Actually getting out of the front door for our weekend walk was somewhat of a challenge. Eldest son decided to launch into a full scale meltdown during that critical time slot – between food and youngest son requiring his nap. Two sock changes (obviously) and many tears later we made it out.
Baby was in his little life backpack carrier and mostly we were wearing boots, so we thought we’d be safe to explore some of the off-road footpaths. We discovered new exciting amounts of mud: the type that the playground game ‘Stuck in the mud’ is named after. Middle son found his feet sinking into the mud and accidentally pulling his whole leg out of his boot with each forward step, I made a poor choice of footwear and kept slipping sideways, eldest son didn’t pick the wisest spot to put his hand and got his gloves all muddy. We tried to find a safe route through this simple footpath, but things got more complicated. It felt a bit like we were on ‘Total wipeout’ except there was no comically oversized boxing glove to knock us off course. As we navigated around the more treacherous sections, clinging to nearby vegetation or fence posts; husband bravely waded though the central part of the course and attempted to rescue us from assorted predicaments.
By the time we returned the tantrum might have been forgotten but we’d once again accumulated enough muddy garments to fill the washing machine twice over. I still think Total Wipeout looks like fun but maybe without the kids, TV cameras and running commentary.
Returning home from today’s adventure involved the big boys snuggled under a blanket in the back of the car, Daddy folding his cycling jacket in half backwards and sitting on it and Mummy making use of the car’s hot air blower system into the footwell and baby sat in his car seat giggling away and that he’s stayed clean and dry. An emergency fast food takeaway followed, the promise of which had got eldest son through the last few kilometres of our expedition. We’d been on a family cycle: Our first one for a while and the perfect opportunity to use our new 4 bike, rear cycle carrier. It was a beautiful winter’s sunny day. It was also the morning after Storm Bella raged through Hampshire.
We decided to tackle some of the Meon Valley trail again, this time from the Corhampton end. (We had a delayed start, while we overcame several teething problems with the new equipment. Then baby fell asleep in the car, but all was not lost when the boys clocked a play area and skate park to entertain them while Daddy unloaded and youngest son snoozed.) Access to the trail would take us down a flooded country lane. This body of water was definitely less ‘large puddle’ and more ‘accidental ford’. The road was covered. Unfortunately, the road was also uneven and had a rather large pothole at the side of it – of course we didn’t know this until we hit it, put a foot down to avoid falling and then felt it plunge into ice cold water. Two minutes in to our cycle and there were soaking feet everywhere. Eldest son attempted to avoid a similar fate and managed to get his front wheel stuck against the bank as he rounded the corner. Happily, a passing dog walker – wearing wellies – assisted and sent us on our way.
We’d been warned about mud. There was indeed mud. We hadn’t counted on quite so many fallen trees blocking our path though. Some we were able to move out of the way; others we found a way around; yet more required climbing over, armed with muddy bikes. Lifting over my bike while our 15 month old infant was still riding shotgun on it, was quite a mission; but with two adults doing the lifting and two small boys shouting ‘helpful’ instructions and running in circles, we made it unscathed.
Realising how close to lunchtime it was, we made the decision to turn around once we reached the Soberton section that we’d visited during the summer. The water level in the river was particuarly high so middle son and I amused ourselves by watching a herd of cows elect to cross it in a line. It was edge of your saddle, nail biting stuff. When one of the smaller cows had a little slip in the fast flowing water, I even held my breath. I am pleased to report that every cow made a successful crossing.
Catching up with Daddy and the eldest should have been simple, if middle son hadn’t felt the need to dramatically fall sideways off of his bike as a protest to an amiable couple daring to walk past on his preferred racing line. This technique is tried and tested for maximum attention. He does enjoy going down like a sack of spuds before reaching out helplessly.
A quick pitstop to refuel with fruit pouches and fruit bars and a rather unfortunate time for the sun to hide behind the nearest cloud. When you stop, you realise how cold finger tips and toes are. The boys also realised they were cold. So began the “I’m too cold to cycle home” tantrum. Typically, we were about 6 km from the carpark at this point. Mummy tried the usual tactics: gentle encouragement, challenging them to a race and brutal honesty. These all failed. Enter Superdad. He promises one a McDonalds if he can make it back and cycles alongside the other pushing him gently along. However, the crying level of our 4 year old was increasing and his ability to balance was apparently decreasing. The odds of making it back like this were against us. It wasn’t a surprise when we didn’t. Husband then came up with possibly the most genius of plans. Place child on back. Carry small bicycle. Ride large bicycle. All at the same time.
Middle son found this new method of transportation worthy of a beaming smile and we arrived back at the car without further incident, unless you count the fact that we’d brought enough mud back with us to fill a large bathtub, we’d run out of sunlight to wash the bikes AND the washing powder box was empty!
We’ve been chaos free for a little while now. I am pleased to report that today made up for it. We visited the stunning grounds at Exbury. Our trip did not pass without incident.
We had several factors that were working against us: the relentless rain – a disadvantage of having to book ahead, overtired boys – following early mornings and later bedtimes, and the fact that I hadn’t checked the ‘seasonal status’ of our location. The problem with October half term is that more and more places are now going all out for Halloween, with scary decorations etc. This is great for the majority of children (including middle son), but for the few children who get scared easily and struggle with all things spooky, it can be somewhat problematic. There was panic even getting through the entrance (adorned with horror figures). Next, the bitter disappointment for my little steam train enthusiast upon discovering the the engine had now become a ghost train that he wouldn’t go near.
Once we’d established the places to avoid, I was very impressed with Exbury Gardens itself. A beautiful place full of adventures. Ours started in water…obviously.
Baby turned 14 months today and clearly decided this is a good age to do his own exploring, despite his slow little toddle – the type that results in a wobble or fall every time you cross uneven ground. Evidently he hadn’t read the signs explaining that there were 20 miles of pathways here and felt this was a sensible distance for such little legs to tackle. Every time I tried to put him back in the pushchair he would cry in protest! In contrast, middle son wanted to be in/on the pushchair, even eldest son kept plonking himself on the little footrest at the front. Sometimes I wonder how this pushchair has survived so long without buckling! So, after a few hours of exploration, we headed for the play area with the 4 year old in the buggy and the 1 year old trotting along beside – all whilst trying to shield the 6 year old from all things scary near the rock garden.
Youngest son absolutely loved the wooden play zone. I think it had something to do with everything being wet, muddy and slippery. Handfuls of mud and bark chippings also have an appeal. Rain means faster slides. He made several attempts to go down forwards. Luckily mummy was wise enough to anticipate a head on collision with the ground and assisted him adjust to a seated position.
Lunchtime was interesting. Hand washing three pairs of hands with a combination of water poured from drinks bottles, baby wipes and sanitiser would have been more successful if they didn’t find the dirtiest surface within reaching distance to touch immediately afterwards. I’d managed to supply the whole family with waterproof trousers, so sitting on a wet surface shouldn’t have been an issue but the drizzle meant the small people elected to eat inside a little hut. ‘Little’ being the operative word there. There was no way baby would sit in a civilised manner, this meant I also had to bend my ridiculously long legs into the damp wooden playhouse and hold the baby on my knee with one hand whilst organising, opening and handing out picnic food to the big two. Youngest son was in a ‘wriggly’ mood so a large portion of food ended up on the floor. Further food was discarded on the back of my head as I bent down to pick up the first lot. Having successfully fed the littlest one and cleared up the mess I started my own lunch. Approximately 2 and a half mouthfuls later and my smallest child got restless gesturing towards the slide again. We were back on the move.
The after lunch toilet trip was even more interesting. We found a baby change facility that fitted us all in. Middle son was desperate for a wee, however waterproof trousers with straps over the shoulders take significantly longer to remove when you have a jacket over the top and an elder brother using the tiled floor as an ice rink – evidently taking the opportunity to conduct his own friction experiment. All I wanted to achieve was a nappy change for the baby and avoid middle son’s clothing ending up on the floor.
Many sensible people would have given up at this point and headed home. As we’d driven so far to visit, we continued onwards, hoping to move the hide and seek game that the older two were now engaged in…away from the toilet block. It was a good decision, as it meant the children discovered the giant bell, found the crooked tree, went on a stick hunt, scaled tree trunks, playing more pooh sticks and hid amongst bushes.
Then, when we were at possibly one of the furthest points from the exit, middle son decided he could walk no further and collapsed dramatically on the grass making accompanying groaning sounds. I managed to coax him onward and he began the slow crawl on his forearms (much like a zombie from the ‘Call of Duty’ game). He was briefly amused by a selection of pretty flowers before doing a vanishing act, while I was talking to eldest son on the stone bridge. As it turns out, he’d felt the best course of action was to sit himself at the bottom of a muddy ditch – as you do.
He was done walking. He was adamant. The sense of relief that I had my double buggy with us was indescribable. (I’d only brought it having run into trouble earlier in the week when off-roading – the wheels on the single are not suited to mud, but that another story). Middle son sat beside his baby brother and within 5 minutes they were both fast asleep. Somehow we made it back to the tea room to provide eldest son with a hot chocolate. I never thought sitting outside under a dripping shelter could be so relaxing until today.
The method I use to make myself feel on top of this parenting malarky is to compare to a time when everything felt much harder. For me, this was when I had a completely non verbal, fast moving, independent and stubborn 1 year old AND a newborn. I’ve just discovered a text I sent my husband during this time period:
“It’s been a very stressful morning. Both boys have been needy. All I wanted to do was to get the dinner in the cooker (I’d actually written ‘cooler’ but reading it back through, this made no sense) and wash up but both tasks took forever in between bouts of tears, toddler poo and baby sick. I still have a headache but am supposed to be going out this afternoon, so thought ‘eldest son’ should sleep (At the time, he would only snooze while in a moving vehicle or pushchair). Also needed to go delivering but the double buggy was all collapsed out the back so that took me a while to set up whilst ‘eldest son’ was banging his head. He then gave me another scare. I went to pick up the poll cards, turned around and he was gone. Gate was open. Went to check he wasn’t hurting baby (who was in the hallway) and saw the front door was open. I had visions of him standing in the middle of a road so dash outside. Without shoes or coat on, ‘eldest son’ has got himself into the pushchair (his brother’s side) and is looking at me wondering what that problem is. Fast forward 10 mins to when I finally got them both outdoors, dressed and strapped into pram properly. I made it down to the end of ‘our road’. It starts raining. Rain cover isn’t in the back of buggy. I thought about going back but don’t know where to search for the raincover and ‘eldest’ will likely be asleep in a few houses anyway. ‘Youngest’s (now middle)’ dummy is on the pavement. He is howling. Rain is getting heavier. A mere nine houses were delivered. Eldest did fall asleep. I have now settled baby and crashed out in bed. What a morning!”
So whenever someone asks me how I manage with three infants, my response is usually “It’s easier than it was with two”! If anyone is having a bad day and can’t think of a time when things were harder – after all we’ve never had a pandemic like this before – I’d recommend making the comparison to any parent in a soap opera. Or better still, stop, breathe, take an extended look at your little person/people and consider how blessed you are to have them. I don’t think medical science will ever discover a stress reliever as good as seeing your child’s smile.
The hardest part of taking the boys out on an adventure is often finding a starting point – somewhere we haven’t been before. With two infant school aged boys, the activities often plan themselves once you arrive somewhere new (as long as it is outdoor and has ample opportunities to get mucky). If there are arrows to follow, even better.
Today we decided to tackle the Hangars Way. This is fairly local and I was delighted to find that it’s divided into eight different trails. We elected to explore the section between Buriton and Butser Hill, knowing that there’s still at least 7 more adventures to try another time. I say “at least” given that we didn’t complete the route, we were too busy discovering exciting distractions.
We nearly didn’t even make it past the pond that we’d parked next to. The boys got a little over excited when they saw the ducks and appeared to be on the verge of jumping in, while I was still getting youngest son out of the car. They selected our route around the pond, opting to go clockwise over a mini walkway – barely wide enough for feet let alone a pushchair. So I decided to improvise and pushed the pram through the shallow stream in order to join them. Once on the other side, my intrepid children began testing out some stepping stones. I had visions of them slipping in and coating themselves in the stagnant looking pond water. Knowing we were close by to the car and armed with an old towel (for situations such as this), I let them take the opportunity to practise their balance. Only one wobble from eldest son meant getting a foot in the water. Although this was so uneventful, none of the duck community even noticed. Persuading him not to wander off back up the stream was a little trickier, because as he put it, “One of my shoes is actually wet anyway.”
Only at this point, did we begin the trail itself. Within minutes the boys had found three steep paths to convert to slides and a railway bridge. Middle son was thoroughly amused when two trains passed over the bridge. We also saw the old quarry path and an obsolete mine cart. Mario Karts is a current favourite of my big two. They love the Wario gold mine track, so this rusty, disused transporter was always going to capture their attention. The steps down to it meant we continued south along the same path.
On this occasion, Grandma had joined us on our adventure; she requested that we took a circular route, coming off the Hangars way and circling around the Buriton chalk pits instead. Not only did this route seem practically vertical in places but the multiple tree roots and rock hazards made pushing the buggy was similar to an army assault course training facility. We began running parallel to a hard surfaced road path and established from passing hikers that this was part of the South Downs way. Having an extra adult to hold the baby, meant I could lift the pushchair up and over a number of tripping hazards, brambles and undergrowth to reach it. Eldest and middle son followed and we reunited on flatter ground, beginning our descent and stopping only for a snack in the sunshine. Adventure incomplete on this occasion but I’m already planning to returning with the husband and Littlelife baby backpack.
Some days I’m convinced that all three of my children are part of a highly tactical game. Not only have they not shared the rules with me, but I suspect that the aim of this game is to keep me moving and alert at all times. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been playing this for pretty much their whole lives, I’d assume that they are simply supporting the government in encouraging me to follow the first part of their current three part slogan. Despite being completely unaware of the official rules, I have established the following:
Points are awarded for converting a simple task into a chaotic one.
There is no finish square. The game is ongoing.
Children play as a team. Usually they tag in and tag out at select moments to lead Mummy into a false sense of security.
Usually children take turns, but they regularly alter the order of play to provide maximum confusion.
If at any point, Mummy appears calm and is danger of either completing a job or finishing a sentence, then immediate action must be taken by one of them.
You win bonus points by throwing yourself on the floor.
This morning my children were definitely playing. I was feeling super positive when I woke up this morning. This feeling of optimism was maintained for at least the first six minutes of the day. Then youngest son played his first move: the cry and wriggle. This is where you cry and refuse to be comforted. The louder the better – this way you have more chance of waking your brothers. You don’t want milk, you don’t want to play with your toys and you don’t want cuddles. You do want to be held in a standing position, in the kitchen, with a plastic spoon. It only took an hour or so for Mummy to establish this and make her comeback.
Eldest son wasn’t hanging around though, and quickly made his move: the whine and stall. This involves taking a standard situation, such as putting your socks on then adding more drama to it than you’d expect from an Eastenders Christmas special. He played well, successfully delaying us just long enough to mean he got to take bike to school instead of walking, but not so long that he would miss any of his cherished school time. While my eldest was was having a tantrum about not wanting to wear his raincoat (on a rainy day), his siblings were being saintly. Youngest son smiled sweetly at me as if to say that he would never sulk like that (conveniently forgetting a moment earlier) and middle son was ridiculously obliging and polite, whilst simultaneously providing a running commentary about the good things he was doing in contrast to his naughty big brother.
After an extended school run, complete with mini adventure, I took middle son to his beloved playball session. Within minutes of starting, he decided to take his turn: the squawking magnet. This move is one of his personal favourites and involves getting as close to Mummy as possible (parents aren’t entitled to their own share of oxygen after all) and forgetting how to use any sort of independence. It starts simple, you simply run over to Mummy every 2 minutes or so at full speed – just to see if you can catch her off guard and knock her to the ground – a loving type of rugby tackle. Around this point, his voice goes all high pitched and instead of using standard sentences, he precedes everything he says with the term ‘Mama’, in a manner which only his baby brother would be proud of. It then progresses to Mummy needing to be within 30 cm of you at all times. This is particularly difficult when Mummy blends in amongst a group of preschoolers in much the same way as a shark would blend in amongst the goldfish in your fish bowl. It also makes running, jumping and striking a tennis ball rather tricky. Finally, he moved on to the third stage, refusal to comply with any instruction and expecting everything to be done for him – perfectly acceptable when you are 4 months old but a touch mortifying when you’re 4 years old.
Luckily for me, breaks in play are as essential in this game as they are in an extended version of monopoly. Therefore the boys are currently back to their lovely selves. One is playing beautifully on his own, one is exploring the room managing to insert only toys in his mouth and one is at school – possibly doing maths – his happy place.
There’s very little a warm bath can’t fix. When he’s got a brother to play with, marshmallow bubble bath, Noah’s Ark, the Octonauts and some new squirter toys, middle son is in his happy place. Five minutes earlier the story was rather different.
Taking every opportunity to use his new bike, middle son had cycled up the hill (without stopping) on the school run. He’d then attended his playball class and run around like a crazy thing, then I’d taken him swimming. He’d practically completed a triathlon and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! After allowing only a short period of time to enjoy calm and tranquil activities like stories, mazes and spot the difference, he was keen to be on the move again so it was get the bicycle back out again for a pit stop at Auntie’s house before the afternoon school run. As expected, the rain was getting heavier – especially to mark the occasion.
Despite everyone getting absolutely drenched (with the exception of youngest son – who was sensible enough to remain under his raincover for the duration), we all seemed in good spirits. Then middle son suddenly stopped. He’d worked out that he was cold and the amount of energy he’d used throughout the day was beginning to catch up with him. He wasn’t moving – no matter what. It was kind of like playing musical statues with a child when they’ve already won the game, but they still refuse to move in case you are trying to trick them.
After retrieving an item from his Auntie’s place, it should have been a short, simple return journey. Not to be. Middle son still hadn’t moved. I was starting to wonder if he has shares in a superglue company or something. He wanted me to push him home. Not an easy feat when A) You’re over six foot tall and the bicycle in question is significantly nearer the ground B) You’re also pushing a pushchair leaving only one hand free to support the bike C) The bicycle does not have stabilisers so is wobbling all over the place at the slow speed I was attempting to tug it along. Luckily for me, eldest son was in ‘giving citizen’ mode and obligingly surrounded his scooter to his younger brother and cycled the bike home for him. Now the dripping statue – that was my child – was safely on three wheels (with a high handle) and could easily be transported home with a single hand.
By the time we arrived home, we resembled a family who’d decided to go swimming fully clothed – with coats on. After the earlier swim and the more recent precipitation, the day seemed to be following an ‘aqua’ theme, so more water activities seemed the best course of action. Bath time it was – if only Mummy had time to relax in one of those!
Most people know that once you have a baby it takes approximately 42 times longer to get out of the front door. Luckily (in the olden days) it used to take me less than 5 minutes, which is probably why, now I have three young children, I’m able to achieve this feat in under 2 and a half hours.
I exaggerate slightly. Unless you count today. Today, my children tag teamed their preferred type of havoc. Youngest son does not appreciate being put in his car seat. He likes to be held. Except Mummy needed her hands free to assist middle son. Middle son could not decide which pair of shoes he wanted to wear. We wrestled with a particularly tight fitting orange shoe, successfully installing it onto his foot just in time for him to change his mind. He now wanted his ‘new’ shoes. Except these were on the radiator drying, having required the washing machine treatment. Except I was unaware of this so went to fetch them. Youngest son begins screaming blue murder as Mummy is now more than a foot away. When I returned, middle son and eldest son appeared to be rugby tackling each other. My understaning of the situation was that eldest son’s hat had fallen off and he blamed middle son.
Once he had selected a more sensible pair, I asked middle son to put his own shoes on (he can). He refused. As youngest son was still upset and I knew he would remain so until we were in a moving car, I tried to speed things up by putting middle son’s shoes on for him. On completion of this task, I detected a fragrance in the air. He had skid marks in his pants. Changing them and cleaning him up first meant removing the shoes and trousers etc. again. I now felt heightened amounts of Mummy guilt about youngest son, who was still crying, so I took him back out of his car seat to comfort him. Eldest son chose this moment to open the front door and attempt to get in the locked car. I asked him to come back in and wait because his brothers weren’t ready. Eldest son started crying because “That will take a very long time!” He had a point – it would. Middle boy sauntered back downstairs with pants – not his pants though – so I sent him back upstairs.
Fast forward a little while. Middle son is now dressed again – with shoes, eldest son has stopped crying and youngest son is also contented. I suggest the big boys now get in the car. We exit the house. It is cold. Both forcefully request gloves. We re-enter the house. Eldest son can’t find his gloves. Middle son needs help putting his gloves on. I need to put the baby down again – a minimum of two adult hands is required for the glove fitting procedure. This prompts baby to cry again. And so it went on. We didn’t get to where we’d intended to go. In fact, the minor disaster that was ‘leaving the house later’ set in motion a series of events that sent Mummy into meltdown mode. Wine wasn’t even an option due to baby still breastfeeding. Luckily I found we had a chocolate biscuit left in the tin. It is not there now.
No one spends as long watching and analysing a child’s behaviours as much as their Mummy. Over time, my observations have led me to the following conclusions:
1) My boys behaviour matches societies expectation closest when nobody is around to see it.
2) My boys are more inclined to ‘play up’ if they are tired or excited.
Today, after lunch, both conditions in hypothesis number two were met. I stood no chance.
It had been a great morning. We went to watch ‘Oi Frog’ at the theatre as my children are genuine fans of the books. They are collecting them. I was a little fearful at first when middle child established that his seat was not number 18 (his favourite number), but he loved the show. There were points when he was laughing like a drain. Everyone loves a bit of audience participation, especially when you are three years old. I’ll avoid saying anything else to avoid including spoilers.
The intention was to go swimming after lunch, then it occurred to me that I’d left at home one vitally important item: youngest son’s swimming nappy. I’m forgetting a lot of things lately. I’d gone through the bag twice and asked hubby to check we had everything we needed. We felt like numpties! Being in the city centre, we came up with the ingenious plan of heading towards a shop. Not only could an additional nappy be purchased (avoiding grossly inflated prices), but the boys could also select a book each using the vouchers they received for Christmas. The plan turned out not to be quite as ingenious as I’d hoped. The boys were increasingly animated at the thought of new, exciting reading material. I always panic I’ll lose one of them when they get like this in supermarkets and probably resemble an oversized meerkat, constantly looking over my shoulder. After only about 2 minutes I realised I had lost one of them! After a quick survey, I was partially consoled to discover that the missing boy was husband. I took my three small people down what felt like every aisle in the store. Around every corner there was something else which captivated their interest but still no Daddy. Finally we found him at customer services.
Should my children desire to do any type of theatricals when they are older, they’ll be well practised with the ‘performing in front of spectators’ part. I’m basing this upon the fact that whenever they do something embarrassing, it is usually in front of an audience larger than at a ‘Take That’ concert in the O2. Within the space of a few seconds, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me AND husband had found out that we couldn’t use the voucher in this shop anyway. Being the adult, I did what any sensible grown up would do in this situation: run away. Well not strictly true – it was more of a brisk walk. Poor hubby was left to return items to the correct shelves before catching up with us.
After reassessing our options, we elected to go and collect the boys coats, which I had very carelessly left behind the day before. On the way home, we stopped at a place called ‘Cheesefoot Head’. Obviously the primary reason for this was that the name of it amused me. However, it was also a beautiful, empty place where my boys could run about and be kids. (Warm kids now they had their coats back!) I watched them follow the trail and spot landmarks on the horizon. In that moment, all the horrid stuff from earlier in the day disappeared and I could relax again. The path was very muddy, too muddy for a pushchair and I didn’t have my carrier; so we took turns to carry youngest son swaddled in his blanket. Of course it started to rain, so I had to take my coat off to cover baby but it felt great to be exploring again. This just wasn’t eventful enough for middle son, who managed to get his foot stuck in the mud and lose a shoe – just to make things interesting.
The start of February half term, renowned for being wet and cold, is also when you expect all indoor places to be incredibly over crowded. So instead we opted to invite some friends over, with a view to going outside (regardless of the weather) after lunch. After several games of dressing up, hide and seek and an indoor picnic; eldest boy, middle boy, youngest boy, mummy, her friend and her friend’s 2.5 children were ready to go. If your offspring have a tendency to become slightly feral in the afternoons then there is nowhere better than the great outdoors. We took the 5 boys to explore the heath near our home. Somehow I’d ended up sending both sets of eldest child’s wellington boots into his school. So, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis, we were prepared to get wet. The friend I was with was forest school trained so nothing could possibly go wrong. She was equipped with welly boots and a backpack. I was possibly a little less prepared with a baby strapped to my front and a packet of wet wipes.
We had great fun on our exploration: chopping through the brambles, splashing in puddles and investigating which items float and sink. Assorted feet had already slipped into the mud and youngest boy had a rather well placed splash mark on the centre of his forehead. We also learnt something new from our knowledgeable companion. The knopper gall wasp produces knobbly brown galls on acorns – if you’re interested. Next, we opted to follow a raised footpath, mimicking trains as we did so, until we came across a large mass of muddy water. Too wet for a bog, I’d like to call it a puddle but given the enormous size of it, ‘pond’ might have been a more accurate term, except for the absence of the ‘token duck’ swimming in it. So perhaps the word ‘swamp’ is a better descriptor. It was at this point that eldest boy made the single, fateful decision to push middle boy in. Only a gentle push, but that was all it took. Stumbling forwards, away from the safety of the raised pathway, he initially landed on his feet. There was no time to consider any form of relief, as he continued to slip in the murky slime, eventually landing up to his armpits in muddy water. I’m incredibly grateful to my friend who promptly returned him to solid ground. Now dripping a mixture of tears, bog particles and rogue bits of rotten grass; he stood there wailing. We were able to distract him by another stick search and a passing puppy dog. He made a swift recovery and continued to play ‘sticks in the mud’, that was until it came to walking back. He refused. Point blank.
Trying to persuade him to head back seemed to take decades. This would have been fine, if at the end of them he’d actually been closer to home. In reality, he’d managed a 180 degreee turn only. Diversionary attempts (including finding larger sticks, having races, looking for other puddles etc) all failed. He just kept whimpering “I don’t want to walk!” on repeat. His comments weren’t entirely accurate because he didn’t want to hop, skip, run or crawl either! I know this because I attempted to try and persuade him to try any of these methods. Of course, what he actually meant was that he wanted to be carried. Now weighing over 20kg – probably significantly more if you count the galleons of water his clothing must have absorbed – I contemplated the feasibility of trying to carry him and youngest son home from here. I thought about putting him on my shoulders but couldn’t bring myself to allow his saturated shoes to drip foul smelling, dirty water over his baby brother’s face as the little dude snoozed innocently in his sling. On spying a conveniently placed bench, I came up with a new plan: removing middle son’s rancid shoes and socks and using this seat as a means to allow my soggy child to climb onto my back. When he couldn’t even lift his own leg halfway to bench height (primarily because he was refusing to bend his knees) I also aborted this plan.
The minutes that followed involved various attempts to take his hand and coax and encourage him forwards. Although I expect to the casual observer, it might have looked more like I was just dragging a crying boy along. Mirroring the paralysis caused by a venomous bite, his movements decreased and decreased. At one point I was holding one of his hands, while my friend took his other hand and his feet stopped moving altogether. We called it ice skating – his shoes glided across the pavement. Except there was no ice, just friction. Then he lost the ability to support his own weight and crumbled himself into a little ball by the kerb. He felt cold and his protesting got louder. It was at this point it began to rain again.
Youngest son was snuggled in his baby carrier under our kangaroo jumper. Removing all three of these items meant I could pass this precious bundle to my friend – who had offered to carry the little one the remainder of the way. So now down to my short sleeved shirt, I lifted my heavy, drenched preschooler in my arms and struggled the remaining distance to home. I really wished I had some kind of upper body strength. Middle boy got a kilogram heavier with every step I took and the lactic acid was building up. I’m pleased to report we did make it back, with all 5.5 children still in tow. Once inside, I’m ever grateful to my smallest boy for being so happy and smiley when I left him (still snuggled in a cosy bundle) in the lounge doorway while I sorted a warm bath for medium sized boy. Biggest boy had now begun crying, as it dawned on him that his friends were leaving earlier than planned. Washing load on, eldest boy entertained with lego, middle boy thoroughly cleaned and youngest boy attended to, we were all feeling a bit happier and the four of us snuggled up to read a Tinga Tinga Tale. Our verdict on this adventure was a unanimous – “Let’s do it again soon!”