I’ve decided to go adventuring with my children. I have conflicting thoughts on this.
When I first had children, or even before, I did not picture myself sitting on a sofa, talking to the backs of three iPads (yet here we are).
I pictured us as parents who’d take our children adventuring, and we did. When our babies arrived, we bundled them into harnesses, seats and rucksacks which we secured to bikes, dinghies and boats to be carted up and down the coasts of Cornwall. Cue some startled dive skippers (thanks, Bill, for babysitting on board) and some very tiring hikes.
I’m not going to pretend that boating or hiking with babies was easy – it was intense. But it was good. (Hurray! See, parenthood hasn’t tied us to the sofa!) It was also scary and uncomfortable (I’m tired, he’s screaming, and we’re 10 miles from dry land). You can build the thighs of an England prop forward on a nine-stone woman if you put a child, rucksack, and baby on her back, and make her run…
The best and the worst moments were during the sailing trips to the Scilly Isles. Life on board a boat in our rainy, so-very-rainy, climate can be an exercise in solid wet and no sleep. There’s no washing machine, salt water doesn’t air dry properly (ever), and it’s an environment that is far from safe unless you literally tie very small children to either you, the boat, or both. But we made it to places that you can only reach by sea. We paddled our kayak beside cruising basking sharks and dolphins, waded between islands, fished in empty coves, pulled mussels from the rocks and ate them on barbecues five minutes later. On the way home, we’d sing to soothe our babies – and it was in this space that we came up with our family song. It’s not much of a song, but it works wonders with eight-month-old bored infants in rucksacks.
We’re adventuring again
Bounce up and down in time, and repeat until faceplant. It’s a bit like the “cold my toes, tiddely pom” song. Sort of. Anyway, it used to get us home. (By the time we reached home, out voices would sometimes be a little sheep-like. You might even say tearful.) We found beautiful places and our children would go months without seeing a single screen.
Then we stopped. My OH had a back injury and I had a series of operations over 18 months. During the months of pain, I handed out iPads, subscribed to Netflix, and we tried to muddle our way through.
I talked to the back of three iPads the other day and said, “Don’t you remember those summers when we spent the whole time outdoors?”
They all gaped at me blankly. “What? Did we?”
Every time I come in and see them all beeping on machines, a little bit of me dies. This is not who we are. These machines that give them a dopamine spike every time they gain a point or squish an alien… they’re not going to help my children find their way in the world. I want my children to know east from west by the sun, to understand how far they can walk or swim before their bodies hurt, to be able to work as a team when they have to, to be safe. I want them to always take drinking water when they go out walking. To look after their feet. To understand that the top of the hill is often a bump beyond the first horizon. There are many horizons.
And to always check the weather.
Always, always, check the weather. And the tide.
My last operation worked and I’m hoping to heal up now, and although I’m not allowed to swim for a few weeks, no one banned mountains, so I’m hauling myself off the sofa with a little grunting noise and hoping I still have what it takes to reach a few summits. This time, carrying a pack full of small socks and sweets.
Tomorrow, we’re heading off to Wales, to find some hills.