The calm after the storm

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.

Cows crossing the River Meon

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.

Superdad in action!

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!

Posh hot coffee to reward Daddy after he saved us from the pickle we were in. This design from T&Belle summarises the situation perfectly.

Water magnets.

I’ve deduced that my children have magnetic properties. They naturally repel any activity that is calm, slow paced and results in them staying clean and dry. In contrast, they attract to water. The muddier it is; the stronger the allure. We’ve only reached day four of the summer holidays and they’ve found themselves soaking wet every day so far. First there was the outdoor pool that beckoned to them, then there was the enticing sea waves, yesterday was a rainy day complete with multiple puddle splashing opportunities. Finally there was today…

The Meon Valley Trail

We’d gone for a family adventure down the Meon Valley trail. This beautiful trail was perfect for us to explore on our bicycles, because not only was the setting pretty idyllic (when you’re in need of a bit of freedom), but also fairly flat: eldest likes to whine about not being able to keep up with his brother, if faced with the slightest of inclines. As steam train enthusiasts, my boys were also excited to learn that this path was actually an old railway line and we did a little detective work, searching for evidence of this. We found two original sleepers at the end of the track and an unidentifiable metallic structure suspected to be from a set of old ‘points’.

The damaged archway

Husband expressed mild agitation at the amount of times the boys felt the need to dismount, abandon their bikes (usually in the middle of the path) and explore something new. It would seem there was a lot to explore. Points of interest included a new ‘humps and bumps’ discovery, the collapsing arch held together with wire, picture clues from one of their books at home, and a path to nowhere. Every bridge we passed underneath immediately turned into a quest to find the way up onto it, leaving mummy waiting below with the deserted two wheeled transport.

Finding a route up onto the top of a bridge.

At one point, middle son found an interesting looking slope and was eager to see what he might find at the top, so he set off with husband in pursuit. I stayed watching eldest son, who was in the process of disappearing behind a tree up the opposite bank. Unable to follow him as youngest son was sharing my bike with me (and unsurprisingly his legs don’t reach the ground), I asked my first born to go slightly higher up the bank past the tree – so I could see him. His response: ‘I can’t’. Upon further inspection, I become aware that the ground he’s standing in was not nearly as solid as the rest of the vicinity and significantly boggier – unlike anywhere else we’d passed (give or take the odd muddy puddle). Except this was no puddle, it was a vast quagmire! Eldest son was fairly centrally placed, doing his best flamingo impression. By the time it had dawned on me that the mud had pulled his shoe off and he was probably not far away from toppling and obtaining a face full of sludge, husband and middle son were back on the scene. Obviously middle son’s instinct was to try and join him – this predicament looked ‘fun’ apparently. We persuaded him to stay on the path, while Daddy began the rescue mission. He maneuvered several solid sticks into stepping stones to prevent meeting a similar fate himself and retrieved eldest son minus a shoe. A return to the incident epicentre and accuracy with another stick ensured the remaining, elusive piece of footwear could be returned to its rightful owner.

Spot the shoe which, at one point, was completely submerged in mud.

Our next discovery was a clear, running stream. It caught the boys’ attention and they were quickly down the bank investigating. Middle son requested a turn on the rope swing, while eldest gently threw pebbles to make ripples. He’d discovered a little beach type section where he could be level with the water. Of course the temptation was too great and it wasn’t long before he was paddling. His theory was that this was essential in order to clean the mud off his shoes. This small section of water was so exciting the boys didn’t want to leave. I find it peculiar that my child, who removes his T shirt or trousers completely if they have a tiny splash of water on them, was content to plunge his feet into this stream while his shoes and socks were still on. Middle son managed not to fall in but he did manage to pedal through all five of the sparse puddles scattered throughout the whole route we covered. In doing so, he got stuck in one of them and took the opportunity to spray mud splatters right up his back in the others.

Fun by the stream

The trip ended with both of my bigger boys caked in mud and with exceptionally soggy feet – just what you expect when you go for a cycle on a gravel path on a sunny, dry day.

See you later, slow coaches.

Lately, it feels like I’m forever running after bicycles. I’m sure this has some advantages, like being able to eat more calories in preparation for burning them off again. However on the whole, I probably look a bit silly. Even youngest son is likely laughing at me as I jog up the road with his pushchair, wearing completely inappropriate clothing for such dynamic enterprises.

Things I have observed while chasing them:

1) They are so competitive. My boys aren’t especially ‘sporty’ types. This is clear from the way in which eldest son wobbles impressively whilst riding. Yet, they always want to win. They’ll race each other, school friends they’ve spotted, random cars, even a passing dog on the other side of the road. Their attempts to hide the fact that they are racing can be quite humorous. You have the announcement method – where one will loudly proclaim to the other one “It’s not a race!” before whizzing off down the road while this information is still being processed. Then there’s the creeping forward (ever so subtly), while Mummy gets everything sorted – to ensure a pole position. Finally, you have the ‘tortoise and the hare method’. Eldest son will elect to use this one when he can’t keep up with his younger brother – particularly on hills. He tells me that he needs a rest and sits down for a bit. Middle son then turns round and cycles back down the hill to us. It’s at that point when eldest son instantly recovers and off he goes, while his brother is still trying to turn his bike around.

2) They know a cul-de-sac when they see one and use it to their advantage. As I’ve said before, my boys do love a good rule to follow. The ‘getting off your bike before you cross’ rule is no exception. They obviously feel that dismounting too often is a bit too much effort, so they’ve discovered a way to avoid it. Eldest son likes looking out for road signs with the blue, white and red sign. He knows this means dead end and will disappear down such roads at speed. The first time he did it, I thought he must know of an alleyway or shortcut that I was unaware of. No. He just wanted to avoid having to cross the road. Now both boys regularly ride right to the end of these streets, round the bottom and back up again – just to maintain contact with the pavement. It’s left me wondering if this will remain a habit right up until they take their ‘Bikeability’ course and begin riding on the roads. I recommend this method to families who enjoy walking long distances unnecessarily.

An action packed, rainy day. Standard.

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!

It’s his birthday and he’ll cry if he wants to.

Middle son turned four on Friday. The school run was always going to be an interesting one. The thing about birthdays is that daybreak still arrives at the same time but you have added excitement and present opening to add into the usual morning routine. Plus the odd special request such as a fourth cereal in their bowl. It’s usually worth it. Seeing your child’s smile on their special day is always magical.

We took the bikes to school (middle son’s choice). It began to drizzle from the miserable looking grey clouds littering the sky. All was still good. It remained that way until we were less than 50 yards from the school gate. We’d just crossed the main road, the boys had pushed their bikes across sensibly, we’d even navigated our way past other families carefully. Now on the corner I let the boys know they can get back onto their bikes and cycle the final stretch. Except they didn’t – well one didn’t. Instead, middle son burst into tears. I asked him what was wrong and he wails. We had ‘the talk’ where Mummy told him that she can only make something better if she knows what the problem is. Still nothing but wailing.

He wouldn’t get on his bike. He wouldn’t push his bike. He wouldn’t walk. He wouldn’t even use his words to explain the problem. There was no way I could carry a bicycle and a larger than average four year old while pushing youngest son in his pram. We appeared to have reached a common scenario where I am forced to try and fathom out the problem. Putting the brakes on the pushchair, I crouched beside my sobbing child and began the guesswork. I can reveal that he wasn’t cold, he didn’t hurt his shin on the pedal while pushing the bike, he hadn’t forgotten something important and his tummy didn’t hurt. At this point, someone took it upon themselves to move my pushchair for me – presumably it was in their preferred walking line. I felt a bit inadequate, wondering why they didn’t just ask me to reposition it. Maybe they knew I had an important mystery to solve. He was still crying but as I asked him again what the problem was, I spotted a clue: a subtle glance at his saddle.

“Are you upset that your seat is wet?” He nods. We have a winner. Even better, it’s an easy fix. I use my coat sleeve to wipe it and he’s all smiles and on his way again. I’m not as lucky. As I stand up, I experience some unplanned discomfort. I’d been crouching below a community noticeboard. As I stood, the bottom corner of this sturdy board ripped a small ravine in my back. No matter. All three children we currently happy so the searing pain paled into insignificance.

I went home and started baking yummy goodness for middle son’s party. Youngest son helped by sitting in his sling and looking cute. By the time it was time to collect the boys from school I was feeling pretty positive. His party wasn’t particularly extravagant or well planned. It was only a small affair, he had one friend and some close family over for cake, presents, play and party food. But he loved every second. Sometimes it’s the simple arrangements that they enjoy the most.