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.

The unexpected horrors of Halloween

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.

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.

Self-preservation mode

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 Swamp

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!”

Mud and breakages

Why is it that when your children are screaming at you, there’s always a large audience? Often, for me, this is in the supermarket. On this occasion, it was the school playground.

In my last post, I mentioned having a moment. This particular moment occurred while I’d half changed a cold, wet, muddy and wriggling three-year-old; only to discover that the one item not packed in his changing bag (a pair of trousers) was the one essential item he needed. Then another mummy helpfully mentioned “That water bottle’s leaking all over your bags!”. She was right. It was.
The day had started out pretty well and by that I mean the children had all been fed and were out of the house with enough time to run an errand on the way to school. We arrived at school without incident. Middle boy falls over. I pick him up and there are no tears. I stroll over to another mother, I feel confident enough to make conversation. Eldest boy appears “He’s about to fall over again.”
I asked my son how he knew this and was told that it was because his brother was climbing on a muddy bank. Evidently my boy has a talent for predicting future events – as I turned, middle boy slipped and was now wearing the muddy bank. It would have been too easy to wait for 5 minutes until his preschool opened and change him there. So I attempted to remove his soaking coat and change his trousers while still in the playground. It was a wet day so I couldn’t just sit him on my lap to do it, and it was cold so I was trying to change him quickly. The discovery that his spare, clean trousers had been forgotten occurred while middle child’s legs were still dangling in mid air. I thought it was a genius plan using eldest child’s school trousers instead – after all they were only slightly too long. Disaster adverted I thought.
That’s when I was told about the leaking water bottle.

I picked it up. The lid was still on tightly, but the growing puddle in the bottom of the pram would suggest a leak from somewhere. That somewhere, it turned out, was a whopping great big crack in the base of the bottle (no idea how I managed to miss it earlier). Middle boys book bag was the worst hit – thankfully it was empty. Again feeling like I’d dodged a bullet, I went to put the (now useless) water bottle in the bin. Eldest boy howls and I mean howls. Floods of real tears appear, “Don’t put it in the bin!”. He begged me. Then middle child starts, “I’m thirsty”. I now have two crying boys trying to convince me that their Daddy can fix cracked, plastic, water holding receptacles. Eldest boy hasn’t been this opposed to me disposing of an object since his wee fragranced, old school shoes went in the skip last year.
After what felt like forever, his teacher eventually persuaded eldest boy to go into class meaning I only had the ‘explainwhymiddleboyisinadequatelydressed’ mission standing between me and the post 9am walk home.