Defying belief!

Most people will be familiar with the phrase “Never work with children or animals” coined by W.C. Fields all those years ago. However, I’m willing to bet that (following an extended period of COVID driven home schooling) an even greater proportion of adults now have a better understanding of the potential pitfalls of even trying to achieve something useful whilst the ‘ankle biters’ are around!

As a mum of boys, I discovered quite early on that my children needed ‘exercising’ in almost the same way as a dog. Any fleeting thoughts of spending a ‘lazy day at home’ were usually swiftly dispersed upon realising that there would almost certainly be ‘pay back’ – in one form or another. If we were lucky, it might simply be under the guise of incessant bickering and the joyful refrain of “it’s not fair!” being emphatically chorused on auto repeat. On a bad day though, the afore mentioned arguments and protests would gradually escalate into the damaging of toys, furniture, or (much to my husband’s annoyance) the paintwork. And so, a genuine love of the great outdoors developed (amongst their parents at least) and with it, tangible improvements to behaviour, sleep quality – and (I’ll admit it) home décor!

Having moved to Derbyshire in 2014 we have been fortunate enough to have acquired an enormous natural playground, right on our doorstep. Many a Sunday is spent happily exploring the astonishing beauty of the rugged terrain and majestic rocky outcrops of the awe-inspiring Peak District. Bracing climbs and spectacular views do wonders for one’s physical and mental wellbeing and only the most appalling weather conditions can generally dissuade us from heading out there.

Shortly after Christmas then, ever mindful of the usual post-turkey resolutions, we took the decision to brave the snow and head out to the Peaks. We had chosen a circular walk from ‘The Fox House’ in Longshaw and (at just over 4 miles and supposedly well within our capabilities) headed confidently in the direction of Higger Tor.

All went well to begin with, both boys happily running ahead and delighting in trying to shatter some large sheets of ice that were dotted about at the edge of the trail. In no time at all we had reached the first proper ascent, stopping only to watch a handful of intrepid motorists do battle with some horribly icy country lanes. As we picked our way carefully amongst the rocks, my husband became aware that his phone battery was almost flat and that since this was our only means of navigation (coupled with the fact that an ominous mist was threatening to obscure the landscape altogether) there might be genuine cause for concern. Without a feasible alternative though, there was no real choice but to carry on – and besides, our youngest was making short shrift of the rocky ascent, emulating only the most experienced of mountain goats!

Eventually, (and after an undignified fall on my part that ironically followed a plea to ‘be careful’ to my two infinitely more agile children!) we reached the summit and discussed the quickest route down. The snow had fallen more heavily on that side of the tor and so it was quite difficult to gauge (with any certainty) what lay below. The mist was closing in more rapidly now too and so we promptly chose our ‘path’ and began our descent.

Having negotiated countless twists and turns (largely of my ankle joints) and numerous precarious screes, we stood at the bottom, peering into the distance. We knew the general direction of our car’s whereabouts but a veritable minefield of boggy land and grassy tussocks (blanketed in snow for additional challenge) lay between us and welcome refuge.

And that’s when it happened.

My husband (very much pack leader on such occasions) literally disappeared into the marshland letting out a cry of anguish as he began to sink deeper into the quagmire. I, of course, was expected to leap to his aid but, having now been utterly paralysed with laughter, could do nothing but crumple in a heap and giggle inanely from afar. Fortunately for him, our eldest (upon realising that his father was not in the least bit amused by his wife’s shameful behaviour) swiftly regained his composure and rushed to my husband’s assistance.

Just as we were taking stock of the collateral damage to both my husband’s clothing, and his dignity, we heard a mighty splash nearby. All three of us whipped around to see what on earth had happened now. There, only a matter of yards from where my husband’s ‘rescue’ had recently taken place, was our youngest – up to his waist in bog and waving his arms frantically above his head as a means of attracting our attention. This time (mercifully) the maternal instinct kicked in and (instead of giving in to helpless laughter) we all rushed to hoist him out. The fact that there was a sort of tide mark just above his nipples was a clear indication of just how deep the marsh had become now that the thawing process had begun in earnest.

But before you devote too much sympathy to our ‘little man’, I feel that I should tell you that he later confessed to having in fact ‘chosen’ to launch himself into the bog… Apparently, the reasoning behind his actions was that because he knew that he was considerably lighter than his father, he “thought (he) would just skid along the surface of the ice and not sink in at all”!

Nice one, kiddo!     

Selective hearing

How many times have you held a ‘conversation’ with one of your children, only to discover (much later) that they weren’t in fact listening to a single word that was said? If your children are anything like mine, I’d hazard a guess at it being quite a few!  I’ve noticed that husbands can sometimes be guilty of this particular affliction too. My own husband is particularly adept at claiming that he has absolutely no recollection of the many minutes that were invested (sometimes only a couple of hours earlier) into making sure that he knew what the plans for the day were. That way, of course, he skilfully avoids having to take ownership of, or responsibility for, any small part of the planning or execution. Ingenious, right?!

Even more remarkable though is the breakneck speed with which auditory, cognitive, and memory function is miraculously restored just as soon as the subject matter holds greater appeal – or that a particular game has finally finished! So, you’ll have to forgive me if there is just the tiniest hint of cynicism in what follows…

‘Stuck on repeat!’ by Gaynor Hall

There’s the faintest of suggestions that their eyes are growing glazed,
They’ve moved on from ‘feigned interest’ and they’ve reached the ‘tuned-out’ phase,
They glance down surreptitiously – tapping deftly all the while –
Pretending that they’re listening can take a lot of guile!

They assure me that they’re “engaging” (despite appearances to the contrary),
Whilst avatars dart across their screens, each action wholly voluntary,
I press on with the schedule detailing exit, and arrival
But still they seem oblivious, seeking only ‘virtual’ survival.

I pause to gauge their reaction – not a word escapes their lips –
So I busy myself fetching coats and all the things we’ll need for our trip.
I remind them (once again) to bring their current game to a close –
As time for a shower evaporates, I catch sight of the garden hose.

What fun it would be to douse each one in water both strong and icy,
The thought makes me smile, they’d move quickly then, I’m in danger of getting feisty!
I resist the urge and content myself with another gentle nagging,
As finally they deign to respond, they can sense my spirits are flagging…

They leap into action (well, gently crawl) and head out to the car,
(The usual arguments quickly ensue even though we’re not going far!)
And then the questions tumble out, like ‘Where?’ and ‘What?’ and ‘When?’
I remind myself to take deep breaths before I explain again!