Category Archives: Adventure

Running wild

“Mummy, how does a bee carry pollen,” my son asked on a recent holiday to Dorset, “when he doesn’t have a pot?”

We were rambling up a steep coastal path at the time, in the sunshine, past swaying grass and gorse. We’d just seen a bee bumbling past and had been telling him how these stripy little creatures make the honey that ends up on his crumpets in the morning.

Cliff walk

I love his questions. More than that, I love the pause before his questions. I love watching his brow furrow, knowing his brain is building pathways and connections; unravelling facts we have told him; making sense of the world before his eyes. I love the fact he has no inhibitions; he does not worry about asking something ‘silly’. Nothing is silly. I love the fact he is learning without realising it.

Nature does that for children. It inspires creativity and understanding.

We have recently returned from a week’s holiday to Dorset. We have been barefoot on beaches and forest footpaths. The amount of time we spent outside practically qualified us as free range. We were a free-range family and our children ran feral.

It was wonderful.

I’m a huge believer in the power of the outdoors. For me, a trail run along rutted woodland paths, jumping tree roots and skirting fallen branches, beats a jog along the nearby A road any day of the week. Nature is a teacher; a healer. From woodland floors to wide oceans, it is an eye-opener. It is comforting. It is surprising. It is there to be explored.

And you know what’s really great? We’re part of it.

It’s so easy to feel disconnected, on those days when you’re sat inside the house; in an office; in front of a laptop; watching the telly.

It’s so easy to reconnect in mere moments, with a stroll in a green space; a walk through the woods; five minutes sat on the grass in the garden.

The more time we spent outside during our week’s holiday, the more certain I became of several things:

All children should know the feel of sand between their toes…

Sandy toes

All children should know the taste of dirt…

Eating dirt

All children should be trusted to climb and explore…

Rope swing Brownsea Island

It’s good for them. It’s in their nature. It’s a remedy for tantrums.

OK, OK, it’s not always a remedy for tantrums. Tiredness happens, whether you’re inside or out.

Overtired

But you get the gist. Mud should be embraced. They only get one childhood. Let’s encourage them to run wild.

Heart

A home away from home

Holidays.

Well.

They’re just not the same once you have young children, are they?

The words ‘relaxing’ and ‘restful’ just don’t come into it. Because whether you’re at home, or in a cottage in the countryside, or even (I imagine) at a luxury beach house in the Seychelles, your little ones will still need to eat, play, poop and sleep.

This means while you’re away, all the usual meal preparing, food throwing, face wiping, floor mopping, dish washing, nappy changing, bottom wiping, Lego playing, rocking, shushing and night waking will come along for the ride, too.

Except now you don’t know where the sodding saucepans are. And you can’t remember whether you packed the wipes.

But…

We have recently returned from a week’s holiday in the New Forest. And while I was still a tad exhausted on our return home (see above), it was wonderful, actually. I felt really bloody happy.

Woods2

We had zero phone reception and questionable WiFi where we were staying, so we felt fairly cut off. Which was great. It helped me see what was important.

Who was important.

We spent our time walking through the forest. We went cycling – my husband pulling the baby in a trailer; me with the toddler on a bike seat (this would have been pretty relaxing, had it not been for the fact that Buzz Lightyear came along for the ride and spent the duration jabbing me in the arse, while my son pressed every available button every three seconds for FOUR HOURS, informing me that Buzz Lightyear was coming to the rescue. Shut up Buzz. Just shut up).

Buzz

Buzz Bloody Lightyear. Oh, and my son

We found makeshift swings hanging from tree branches; we splashed in puddles; I got two hours to myself to go horse riding; we let the kids stay up late so we could go for dinner in the cosy local pub and, on our walks back to the house in the dark, wrapped up warm from the cold, we pointed out the Big Dipper in the sky, to a little boy who was astounded by the stars.

Swing

And yes, we made an obligatory visit to Peppa Pig World, after which my husband and I needed therapy, but the toddler loved it, so it was worth it. Just.

PPW2

All aboard Grandpa Pig’s boat!

In short? It was the type of holiday memories are made from.

It helped that the weather was kind – bright and sunny and crisp; and yes, we had extra family on hand, in the form of my father-in-law, sister-in-law and her fiancé (who provided the sort of loving, wonderful help that made me want to stick up a For Sale sign once we got back home and move in with them permanently).

And you know what? All the mealtime madness and nappies and mess? It kind of felt like small fry when set against the fact I got to spend so much precious time with the most important people in my world.

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Mini breaks vs mini adventures

My husband has recently returned from a long weekend away. Kayaking. In the Norwegian Fjords. With a spot of wild camping thrown in for good measure. A few years back, this is exactly the sort of adventure we would have gone on together.

Bastard.

OK, OK, it was a stag do, so I wouldn’t have been on the invite list even if we hadn’t had young children. But still. Norway, people. I feel I have the right to be a little pissed off by his 63.5-hour break away. Not that I was clock-watching.

And OK, despite the fact I upped the guilt factor for my husband (obviously), I actually had a bloody good weekend as well. The little ones were (for the most part) on great form, and the weather was beautiful, so we had a lot of time outside – in the garden, at the park and chasing around the woods. Plus we had a night at Nanny and Papa’s house, so we all felt thoroughly well looked after, and I even managed to get an hour to myself to go for a much-needed run.

With Papa

Grandparents. What would we do without them?

But the whole ‘weekend away from the children’ thing got me thinking. Could I? I’m not sure I could. Not just yet. Not while they’re so small.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no saint. There are countless times during the week that I practically have one foot out the door to make a run for it, usually in the middle of a “don’t want that Mummy” mealtime, or after a loooong morning followed by nap refusal, or when I’ve trodden on one too many pieces of Lego that day. There are many times each week I have to stand on the other side of the door to my toddler and slowly count to ten. Many times when I wish I could simply pack a bag and take my own 63.5-hour holiday.

But then I look at them. And I remember that, for the first time in my life, I am completely and utterly needed. That I don’t spend all my time nurturing and caring and clothing and feeding and cuddling and rocking them just for fun. It’s vital.

And all this without even taking into account the fact that, for the first time, I have a bottle-refusing baby. And that, when presented with said bottle (be it filled with expressed milk or formula), she reacts as if I have just offered her battery acid, and only calms down once more when I shove a boob back in her mouth, to reassure her that, in fact, all is still right with the world.

So no, I can’t simply pop out for 63.5 hours.

Mind you, while my husband sits in an office Monday to Friday, right now I get to spend my days having lots of mini adventures with my little ones. And watching my toddler balance along a fallen tree for the first time – and seeing the look of sheer joy and pride on his face – beats a mini break any day.

Balancing

Sharing his daily adventures. How lucky am I?

So I guess it’s 50/50.

Obviously though, I still had to force a smile through gritted teeth when my husband showed me the photos from his weekend away.

His weekend

Jealous? Me? *Sobs quietly*

Like I said. Bastard.

On Father’s Day

Back in 2009, before we had even contemplated the adventure that is parenthood, my husband and I went on a different adventure: a month campervanning around New Zealand. While there, we ticked a few obligatory activities off the list: bungee jumping [check]; horse riding [check]; single-track mountain biking [check]; sky diving [him, not me. You will never catch me in a plane that tiny]; and white water rafting. I was really looking forward to this last one. My mum had done it. How hardcore could it be?

I had no idea about grades.

My mum has rafted a Grade 3 river (intermediate: still impressive, mum). Ours was Grade 5.

A quick Wikipedia search has since provided me with the following information:

“Grade 5: extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk… swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.”

Excellent.

On top of this, due to adverse weather the previous week, they’d cancelled all trips as the river was deemed too dangerous.

At the time, I was not armed with this information. It didn’t take long for the nerves to kick in, mind. When even the guides (who navigate the river day in, day out) look excited, you get a pretty good idea it’s not going to be smooth sailing.

The experience was exhilarating terrifying. There were three rapid sections. And we only did two of them in the raft. Yes: we capsized.

Rafting 1

Oh, this? This was nothing…

rafting 2

…because then this happened.

rafting 3

And finally this. This was not supposed to happen.

As I got sucked under the water and dragged along the river bed, I felt strangely calm. It was only when I eventually surfaced, amidst swells of white water, trying desperately to catch a breath, that I began to panic.

And then, like a mirage, the rescue boat appeared in front of me. A girl grabbed my life jacket as I spluttered for air. I was too shocked to follow her instructions as she tried to get me onto the boat. This rescue was not going particularly well.

And then I heard a familiar voice.

“I’ve got her”.

My husband. He’d already been pulled from the water, and now he had hold of my life jacket. And at that moment, I completely relaxed, despite still being in the river; despite the fact I was still coughing up water. Because I knew something: I knew he wouldn’t let me go.

Where am I going with this tale? I guess my point is that, while the types of adventures we’re now having are very different (these days, it’s more, “Can we get the toddler to the potty in time?” rather than, “Is this river raftable?”), one thing hasn’t changed.

On those days when I’m floundering; even when I’ve already sunk below a tide of congealed Weetabix splatters and meal refusals and nappies and tantrums and baby sick, I know something.

I know my husband will walk back in and rescue us. And I know he won’t let us go.

 

 

If you go down to the woods today…

Last night, we ditched the usual bath-and-bed routine and went for an evening walk in the local woods. I was supposed to be going for a run, but, due to a rather strenuous outdoor exercise class the day before (more on that another time), I could barely move. Running was out of the question.

However, one of the reasons I’m so keen to regain a regular running routine is to set an example to my children that exercise (and the outdoors) is just a normal part of everyday life. So, what better way to demonstrate this than all head out together? We’re also taking part in The Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild this month. We actually try to have some wild time every day anyway – ever since I was inspired by the rather amazing film Project Wild Thing over a year ago. OK, so sometimes this ‘wild time’ is merely a 10-minute splash in a puddle at the end of the driveway, but hey, it’s all fresh air, right?

Anyway, yesterday was the perfect opportunity for a wild adventure, so, with the baby in the sling and the toddler in the buggy, we set off.

Our little excursion wasn’t without error. We forgot to put shoes on the toddler. (We didn’t. We put them on him. He took them off. We put them back on again. He took them back off again. We gave up. We put him in the buggy. We forgot to sling the shoes in as well).

But despite that, it was pretty damn great. We strolled, explored dens, balanced along fallen trees and the toddler thought it was hilarious running around in his socks. The baby grizzled a bit and then fell asleep. We made a pact that, once a week, we’re going to do away with the usual and do something fun as a family in the evening instead – something outdoors and exciting for the little ones.

Den

When we got home, the toddler was hyped up, excited and refused to believe us that it was, in fact, time to go to sleep (turns out there’s something to be said for routine, after all). After finally managing to tuck him into bed at 9.30pm we were all shattered. But we’re sticking to our new pact. Because all the best childhood memories are made from exploring that small patch of woodland near to the house, or riding your scooter up and down the road, or slurping icy lemonade in a pub garden as the sun sets. This is adventure for children. Not sitting indoors in front of the TV.

Now, I’m not going to lie. It’s not all woodland walks and puddle splashing and den building and flower planting for us. There is also probably far too much TV. In fact, Andy, Cat and the rest of the CBeebies presenters form an integral part of my daily childcare plan. Because if you’re outnumbered, or you’re trying to make dinner, or you even just want to sit down for two minutes in the day, I’m not sure how you do it without the company of Bing Bunny. And if I’m being completely honest, when I’m feeding the baby while simultaneously making the toddler’s tea while simultaneously trying to figure out what that congealed gloop at the bottom of the fridge is, and I hear a shout of, “Telly off now Mummy, play with me,” a little part of me dies on the inside.

TV

So, as much as I hate to admit it, TV has its place for us. But this is why those everyday moments outside – from a quick jump in a puddle to a full day exploring at the weekends – are so crucial. It’s a balancing act. I’m working on less TV and more wild time. But it’s a work in progress.

Tall grass