Just accept the tantrum will happen.

The morning school run: this short time period can evoke some powerful emotions. On some occasions, my boys notice details about the world around them, which leads to some interesting or unexpected questions and some quality mother/son time. On other occasions, it can be one of the most stressful points in the day. Which one of these we experience largely depends on if something dramatic happens just as we are leaving the house. 

For a while, youngest has been very keen to use his scooter. Every time the garage opens, he fetches it. When his brothers are scooting he’s not just keen, he’s insistent! (but still a long way off keeping up with them). Being only 2, he can’t understand why his brothers have the opportunity to use their scooters to go to school when he has to go in the pushchair. This results in a tantrum. The type of tantrum that begins with an arched back and flailing legs, before moving onto the folding arms (twice for good measure) then finally the bottom lip comes out. Sometimes there is even a cute little foot stamp to accompany it. So, after a few weeks of scooter practise, I made the mistake of trying to not only prempt but avoid the tantrum, saying that he could try scooting too one day. 

The morning came. All three boys had been informed that we would need to leave the house by 8 to make this happen. I gave them an hour’s notice. It was always going to take them three times as many requests to get dressed, find their school bags and put their shoes on than normal, followed by twice as long to complete each request – with half the usual amount of independence applied. Eldest son insisted on socks being arranged a specific way and middle son rejected the first pair of socks I located in favour of another, near identical pair. It even took a significant amount of coaxing to get them down for breakfast when usually they are attracted to a bowl of cereal like a shark is to blood. Despite everything, I didn’t want to go back on my word and got the scooters ready. 

We hadn’t quite met our 8 o clock target, yet we were still an elusive pair of gloves short of being ready. They weren’t in the usual places and we didn’t have time to search for them, particularly as there was a toddler with his own set of wheels loose on the driveway! But to middle son the gloves were essential for human survival. When a car alarm sounds no one actually panics. Everyone just stares in disapproval. Walking up the road with a howling child is similar. I felt like I should be supporting the youngest with his first solo trip up the hill but in reality, here I was having to hold the hand of his older brother. Meanwhile eldest son did his usual disappearing act. The one where you assist removing a scooter wheel from the mud it is stuck in, look up and he’s not there. I know he’d never cross a busy road and he always comes back, but panic still begins in set in. You question every little decision you made that led you here and soldier on.  

Being against the clock doesn’t help. We were passed by so many families heading for the same school. One by one they disappeared into the distance as a little reminder that there was just a 10 minute window for school arrival. When the last friendly face in sight reached us, I admitted defeat and asked for help. My junior aged child was able to resume a sensible pace with his classmates parents and I’d just bought myself 15 minutes (as the infant school starts later). Things improved. There was time to stop for extra hugs. A chance for mummy to think straight and I was no longer outnumbered, arms to children – all moving at disproportionate speeds. Everything was right with the world again. Until the way home when youngest son decided that as no one else was scootering any more, he’d like to be carried. We successfully took an hour and a quarter to complete a 15 minute walk. Next time I’ll just take the tantrum.

Back to the 1990s

Technology is a wonderful thing. I have always been a bit of a computer geek in the past. Spending most lunchtimes in the IT suite at school, taking pride in teaching my parents how to operate our computer at home, my evenings chatting to friends on ICQ and MSN messenger and once I began teaching, being somewhat of a pioneer in introducing new technologies to my school. I was one of the few who fell in love with Windows Vista when it first came out (although windows 3.1 will always be my first love) and at one point I even got my friends to show me how to take a computer apart and meddle with the components.

Once they were released, a smart phone was a ‘must’ for me. When the pandemic first hit, I suggested to a group of friends I regularly meet with, that we use video conferencing. Even now, I find my Alexa smart system exciting. However, it feels like the more people are on board with technology the less it interests me. Maybe it’s because when I look around me at the world and everyone always has their phone in their hand it makes me feel a bit sad. Maybe it’s because I have seen people I care about get destroyed by social media. Or maybe it is just because people have stopped interacting properly because online is now an option. The truth is, it has been an option for a while but facetime and zoom chats are indisputably not the same as meeting face to face. My children are very tactile and are either uninterested with talking to a screen, they run around and pull silly faces due to its novelty value, they minimise the conversation and get distracted by someone else available on the interface or simply think they can switch the screen off mid conversation as they view people as similar to characters to their favourite TV show.

So we made a decision: we would remove the smart technology. This was partly to try and deal with the inappropriate ways our children react to everything on a screen but primarily for our own mental health – tying in rather nicely with ‘Mental health day’. Our mobile phones were switched off at midnight on Friday. Instead of being woken by a phone vibrating we were greeted by two sons wanting breakfast. Later in the day we played in the garden, walked to Grandma’s house to collect apple crumble, got creative with playdough, played trains and put new batteries in our toy till so we could play shops. A few times my husband felt a minor frustration about not being able to order a car part or check a fact but by the first evening it was clear that no phone was improving the quality of our family life. If it isn’t visible them the children don’t ask you to use it and consequently you don’t have to say ‘no’ to them unescessarily.

Our challenge was to limit technology for an entire weekend. We decided that some technology was necessary, we didn’t fancy salting food to keep it fresh without our fridge or rubbing stick together to make the fire needed to cook. So we decided to restrict ourselves to items available in the 1990s only. Obviously there needed to be some loop holes. We do have a 1991 Polo but we cannot fit our family of five in it legally as youngest son and middle son still require a car seat. Instead we opted to use our larger car but turn off extra features such as autowipers and tune in the DAB radio to fm stations only. We allowed ourselves TV but channels 1-5 only. This in itself caused some debate as I was able to get channel 5 on the TV my house that decade whereas it wasn’t available where husband lived. In the morning the boys often watch TV before breakfast, we were delighted to find that 3 out of 5 channels have children’s programmes on them in the mornings. They opted to watch the classic cartoon ‘Tom and Jerry’ on Citv. We also decided that where an item had been invented e.g. the hoover, we were allowed to use our modern equivalent. 

I was aware that I have an unhealthy addiction to my phone. In fact many people my age probably use their phone more often than they need to. However, when you witness people generations above you get their phone out in the middle of a conversation to look up the concept you are talking about, you realise there is a problem. My son’s school has signs up that read ‘Greet your child with a smile, not a mobile phone.’ I’m in full agreement on that one. I thought about the following list of tasks that I do on my mobile phone: 

  • Transferring money to pay for their childcare. 
  • Playing a game. 
  • Googling fun places to take the children in the holidays. 
  • Ordering Christmas/birthday presents for them. 
  • Texting my friends 
  • Finding out more information about the film I watched last night 
  • Checking the time of appointments 
  • Reading and responding to work emails 
  • Uploading the reading my child has done for their teacher. 
  • Mapping the route to the hospital. 
  • Checking the news headlines for the day 
  • Checking the time (how long until dinner is ready) 
  • Watching a comedy clip 
  • Finding out what time husband will be home for dinner. 

I could continue with the list forever because there is very little you cannot do on a phone nowadays. In the days before mobiles, it was easy to identify which of these were more important or that you would have happily done in front of your children and which you would wait to do in your own time. The problem is that to a child, each of these tasks are viewed the same. 

  • Mummy is on her phone and not looking at me. 
  • Daddy is on his phone and not looking at me. 
  • Mummy is on her phone and not looking at me. 
  • Daddy is on his phone and not looking at me. 
  • Mummy is on her phone and not looking at me.  
  • Daddy is on his phone and not looking at me. 

At the weekend I take my boys swimming. There is a half an hour wait between sessions. In time gone by we have looked through and talked about pictures (memories) – on my phone, had a go at completing homework tasks – on an app on my phone or most commonly they elect to play on their ‘pup pad’ – a hand held device. All these may be fun and they may pass the time but ultimately they involve staring at a screen. I looked around at others in the waiting area. They also had their phones and other devices out. Out of ten tables, there were people talking to each other face to face on only one! So this weekend we took a few packs of cards out with us. I played snap with middle son and I taught eldest the care game patience (which he loved). It felt good. 

Overall I have had a great weekend and I’ve been able to relax far more than usual. We’ve got more done than we ever thought possible (including sorting out items from the loft and reorganising the playroom) amongst calm children. We’ve been for a family swimming session, play area outing, turned homework into a game, had more relaxing family meal times and played a lot of lego. I just can’t believe that is a coincidence. In addition, middle and eldest child have been introduced to some of my old 8+ board games from my childhood – we played ‘Game of life’ and they loved earning money!  I could concentrate on the moment and the family I have around me, instead taking on the thoughts and worries of my friends (whatsapp and text), acquaintances (instagram), colleagues (email), community (facebook groups), strangers (twitter), the nation (BBC news), and the world (google).  

The best part about all this: at the end of the evening when you are chatting to your husband and the focus is solely on the talking instead of checking tomorrow’s calendar. We both agreed that not only were we successful in our challenge but that it had been a very positive experience for the whole family. Where it wouldn’t be practical to do this permanently, as I’m likely to miss something and get into trouble, it is definitely something we intend to repeat. We are happy for our boys to use apps and screens (after all technology is the future) but we also want them to appreciate how enjoyable life can be without them.

It’s never the same twice.

We went back to one of our favourite spots at Soberton. Having learnt from previous occasions, I made several changes: an off road pushchair, an alternative path with no stairs, an extra bag of baby items and swimming gear for the boys. Of course, we still ended up in several pickles but what made it fun was that these were ‘new and exciting’ difficult situations.

After successful parking and accurate navigation we were off to a good start. It didn’t last long. As we walked up a pavement-less, narrow road, a lorry (the size of a small house) drove towards us. When you have the world’s widest buggy, it quickly dawns on you that is no where to stand to the side and prepare to about turn. Luckily, the HGV driver was feeling lovely and reversed a short distance to a passing area. We ran towards it in excitement.

The nettles had teamed up in advance to make it as tricky as possible for a group of people wearing shorts to pass. We survived sting free and did a spot of cheerio racing in the stream (using those that weren’t immediately eaten). However, approximately 3 minutes later, the rain began. We sheltered under the tree over a bridge and contemplated whether it was actually summer and we’d looked at the forecast for the wrong day.

Amusing ourselves as the rain passed.

The rain was short lived. We enjoyed splashing about, running around, launching a tennis ball in all directions and an early picnic. Youngest son was keen to explore himself and fondly waited until middle son was sitting or clinging to Mummy before making a dash towards the river bank. I’m pleased to report that my reaction time is still fast enough to keep the small person out of the water, although apparently not fast enough to prevent eldest son hurling his brother’s changing bag into the river beside me. Top tip: I suggest that if your offspring ever want to play catch with you, they choose a more appropriately shaped object and don’t throw it whilst you have your hands full of toddler!

It seemed like a good time for the littlest to nap so we got dressed and went for a wander. He was quickly asleep and oblivious to the fact that we stopped to throw twigs in another section of river. The bigger boys played there incident free for some time until I told them we were moving on; at which point eldest fell in. He’d already picked up a footprint shaped mud patch on the back of his T shirt so the additional muddy shorts didn’t bother him. The sopping wet shoes and socks did! He ended up wearing his brother’s sandals (only 4 sizes too small) as a compromise. It turns out that if your toes stick out over the edge they are more likely to get covered in mud.

Before he got wet feet.
The feet by the time we got back

This was all before reaching a large stile and realising the youngest was still asleep. We got the pushchair over but in the absence of a third adult we first needed to remove the baby and leave him in the capable hands of a pair of 7 year olds while we lifted it. Needless to say, he didn’t stay asleep!

Strolling down the river

It’s always so tricky choosing which path to take on an adventure. Today, we simplified matters and took the direct route: the stream.

Eldest and middle son quickly scattered. They sought out the muddiest patches and the steepest banks to play on – as you do. The game which materialised first was ‘Bridge making’. This involved our biggest boy hauling the largest sticks he could find and installing them perpendicular to the water. Some fell in; most wouldn’t even take the weight of a squirrel on a diet. In fact, what this game actually acheieved was new hazards for our toddler to navigate past.

Youngest son had plans of his own. Those did not involve holding hands with Mummy or Daddy. He probably didn’t plan to lose one of his wellies in the mud, or the multiple falls in the water. Not that he minded too much, his main concern was wet hands. These he waved at me with a look of disapproval. When there is no hand drier available, you can always use Mummy’s trousers and go on your merry way.

Youngest son choosing to scale a fallen branch while middle son unintentionally does his level best to stop Daddy assisting, by standing in the way.

Things I learnt from this trip:

– Always carry a bag for life. We’d been so good and considered bringing the back carrier to transport youngest on the return journey. What we hadn’t considered was also carrying muddy wellies and dripping wet weather gear at the same time.

– Never give yourself a time limit on a family adventure. It was Sunday and we needed to make it back before 10 to 4 to allow time to nip to the shop on the way home. Then we discovered rope swings. Two rope swings. And almost certain delay removing the children from them.

– If they tell you they don’t need the toilet before you go out, then they clearly do. Actually, ignore the above, I already knew this long before today.

– The child with the shortest wellies will always walk through the deepest part of the stream.

– There will always be that part of a river walk, where a child can fit and an adult can’t follow. It is usually at these sections where the 1 year old picks up speed in pursuit of his big brothers.

– Never try and duck under a branch when you are wearing a large toddler backpack carrier. Happily the toddler was not in it at the point Mummy forgot it was there and got herself stuck.

One final piece of advice: when asking your children for their suggestions as to the best way home, fully expect them to point in opposite directions.

Be careful what you wish for

Like so many others, our school run resumed this week. Last December, it was usual that I would have to sprint like an elite athlete in order to keep up with my boys. I’d get ‘those’ looks from people out for their morning walk – the kind of looks that aimed to establish whether I was actually their parent or just incredibly unfit. I would watch other families heading to the school gate, the children holding the hand of their parent or scooting alongside in perfect synchronisation. As proud as I am of my independent boys, a part of me wished they would slow down, just a little. Slow enough for a proper good morning if we passed a friendly neighbour. Slow enough to notice when youngest son pulled off and disposed of a mitten en-route. Most significantly, slow enough so the lollipop lady didn’t get so nervous when they reached her crossing. They are well trained not to attempt to cross that road without me, although they do have a tendency to stand right in the way of other innocent pedestrains.

This morning, after a scooter swap for reasons that I’m yet to understand, I got my wish. The big two willingly travelled alongside me. Only occasionally yanking at the side of the pushchair prompting a collision of wheels or wobble in the wrong direction. We were nevertheless together as a family unit, even having the odd opportunity for actual conversation. Until they began competing to talk to me – each of them had something more urgent to tell me. If their brother was talking, it only seemed logical to stop moving completely. Who knew there was a link between only being able to go forwards if you are also conversing with Mummy? From this point on, people ahead of us seemed to frequently disappear into the distance. Meanwhile my children were still discovering multiple ways to go even slower:

  • I’ve got an itch on the back of my heel.
  • I forgot my gloves.
  • I’ve found a worm.
  • Can we go up that secret passageway?
  • The wind is stopping me.
  • Move my handle up.
  • Move my handle down.
  • I’m cold.

Then we had the debate over which dipped kerb to cross the road at. This is fairly standard for us and it’s usually not the one I reach first. Shorty after that, the heel itch became something far more sinister and required sitting on a conveniently placed bench (designed for those waiting for a bus) to completely remove both shoe and sock in order to discover absolutely nothing out of the ordinary before putting them on again. Finally, with school just around the next corner I hear middle son say to the eldest “Mummy is slowing us down.” Imagine my disquiet. So I motor past with the pushchair to walk in front of them, when I hear a squawk. I turned to witness what appeared to be a scene from ‘Walking with dinosaurs’, where the dominant males are competing for territory. Concerned it could end up as a sibling battle to the death, (starting with the removal of the other one’s hat) I tried to intervene. Unfortunately this was taking place on an especially narrow stretch of path, at which point other pavement users had approached from both directions. Of course neither boy came over to me when I requested, opting instead to act out the remainder of the battle scene for their newly arrived audience, completely oblivious to Mummy’s rising embarrassment levels.

I have missed the school run so much. It took the best part of three months homeschooling to realise how much appreciation I have for these little chaotic moments because then ‘there is only one’ – for the next six hours anyway.

A modern take on a classic game.

One of the challenges I’ve faced with my boys recently is: there is always one who feels very strongly against an activity the other two have agreed on.

For many, this wouldn’t be a problem at all – just let them all do their chosen activity. Those of you with multiple under 5s will know that this isn’t always a wise choice. One might request painting (with ALL the colours) downstairs, while the eldest and youngest opt to play with toys upstairs. Watching these two interact is often incredibly proud for me as their parent, but then there are days when it is far from enjoyable. On these occasions, the toy in question is either the type that baby can destroy like a wrecking ball in a building site, whilst simultaneously being hit by a steamroller; or the type that contains several hundred tiny, hazard like pieces, that you can just about save from the grip of a little hand, only to discover another missing and remain paranoid about where it went until it mysteriously reappears a fortnight later amongst the ‘Megablocks’ or ‘Paw Patrol’.

It would also be fair to assume that, with the current lockdown, they’d be keen to get outside. At any given moment in daylight, I would say this statement is true for 2/3 of them. The refuser varies, but the outcome is the same: it’s very complicated getting out for a short walk or scoot. I’ve had all manner of interesting ‘small child’ reasoning in the past week.

“I can’t go out there’s no socks in my drawer.” (Solution: “Have the pair in my hand.”)

“The clouds are the wrong colour.” (I think he was trying to make the point that it might rain.)

“But he got to press the button!” (It would appear that the most exciting part of going out on your scooter is opening the garage door. If you can’t do that, then all the enjoyment of an outing is gone. Absolutely no point going.)

If they wouldn’t go to exercise, the exercise had to come to them. I decided to combine the classic instruction game ‘Simon Says’ with the action game ‘Port Starboard’, I added a modern twist and included some current affairs for good measure. Plus, the new hybrid game succeeded in its mission: to both entertain and exhaust the children. To play, all you need is four pieces of paper. I wrote a word on each (school, shop, hotel and home), then blu tacked each of them to the four walls of your play space. Introducing ‘Boris says’: you run as fast as you can to the location you’re told to go to, but don’t get caught out by running there if Boris doesn’t tell you to. Great fun. For the first time, we are enjoying the rules. By the time we’re done, my four year old may even have learnt to read a handful of new words as a bonus. I believe that’s P.E. Reading and Politics done in the space of 10 minutes. As someone who is finding juggling homeschooling with stopping the 1 year old destroying the house challenging, I’ll take that as a success.

Home was their favourite place to run to, as it meant jumping on the playroom sofa. Very convenient that they enjoy going home so much – at a moments notice too!

Note: Locations can be added/changed as new restrictions come into play. My boys were very enthusiastic to be the ‘caller’. Their early suggestions included: ‘Boris says do a handstand’ and ‘Boris says go to the toilet.’ So glad my children are not running the country right now, or we’d have some very crowded portaloos.

Choose your path wisely

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.

Daddy trying to get middle son through a particularly tricky section and losing youngest son’s hat to the mud in the process.

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.

The return

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.

Hidden in plain sight.

Often when we plan a family cycle somewhere new, the time seems to dissolve, leaving the husband unable to fit roof bars to the car and load up the bikes and accessories before we are due to be somewhere else. Today we were in a race to get out before the rain arrived and having been up most of the night with a baby who woke up at least six times. As a result, our plans to revisit the Meon Valley were shelved in favour of a local cycle.

Knowing we’d be cycling in the Cowplain area, a quick ‘google’ took us to this useful website pdf: http://www.horndeanpc-hants.gov.uk/_UserFiles/Files/Cycle_Havant_Brochure-191105.pdf

We clocked a solid blue line we’d yet to investigate and a plan began to form.

Having previously explored the Queens Enclosure and Havant Thicket on multiple occasions, the new found bike path led us to Hurst Wood – a place I’d been totally unaware even existed until today.

The area was very pretty and tranquil despite its close proximity to the A3(M). There was a map board to navigate through the pathways, the odd tree roots to hop over and an exciting subway under the road to echo our voices. We found a little bridge across a stream – perfect for pooh sticks. Perhaps the most exciting find was a tree balance branch acting as an access to a rope swing.

Middle son amusing himself on the swing above the stream.

Overall an enjoyable little cycle during which two things occurred to me:

1) Eldest son’s dungaree trousers seem to get shorter on the leg every time he wears them. They fitted last week now they are barely past his knee. My first tip: Never go cycling in dungarees.

Eldest son crosses the stream by balancing along convenient tree trunks.

2) How was I unaware of this pleasant little track when I’ve lived in the area for 10 years? My second tip: Adventure locally, you might surprise yourself.

It wouldn’t be a family outing without one of my boys doing something a bit silly. Middle son obliged. He decided to dramatically tip himself sideways off his bike halfway up a hill to ensure that we had realised he found the incline exhausting. Now to find a way to remove the blackberry stains from his clothing…