You’d Think We’d Learned Our Country Walks Lesson By Now

You know how normally I blog about our outdoor pursuits elsewhere and only mention the epic parenting fails here? Well, settle down with a cuppa – this is a long one.

“Let’s go for a little walk”, The Boss and I suggested to the minxes. “Let’s go see what this bit of the map looks like in real life”, pointing to a gorge, a waterfall and a picnic site near the ruined Edzell Castle. We hinted at the possibility of ice-cream in Edzell afterwards, and promised Midi that it was nowhere near Glen Esk – the scene of our last couple of epics. And that’s all it took to persuade the minxes to come out walking on a blustery, chilly Saturday.

Pirners BrigAfter parking at the picnic site, we walked down the steep steps to the River Westwater and spent a while skimming stones and clambering all over the bright red sandstone. We’d have stayed longer but for spotting a little bridge further upstream. “Aha! Adventure beckons! Let’s just go explore the bridge”.

scary brigThe bridge – Pirner’s Brig – did indeed tick all the ‘perilous’ boxes: the floor was a wide-spaced metal grille; the metal sides wobbled and didn’t feel as if they were attached very securely; in fact, I couldn’t see how the bridge was attached to the sides of the gorge at all! Worse, there was a deep gap at the base of the sides that my panicky imagination could foresee one or more minxes slipping under and falling to their doom in the rapids below. (Please tell me I’m not alone in my hysterical inner anxieties?) Still, I put on my Let’s Have An Adventure face and bravely urged the minxes to walk ahead of me (just in case I bottled it at the last minute). As feared, the bridge also wobbled when we walked, so I’d score it a 7/10 on the Britain’s Scariest Bridges scale.

On the other side was a deep, dark wood. We could see 3 thin little tracks heading in different directions. Now, we knew that we only had a single bottle of water with us and a single plastic pot of chocolate snacks – the rest were in the car – but we weren’t going to be long, were we? The sight of mountain goat tracks heading out of sight uphill was just too intriguing – we had to go have a little explore. Oh ok – *I* had to go have a look, dragging the others reluctantly with me: they’d have been quite happy to go back to chucking stones in the river. It was only me who really wanted to see what the waterfall in the middle of nowhere looked like.

One track led straight to the deep, fast-flowing river (eep…!), one to a gate and a lumpy steep field, and the other led up along the side of the gorge. Normally I’d have balked at taking the minxes up such a narrow track with a steep drop on one side and slippery weeds on the other, but I’m still trying to stretch my Over-Protective Parent muscles, so I led the elephant train, Mini clinging tightly to my hand and Midi and Maxi using fallen branches as steadying sticks. Eventually it got too scary for me, so the minxes and The Boss huddled in the dank cold while I trekked on ahead to check out the footing. It looked like a bird track ahead! Halt. About Turn. We picked our way back to the tracks junction and decided to try hopping over the gate in case there was a track on the other side that met up with the gorge track.

easy trekking

Bar the odd fallen tree, the going was easy enough here for The Boss to let go of 2 little Minx hands and take a photo

Now at this point, we probably should have nipped back for more water and snacks. And maybe the map that was decorating the dashboard. But we were all in waterproofs and now all quite keen to find the elusive waterfall to make this un-fun walk worthwhile. It couldn’t be much further, could it?

waterfall

This is the ‘waterfall’. Sorry, my soul is just too shallow to appreciate this beautiful stretch of water

Maybe 20 minutes of careful foot-placing later, we found the waterfall. I felt cheated: it was more like a stretch of river rapids. Pretty, but no dramatic waterfall. Hmph. We decided to share the chocolate snack and water before heading back and crossing the waterfall off our list of places to return to. Rather than eat in the dark woods, though, we decided to walk a little further to the big empty field past the fenceline we could see and maybe rest for a bit in the sunshine. First we had to clamber over the barbed wire fence. Someone had built a stepover with boulders on either side of the fence and helpfully left a big stick leaning against it. I showed the girls how to use sticks to carefully balance over the wire, then they all had a go. Yes, this probably used up too much time.

bit steepAfter eating the little snack and almost finishing the water, we realised that we were all a bit tired and quite cold. None of us relished walking back the cold, dark, slow way we’d come. The thicker wood that flanked the track didn’t look too deep: perhaps we could walk up the empty field a little, then sling a left and walk around the outside of the wood, left again and back down towards Pirner’s Brig, then to the warmth of the car and hot coffee and lunch? Excellent idea – surelythatt would be much quicker? So off we plodded. In fact, Midi and I had a little race up the lumpy hill.

We go to the edge of the wood. Ah. The wood didn’t end there – just the fully-grown trees. The fenceline stretched on uphill with little saplings dotted everywhere. Explaining to the girls that the Outdoor Access Code meant that it would be wrong of us to trample through the plantation, we decided to plod on further uphill.

When the hill didn’t appear to stop any time soon, I trudged ahead to see just how far the wood extended for, beginning to get worried about how long this ‘short walk’ was taking. Far out of sight of the rest of the family, I finally came to a gate. And a road! Fantastic. With renewed energy, I trotted back to the family and beckoned them on. We got quite excited at the prospect of decent footing and forgot to think about basic things like watching where our feet went…

Midi tripped and fell against the gate as she was opening it. Oh no! Dislocated shoulder or elbow, again? No, thankfully just bruising, which she described as ‘my shoulder’s crumbled!’. Maxi moaned through leg cramp. Then Mini announced that she was cold and tired and wasn’t going to walk any further. Guess where the sling was? Yep, keeping the map, food and water company in the car. “Look!” The Boss pointed, “You can see the end of the wood over there. If we walk quickly we can hang another left there, get to the next gate, cross the bridge and be done. Just another 20 minutes. Not long now.”

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Oh come on, you know us by now – it never works out like that, does it? We got to the end of the wood and discovered that the next field was entirely surrounded by a double electric fence. Could we cross it somehow? Ought we to? No and no. The Boss whipped out his phone and pulled up a satellite image of the area while we shivered in the now-harsh wind. At least the sun was bobbing behind clouds so it didn’t matter that we’d left the sunblock stick with the food and water(!). We could see a chicken farm just ahead and a farm track leading out of it that went roughly in the direction we wanted to go in. The satellite image showed a track leading in from this road, though we couldn’t actually see it because of the hedgerows. Hmmmmm. OK, let’s walk just a bit further. I had huge misgivings, wondering whether I should insist on us just turning back. I bickered with The Boss for a while in frustration and taught the kids some new swear words to horrify their teachers with next week.

We got to the access track. It was gated, and the gate was tightly fenced over so it was un-climbable. I looked around. Then up. I could see that the fluffy cumulus clouds had suddenly turned into thundery clouds with hazy icy edges and that in fact there was a wall of falling rain coming towards us. Oh.You.Are.Kidding.Me.On. Not again! Why does this happen every time we come here?! Sod the Access Code – I needed to get our kids to warmth and safety right now! I was up and over that gate like a skittishly panicky mother, then caught the minxes as The Boss threw them over to me. We strode down the track to the chicken farm. I half-expected to be met by barking dogs or an angry farmer. The smell of chicken poo got stronger and we were stepping in more and more of the stuff, so I suggested we walk along the very edge to minimise disturbing (we assumed) free-range chickens: I’d visions of us causing a stampede and mass chicken death and really being in trouble.

Instead, the chickens were all indoors, gently clucking. Would chickens stampede and panic if they smelled us? Could they smell us? Did they give 2 hoots what we got up to?! We didn’t take any chances and walked around the downwind side of the chicken-house. It was eerily quiet, with no sign of humans. Or dogs. We trotted happily down the exit track to the next field and gate, glad to be closer to the car.

Well, we WERE glad, until the hailstones hit. Big ones. Hurty ones. They stung us along the field to the top of the next hill. I spotted that the direct route to the final gate and Pirner’s Brig was along an exposed ridge, but decided to detour and walk in the shelter of the hill’s deep contours instead. Hoods up and hunched over against rain and hail, we tiptoed around cow-pats, fearful of meeting some overprotective cows and calves.

Finally we spotted the gate, the river and on the other side: the car! Ah, safety! But first, we had to cross some muddy puddles. Could we walk round them? The hill was too steep to walk around uphill; downhill would probably be just as mushy; ah well, it’s only a few minutes to the car – let’s go through them!

I instantly regretted my decision as I sank past my ankles in bog (natural springs, the map described it later). I had a hysterical vision of me sinking under forever leaving an indignant bubble. I subscribe to the belief that if you’re moving fast enough you won’t get wet, so sheer momentum took me across. Luckily Mini, who was still clinging to my hand like a flag in the wind, was too light to sink too far and she just got wet feet. One by one, we all discovered just how icy-cold the bog water was. I could tell by the 3 different tones of wailing that the minxes really weren’t happy at all. Situation Normal at the end of most family walks, then.

the least muddyOnce quickly over the gate, we slithered down the path to the Brig. Who cared about the steep drop to the river? Who cared about the mud? One last big bit of bravery to cross the bridge, then just a few strides more to the car. We giggled euphorically as we stripped off muddy kit in the empty carpark and guzzled chocolate and coffee and water. At least we’d been wearing fleeces and waterproofs so I hadn’t worried about hypothermia! But my biggest Note To Self: there really, honestly, genuinely is no such thing as “Och, we don’t need x, y, z – we’re only going on a teeny wee walk”.

Never again.

End of Term Quick Catch-up

So what’s going on at Trout Towers just now? Well, it’s getting close to the end of term…

She's so cool and she doesn't realise it

She’s so cool and she doesn’t realise it

Every work surface at home is covered in Mini Minx’s finger-painted cards of bunnies and chicks, Midi has been experimenting with hard-boiled eggs and Maxi has started taking the instrument home from school that she’s been learning to play. It’s a double bass. She can barely lift it. I struggle not to use it to corral the kids like a shepherd. I am, yet again, also glad that we live only a short walk from the school…

Scary sight. And the egg's a bit frightening, too

Scary sight. And the egg’s a bit frightening, too

Midi was tasked with decorating a hard-boiled egg like a book character for homework tomorrow. “OOoooh”, I enthused, “You’ve got about a hundred permanent colour Sharpies that Grandma got you – you could use those!” So Midi being Midi, she slouched in her chair for an hour, meticulously colouring in her egg as Toothless, the all-black dragon. I suppose I should be glad that she drew it smiling, which is vaguely normal.

Her second bit of homework was to construct something around the egg that would allow it to be rolled along the playground without it cracking. I’m not sure that covering it in a ton of bubble-wrap is really what the teacher had in mind…

One or 2 chicks...

One or 2 chicks…

Mini, meanwhile, has a blood test later this afternoon to start investigating why she’s now covered head to foot in eczema. It came on overnight in the middle of December, as did mine. It seemed obvious that it therefore was because of something we ate or touched or did. But it’s beaten my analytical skills – I can’t figure it out at all. We didn’t eat anything new that week. We’ve never changed washing powders, fabric conditioners, shower-gels, etc. – I’m really boring and stick to the same ones year in, year out. We didn’t go anywhere special that week. My eczema took ages to clear up. Hers hasn’t. She’s been covered in moisturisers and moderate strength corticosteroids since, glugging antihistamines night and day. The only thing that’s made any difference was taking erythromycin for an infected ingrowing toenail*. Her skin cleared up briefly, but it’s coming back in bright red patches again.

So: because antihistamines seem to have no effect, I don’t think it’s an allergy to anything. You never know, though, so I guess it makes sense to start checking there while we wait for the dermatology referral to come through (crikey, that hospital will be sick of the sight of us Trouts, trouping back and forth…). Today’s drill, then, will be applying ‘Magic Cream’ and taking Mini to the nurse. I fear I’m still a little traumatised from the last time she had a blood test.

I’m starting to plan Maxi’s birthday party. When I asked her what she wanted to do, the poor girl sadly said, “I’d love a birthday party, but I’ve got no friends”. My heart broke. So I’m planning a movie night for just a couple of the kids in her class. I’m not sure that they’ll come, though, because it’s in the Easter holidays and they’re much older than her. I figure that a Movie Night is less like a child’s party and a wee bit more grown-up, would be fun regardless of whether she has 5 guests or just her sisters, and therefore is low pressure for Maxi.

She’s still having a tricky time at school. She decided to quit a pupil-run dance club because she was getting fed up being ordered about by the older girl leading it, hated the music, thought the dance moves were silly, and had had enough of having no say. She said the other kids were fed-up too, but were too frightened to quit because the older girl threatened them with all manner of trouble and ire. I told Maxi just to quit: “No-one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do. I completely endorse your wish to have your lunchtimes outdoors again. Go for it”. The older girl didn’t like this at all, and has been crowing to anyone who’ll listen that she kicked Maxi out, rather than that she quit. Maxi’s very vexed with the lies, but I gave her another coaching session in how to shrug and smirk to devastating effect. “The less bothered you look, the angrier she’ll get, because there’s nothing else she can do”, I advised Maxi. “Smile sweetly at her, shrug and say nothing. And gloat inside”. Oooooo, I’m such a bad mother!!

Finally, my long-haired trio now all sport neat bobs. Maxi started it last year, and her bob has been getting shorter and shorter. It’s now chin-length. Midi had her waist-length blonde locks cut into a chin-skimming sharp cut that makes her look very grown-up. Even Mini’s ginger frizz is now swishable for the first time in her 5 years. Ah, they’re growing up so quickly, now.

Bud 2

I just realised that I never did update on what happened about Maxi Minx being called names at school. Forgive me – I’m in the middle of 5 birthdays and as many teaching workshops, as well as all the standard gubbins, so I’ve not been writing much at all. The school’s response was very heart-warming:

Maxi showed Moore’s quote to her teacher that very morning and asked for it to be discussed at Circle Time* that afternoon. The teacher decided to call Circle Time straight after the immediate admin of registers and school dinner lists. He and a more experienced teacher discussed general name calling with the class. It sounds like they covered some brilliant points: what constitutes name-calling, why it hurts, where it stems from, and what they can all do about it.

*Circle Time is when the class sit in a circle and discuss a sensitive topic. Chatham House Rules apply, though they don’t call it that.

The thing that struck Maxi the most was probably the first and simplest thing:

“Mr S asked everyone who’d ever been called a name that hurt them to put their hand up”, Maxi told me. “And every single person put their hand up! Even the teachers!” she said, eyes huge. “Can you believe that, Mummy? Every single one of the grown-ups, too!” Well, yes, sweetheart, me and your Daddy told you that, but I guess you had to see it for yourself to believe us…

After Circle Time, Mr S pulled Maxi aside and checked how she felt. They agreed a little secret signal they’d use every day at home-time to use as a barometer of how she was feeling: he’d spot her in the line and give her a thumbs-up. If she returned the thumbs-up then that was fine and she could get on with getting ready to go home. If she gave a thumbs-down, she and he would stay behind and have a chat about what was bothering her. Maxi said she felt very reassured about that, as was I when she told me.

The teacher also discussed Maxi with the more experienced teacher of the other class, who then took Maxi aside later that day and sat her down. She told her that she (Maxi) was a very special girl; that she loved her; that the school was better for having a Maxi Minx in it; that there was no-one else in the whole world who was a Maxi Minx, and that she was never, ever to change.

When Maxi related this to me, I welled up. What sensitive, lovely teachers! I caught them both before school a few days later over another matter, and thanked them for the kindness and understanding that they’d shown my little girl. Mrs T gave me a huge hug, but Mr S and I just smiled broadly at each other (hugging a male teacher half my age doesn’t really feel appropriate, no matter how wonderful. And he, and Mrs T, are both wonderful people).

The headteacher told me that he’s planning to have a Special Educational Needs teacher come in at some point, as an intervention, to go through different social scenarios with Maxi. The aim would be to bolster my and Mr S’s attempts to help her become more emotionally resilient.

My favourite - the Gallic shrug. Breton-style stripey top optional. Photo from www.davidplusworld.com

My favourite – the Gallic shrug. Breton-style stripey top optional. Photo from http://www.davidplusworld.com

I hear that the name-calling in the school general has gotten worse, though. Perhaps before it gets better? The school sent a letter home to parents asking us to discuss respect for others with our kids. A whole school target of respecting others was made. Closer to home, I taught Maxi 5 or 6 different styles of shrugs so that she’s armed with suitable non-verbal replies to the idiots still trying to get a rise out of her. I know that as an adult she’ll have name-calling and snipes to deal with, that will hurt just as much but will be less overt, so I think that it’s important that she learns to deal with it rather than have the teaching staff lay down a ban and try to enforce it. And that’s why I’m so proud that she managed to discuss the issue with her teachers and then the class by herself, without me wading in with my size 5 feet.