Thursday, 14 June 2012

Wild life

Wow, these are hives of activity, aren't they? Wildlife clubs for kids.

Sure to be one near you. RSPB, Wildlife Watch, woods or country park. Pack your summer diary with events from this lot; manage three a day if you're minded.

Good ones burst with rangers who have a glint in their eye for the wonders of the wild. They can tell the difference between a stoat and a stuffed frog and don't nervously clutch the Surgical Hand Spray should Tinkertop glance upon a dead leaf.

The brilliant ones boast practical rangers and can wrangle an elderly birder, botanist, or geologist to walk alongside a bunch of whooping kids, communicating an ancient love of their ancient stuff as they go.

And the totally fantastic ones do everything with my kids, so I don't have to but can pretend I do.

Take today. I drive Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a wildlife club which could provide me with perfect cover should I want it. They make it easy for me to appear like an impressively involved parent, when in reality I have done nothing more than escort the offspring to a well-organised kiddy wildlife club, dumped them with the wizened elders, then quietly sloped off for a cup of gin.

Except I don't slope off for the gin. I am still too dim to have actually developed my exit strategy, unlike all the other canny mamas. While other parents make their escape, I walk round in the drizzle for two hours with  the little grits, the geologist, and the big kiddy club.

I console myself. I don't have anywhere else to go, and no-one to go with. But I'm sure this evening walk with the kid's group makes me a top-drawer mama, also somehow morally virtuous. Albeit one steaming gently with drizzle, and wondering how useful is that knowledge about soil sampling with a twizzle stick.

It's all admirable. And, secretly, I enjoyed the walk in the woods. It was pitched about my age-12 level. But I'm sure I never had such a thing as a wildlife club when I grew up. No wise rangers, no sand experts, no stuffed teaching stoat.

Possibly there were such clubs, but my parents couldn't be arsed (likely), or there was simply no need for them. The default assumption in my loosely-hanging 1960s primary school days was that we kids would spend all our valuable evenings and weekends kicking up outdoors, experientially teaching ourselves what we needed to know while we grubbed around in mud, hopefully not with the neighbourhood moggy as experiment A.

Adults left us alone. They knew by instinct the dubious activities that might come under the name of playing, and they didn't want to see them. They wanted us as far away from human sight as possible - falling short of actual abandonment - because they knew playing would make any sensible adult recoil in shock and horror. They were possibly my best years ever.

So while I feel undoubtedly virtuous, top-drawer mama material, joining in with the busy wildlife club, traipsing round the woods with a pack of kids, learning about sand and soil, a little bit of me also wants to feel confident that I can do as my own mother did. Tip the kids out of doors, lost and gone, then three hours later yell the adventurers back home, simply by sounding out that one magic word. Dinner.

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