It should have been a relaxing and pleasant stroll through one of our country’s most historically interesting woodlands. I was looking forward to the few hours of idle chatter with a friend I don’t get to see very often while our children did the stuff that children are supposed to do in the woods. I imagined I might even get to take some photos of coppiced trees making wintry silhouettes and shadows in the mist and sun.
But we were a family on the brink of leaving the country for some time. The boys had been bed hopping for a few nights while saying their various goodbyes. I hadn’t allowed for them or us, understandably, not feeling quite right.
So what followed was a series of unfortunate events. Emergency toilet trips, an asthma attack, disgruntled children. Eli had his head wounded by Rob bouncing a tree bough down on him and we couldn’t park at the cafe so had to park too far away for tired children. We were exhausted and out of sorts and the boys were determinedly ignoring our pleas to stay with us and stay out of the mud-ice.
Then Eli fell through some ice into a ditch full of the smelliest and foulest substance known to humankind. He ran up to us, forlorn and stinking, black slime all over his hands and coat. Rob emptied out a welly and a gush of oily bog water splattered across the pavement. I’d like to think that in a better parenting moment I might have laughed, ruffled the little imp’s hair and got on with sorting it out. Unfortunately, it was not one of those moments.
This was the first time I wondered what on earth we were doing. Here we were, having not even left the country, with a filthy child we couldn’t properly wash with filthy clothes I had no idea what to do with. It was freezing cold, the van was a mess and I wanted to go home. And then I realised, there was no ‘home’ in that sense any more, just an overcrowded van in a car park somewhere in Chingford.
My mother-sense kicked in eventually and I knew that what we all needed was a little dose of normality. I returned to my bedraggled offspring with clean clothes, clean shoes and a plan. We said a final goodbye to our friend then drove to a quiet spot in the forest and made dinner. Lesson number one; a home cooked meal and clean pyjamas can magically restore sanity to almost any overly stressful situation.
After we’d eaten, we settled the boys down with cushions, blankets and some audio stories and set off for Dover. They were soon asleep and my mood of doom had shifted into something more philosophical. There would be hard times and there would be good times, we would find ourselves strung out and stressed and within minutes we’d be grinning and laughing at ourselves. Somehow we’d have to learn to ride this crazy emotional rollercoaster if we were going to survive.
Very quickly my new-found wisdom was tested again as we hit a two hour jam just outside of Dover. This time we smiled, poured a beer and thought ourselves lucky that unlike the miles of truckers nose to tail, snaking on into the darkness, we had our home with us. As we sat and waited, and wondered whether we’d get to sleep that night at all, we kept turning to watch our peacefully sleeping boys, bathed in the crimson glow of a hundred HGV stoplights.