Where do they come from, these idyllic scenes of family bliss? You know the ones on the pages of the supermarket magazines showing happy families frolicking in the sunshine? We all fall into the trap of thinking we can recreate something approximating these moments in our own lives, but real life just doesn’t stand a chance.
One such scene is the ‘energetic hike in the countryside’ that I attempted to recreate recently with my girls. It all started so promisingly:
Sun shining? Check.
Gorgeous countryside? Check.
Kids actually eager to walk? Check.
OK so I may have been slightly ratty after a late night and an early start, but nothing new there.
The first hint of trouble came when deciding footwear. Faith (youngest child) happily plumped for wellies having firmly prioritised splashing in puddles as her activity of choice. The decision was more complicated for Ana who was drawn to the wellies + puddles choice but also savvy enough to know that extended walking in wellies is not actually that comfortable. So she plumped for trainers……until we had walked 100yards and then she changed her mind (having witnessed Faith’s puddle splashing antics). Cue an extensive lecture from me about the need to make decisions and stick to them, followed by the three of us trailing slowly back to the car to get the wellies, whilst I started to regret the whole project.
Next we had to decide our route. In an attempt to put into practice all those hazily recalled tips from parenting manuals, I offered them two choices of route – one slightly longer than the other. A simple choice you would think, but apparently not. 10 minutes later, after 5 cars had passed us on the corner of the road, assuming, I imagine, that we were taking a well-earned break after hiking for miles (when in reality we had moved so short a distance from the car that even my poor throwing could have landed a stone through the windscreen), I was really starting to wonder why we hadn’t just sat in the car and admired the beautiful countryside from afar while the girls made loom band bracelets.
But no…we had started now and onwards we would continue. This WOULD be fun.
Realising that my sanity was at stake here, I over-ruled the voting (who am I trying to kid? This family is no democracy!), opted for the shorter hiking route and we all set off down the road. About 20 steps in, Faith began to ask me if we were nearly there….clearly missing the point of a hike where the walking itself is supposed to be the fun bit. With much coaxing we made it down the road and over a stile and our adventure began.
Now we entered ‘I’m going on a bear hunt’ territory as we crossed a field of grass (well presumably some kind of intentionally planted crop, but my rural knowledge does not extend that far so we’ll go with grass, given that it was green); fought our way through over-grown nettles and bushes and then faced our first challenge (well, aside from the welly and route decisions): a very steep hill. Luckily (given my inherent lack of fitness) we were headed down, rather than up it, but in reality it proved exceedingly difficult to negotiate our way down without stumbling or rolling into the waiting herd of cows.
But as ever with these things, after the squabbles about the silly things, this real challenge provided the first actual fun in our adventure and when I paused to take a picture of my smiling girls giggling at each other as they failed to keep their balance, I remembered why I had thought this walk would be a good idea.
Of course, these brief moments of serenity are unsustainable. Once down the hill and negotiating the cow pats, tempers frayed and Faith spent much of the time refusing to follow us and insisting that ‘someone’ (that would be me then?) would have to carry her. But she soon learnt that this family do not hold with the soldiers’ creed to ‘never leave a man behind’ and once we had done just that a few times, she decided that keeping up with me and Ana was a preferable option to facing the cows alone and unarmed.
After much trudging, we finally escaped the field and gleefully compared our mud-spattered clothing before starting the long clamber up the road to the car. But now, filled with a sense of achievement after our expedition, even the challenges of this hill could be eased by simple distractions as we paused periodically to catch our breath (well, OK, that was probably just me) and attempted to identify the roadside flora and fauna (rural knowledge lacking again here…. ‘What’s that one?’ ‘That’s a pretty purple flower’; ‘How about this one?’ ‘That’s a pretty yellow flower’……..I know. Just call me Chris Packham).
As we reached the summit of the hill, we were a changed band of travellers. We had conquered one hill and we knew we could conquer the world: we were adventurers and that felt good. There were no irritable exchanges as we strode to the car in companionable silence. The hill had achieved for us a moment of friendly peace; a gap in the relentless bickering; an oasis of calm……
…..then back in the car the loom bands came out again; arguments began and the peace was broken.
But for a brief moment it had reigned supreme.