the cat a bit.”