Saturday, July 14, 2012

We survived!

Little Guy and I left home last Sunday for a week at Cub Scout camp.

There were three other parents (two male, one female), a 15yo boy scout, and me. And, um, 19 kids. And a lot of spiders, and some raccoons, and some deer, and plenty of chipmunks.

Night one: 
We discover (via the sound effects of a dozen hysterical boys) that there are spiders in the tents. Not the itsy-bitsy kind, but critters with bodies the size of a quarter, with dramatic zigzags and 2" legs. And guess what? They could jump three feet.

This is just a regular cricket. The spiders were much bigger.
It was exciting. No one wanted to go to bed. And just so you know: the boys who weren't terrified helped out by tossing Daddy Longlegs on the others.

Most kids got to sleep by about midnight. There was one boy who had panic attacks all night, and paced the campground with his tent buddy from 2-4am. Which may explain why the raccoons didn't infiltrate until about 4:30. But that's another story.

We break up into groups. Chris (a dad) and I are put in charge of four cub scouts and two just-graduated Weebelos. Our job is to ferry them between activities. This involves approximately 400 repetitions of "C'mon, guys!" and "Hurry up!" during each transition. The older boys help us move by playing war games in transit, ensuring that everyone tramps through a suitable patch of poison ivy.

One 6yo becomes obsessed with raspberries, which grow in abundance. We periodically retrieve him, covered in juice and scratches, to re-participate in activities.

Most boys spend their entire weekly allotment of spending money at the canteen, entirely on candy and soda. This has the effect of decreasing their ability to hear their names called, while simultaneously increasing their need to have sword fights with large sticks.

We have an hour of swimming, an hour of sports, and then an hour of non-stop racing through an obstacle course. By the end of that they are almost human.

The mess hall serves meatballs for dinner. They are almost inedible.

The kids are tired, though the bedtime spider hysteria has been reduced to a mere hour or so. Several boys have purchased water sticks, long tubes which squirt water a surprising distance. We establish several new rules: no squirting into tents, no squirting those who have said they do not want to get wet, no using the slop water for ammunition.
Our campsite, minus screaming boys

We have meatball sandwiches for lunch.

After lunch we do archery and BB guns and swimming. No one gets injured, which means the afternoon passes without a single trip to the nurse.

I take belayer training. I am now officially qualified to belay people up and down walls and caves and whatnot. Hey, why not? With these kids, ya never know when you'll need it.

We have a campfire at our site. It is a success: no one is ignited by burning marshmallows, and there is a half-hour of kids falling off logs with laughter after it is discovered that someone wiped himself with the shower curtain that divides the two latrines.

The boys hover two inches from full-fledged Lord of the Flies behavior. One 10yo trips and curses out another, who gets so mad he begins to collect rocks to throw. I intervene, suggesting to the rock collector that perhaps another course of action would be more advisable. He replies fiercely, "I don't care! I want to kill him! Or at least hurt him badly enough to send him to the hospital!"

Half an hour of talking later, we convince Rock Collector to visit the nurse to bandage up his still-oozing knees and elbows. He is still angry when he returns. This is a recurring theme throughout the week.

Why limit yourself to throwing stones?
We have pasta mixed with chopped-up meatballs for lunch. I tell Angela (the other mother) that they should have advertised this as a diet camp.

There is a camp-wide campfire in the evening, after open swim. The adults in our pack come up with a skit about a new iPhone app for frustrated Cub World leaders, which reduces the burden of repetition. All you have to do is choose a standard response for the situation you're in. There are two modes: Kind Den Leader and Drill Sergeant.

Kind Den Leader example #1 (in saccharine voice):  But Daddy Longlegs are harmless! You want them here because they eat mosquitoes!

Drill Sergeant: I EAT SPIDERS FOR BREAKFAST! Get in bed before you eat them, too!

Kind Den Leader example #2: Boys, put the rocks down, please. Yes, Bobby, you too.

Drill Sergant: PUT THE ROCK DOWN! ... No, not just the big ones! ... No, NOT ON HIS FOOT!

You get the idea.

Our most difficult child is eating breakfast sausage with his fingers. I ask him to please eat it with a fork. He stares at me and says snippily, "Why should I?" I offer the usual explanation, to which he replies, "Well I'm not civilized!"

I pause, then explain that the alternative to eating in a civilized manner is not to eat at all. He shoots me a look, then picks up his fork.

A moment later I look at him and he is lowering a syrup-dripping piece of pancake into his mouth with his fingers. He sees me notice, looks me straight in the eye, then defiantly licks each of his fingers in turn. I am so angry I leave the table to calm myself and figure out the next move.

Fortunately, the pack leader shows up out of nowhere. This is new: she hadn't told the parents that she would not be there for most of the week; we found that out when we showed up. Or rather, we found out when she disappeared. I have her talk to the unpleasant child, because I am afraid of what I will say.

Little Guy talking on the phone to Dancer for
the first time in three weeks. I didn't bring a phone charger,
so we were pretty much incommunicado.
During the day the exhausted kids are staggering, usually into each other, with great protests of "He hit me!" and "He's annoying me!" The seven-year old in our group falls asleep during the knot-tying lesson, and we have to haul him, one scout holding each elbow, down the trail to the next activity. This child goes everywhere at 90mph, then crashes. The day we had wall climbing (the kids, that is; the parent have been climbing the walls since day one) this boy scampered to the top in record time.

We have Swedish meatballs for dinner.

The older Cubs, the Webelos, have a campout somewhere else this evening. We have reserved "the ship" for an overnight. With only seven kids to corral, I get them all in bed by taps. It is a peaceful night, despite the raccoons rattling about in the trash can nearby.

While saying my evening prayers, I realize that my mindset has shifted from mere survival to an understanding that the purpose of this campout is for each boy to grow in some way.

I awaken with a spirit of optimism that is quickly eradicated. A crowd of boys with water-squirting tubes monopolizes the water tap and are waging a full-fledged battle at 7:30am. Chris tells the boys to back off so that other kids can brush their teeth. Breakfast Boy (of the finger-licking pancakes) looks Chris straight in the eye and reloads. Chris takes the water tube and says, "You may have it back tomorrow".

Breakfast Boy shouts, "Child abuse! You're stealing my things!" Several other boys join in the protest. Alas for them, their outrage does not exceed that of the adults. The water stick disappears.

There are camp-wide games this morning, so the entire pack has to spend the morning together. Rock Collector manages to irritate or assault or insult almost every single scout he meets. I sit down to talk to him, and he tells me, "I don't care! I like to irritate people!"

I say, "Hmmmm. You have the right to like what you want to like, but unfortunately that's not an acceptable attitude around here." He stomps off. I send our Boy Scout to search for him.

Meanwhile, another boy is falling asleep at each station. Someone takes him to the nurse; he has a fever of 101. This precipitates a logistical crisis, because we cannot have just one adult stay in the campsite with the boy. Oh well. We figure it out.

It is hot and humid. Numerous scuffles break out. Little Guy is irritated by everything and everyone, breaks down in tears and won't budge. We figure it out.

We get to the last game, and I suggest to Chris that taking away the water squirter for a whole day on the last day might be a bit harsh, and perhaps we should give Breakfast Boy a chance to earn it back for the afternoon swim. We are short a lunch waiter (I forgot to mention that one kid had a meltdown and his dad came to take him home), so Chris offers Breakfast Boy the option of skipping the last game to do the job. 

Breakfast Boy says, "Can I do it after I'm done here?" Well... no. The table has to be set before everyone else arrives for lunch. Breakfast Boy opts to keep his place in line. As soon as he's shot his two pompoms with a slingshot he asks, "Now can I go?"

Chris says no: he was given a choice, and he made a choice. Breakfast Boy is outraged all over again, and starts screaming, "Child abuse! You wait until I tell my mother!" Chris and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Chris says, "Oh, I'd be GLAD to talk to your mother!"

Breakfast Boy continues to rail until I ask what he thinks 'child abuse' means. He says, "You gave me a choice and they were two things I wanted! That's not fair!" Ummmm. No. 

We have sloppy joes made of mashed meatballs mixed with bland barbeque sauce for lunch.

Later in the afternoon, Rock Collector has his water squirter taken away. He immediately begins to collect rocks to throw at the Assistant Scoutmaster. It takes 20 minutes with two large men in front of his tent for him to agree to stay there until he calms down.

Forgive me, but I am leaving out other altercations and issues. There was the boy who came with only a sheet and no long pants or jacket; the one who created working numchucks out of sticks and twine ("Can I try them out on Theo?"); the one who ran after everyone with a stick; the hyperactive ones; the non-listeners. There was one who ate two many raspberries and messed himself at 11pm, the obligatory lost kid, various balls-in-faces catastrophes, a child who didn't drink at all for a day, and the kid who wore the same outfit all week long. There was a 6yo who danced suggestively while singing raunchy songs, and a 7yo who wanted to tell us the plot of a slasher movie. It made for a diverse and intense leadership experience.

Last night we had a free hour and after getting the boys to pack their bags I said we were going to do a service project: we were going to collect enough firewood so that the pack that arrives tomorrow can build a fire.

Most of the kids nodded. Breakfast Boy said, "That's not fair! Nobody did that for us!"

No, but we can be thoughtful anyway. We can grow and overcome our weaknesses and our selfishness. We can learn to do the right thing, and to help others, even if it's way more work than we want to do. And when we have worn ourselves out with service, we can go home and eat something that's NOT meatballs, and be patient with people to whom we are related. And hopefully we will have learned something about how different people are, and how resourceful we can be.

And we can sleep, without raccoons or spiders.


  1. Your hilarious/sad/oh-so-real recap brought back memories of my days as a youth camp counselor a few years ago. The director's wife recently hinted that I come back later this summer . . . I smiled and went on about my business! May you have plenty of rest/down time/deprogramming this week!

  2. And this is called Fun?!?! Reminds me of why I hated camp as a child. I'm glad you survived and are home in one piece!

  3. Julia, This is just hilarious! Well written as I could visualize everything you were saying. Boy, you certainly are a survivor! Good job.

  4. Breakfast boy, Rock Collector,Numchucks youngster,Suggestive dancer boy, Non listener lad, & slasher kid stated the boy scout oath everyday? Right?
    On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
    To help other people at all times;
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

    1. Oh yeah...
      But I suspect it's a case in which the transition from words to action takes a looooong time!

  5. Julia I am a regular and fervent reader of your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed this entry. However, I do hope that you were taking some literary license when writing it. Otherwise who in the world of this group will ever help little old ladies (like me) across the street anymore? AAH

  6. I'm exhausted. I think you deserve some kind of medal.

  7. Wow. That sounds like an exhausting week!

  8. Is the worst part that you probably paid a fee equal to the cost of several pounds of meatballs to enjoy this pleasure? Bless you!

    Oh how you will enjoy this next week of "normal" living.

  9. I am totally exhausted and stressed just reading this. I can only hope that you have learned your lesson: Girl Scout camp. It's snippy and clique-y, and there are meatballs, and they don't like spiders and sometimes don't listen, but they do not maim each other.

    Can you have L'il Guy write his experience of camp? I wonder what that would look like.

  10. That is the funniest writing you have done yet. The Cub Camp Hell really brought out your talents. God bless you.

  11. You are my hero. I'm having scout camp flashbacks from last year and I didn't even do the overnight parent-in-charge bit! And for the record, "Survivor" aint got nothing on Camp Vanishing Leader over there in NJ!

  12. My grandma was a boy scout leader for her boys in the 1950's. She wore bright red lipstick at all times and always had homemade cookies for the troops. All the boy scouts had a crush on her. She loved being the parent of capital B boys in all their numchuck making, meatball eating, tormenting, testosterone reeking glory. This reminded me of her so much! You are quite a woman, Julia. xoxo!

  13. its pretty cool to have a camping and its pretty fun specially if are with your friends or even with your family

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