Not Going Out
Jon and I have been spending weekends outdoors with the minxes for 11 years now. You’d think that by now the girls would be quite accustomed to spending all day outside, going on long walks, exploring and having adventures. You would, wouldn’t you? Alas no. We generally spend our weekends trying hard to persuade 3 girls to set foot outside for ‘just a few minutes’ when they’d much rather loaf around reading. Then arguing with them. Then ordering them outdoors. I hang my head in shame, but I’m sure I’m not alone.
Yesterday started off in that familiar pattern: “It’s a beautiful day, let’s all go and explore!” I enthused. “No. I want to play on my scooter with my friends”, sulked Mini. “No. That means a long walk. I hate long walks. I hate exploring. I hate adventures”, grumped Midi. “….”, Maxi failed to say anything, nose stuck in a book.
We’d not gotten out on Saturday, being busy with general chores and the girls playing out with their friends, so Jon and I put up a determined, combined front. There was much wailing and squealing and shouting. The girls weren’t too happy, either. Finally around 11am we all trudged outside, blinking into the sunshine: wellies on, warm clothes on, heads down, frowns firmly in place. Not exactly a scene of family bliss.
We walked around the first corner of the housing estate. I pointed to a tree whose leaves had only just left the bud. I reminded the girls of the rhyme an old man had told us, when we’d met him and gotten talking on a previous walk: ‘the eels leave the mud when the ash breaks bud’. I told them that this was what he’d meant by ‘break bud’. The angry frowns turned to quizzical frowns. I pointed out that this tree wasn’t an ash, and that it would be quite a few weeks until the ash leaves emerged like this one. I asked the girls why that might be.
Pondering on that kept them busy for the 3 more minutes it took to walk down to the nearest horse chestnut tree. The kids had noticed before that it had huge, very sticky buds. I asked them where the buds had gone. Mini looked on the ground, Maxi looked askance at us (“What’s with the Spanish Inquisition?!”) and Midi successfully spotted that they’d burst open to reveal leaves and flower spikes.
The flower spikes worked their magic, and 3 little girls got a bit lighter in their steps as they ducked under the horse chestnut and started over to the shallow little burn. We couldn’t see anything alive in the water, just some plastic and metal ring pulls (which we lifted out to discard elsewhere). But just because we couldn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t there! Maxi carefully lowered her plastic basin into the water and immediately a few nymphs swam in. They were moving too fast to photograph and identify at home, so she did her best to memorise what they looked at. Jon encouraged her to properly observe things like number of legs, colour, rough size, shape, etc. while I stopped the other pair of jokers from wading off too deep.
We decided to move on to a bit of the burn that we knew widened and slowed, under perpetual shade. The girls broke out the Nature Detectives ID sheets I’d printed and reused over the past 5 or 6 years and spotted leaves and flowers. I amused myself playing a game I use to keep small kids happy on long walks: “Find everything you can in 2 minutes that is… yellow!” and found and photographed 5 types of daffodils, a water lily, lesser celandine, colt’s foot, dandelions, broom, gorse, yellowed leaves and the inside of a daisy. The girls, meanwhile, found more nymphs, some pond-skaters (or water boatmen? I can’t tell the difference) and lots of midges.
The pond that is normally a sure-fire winner for tadpoles had completely dried up, so we left the meadow and wandered back and deeper into the beech woods. The girls sloshed through the burn, picked up stones and nutshells and sticks. They stopped stomping around and started meandering. They poked at things, lifted up dead logs, sniffed at flowers, and followed bumblebees. Jon settled himself on a sawn off tree trunk like a garden gnome, and I happily tried out my camera phone capturing wood sorrel, wood anemone, forget-me-nots, bluebells, and the most beautifully swirled old tree.
Two and a half hours after we set off we’d maybe only wandered a mile from home. We were all happily playing in the same little bit of the wood, all doing different things. The girls were (shock-horror) happily playing together: they’d made up a target game using a big tree with holes in its trunk and beech nutshells. The chilly wind had picked up and there was more than a sniff of snow in the air (that arrived today!). Our wellies and coats had kept out the wet and chill so that we’d not even noticed it, but tummies needed filling. Everyone was sad to turn back for home.
As we walked, I pointed out to the girls that when Mum and Dad said, “Let’s go out to explore!” that we meant more of what we’d done that day, as opposed to a day-long route-march yomp up a hill that their fevered imaginations have concocted out of thin air and storybooks. They nodded fervently. They believed me in that one instant. Still, I’m not even going to pretend to myself that next weekend will be any different in terms of having to winkle the kids outdoors, haha!
About the Author
About Me & Mine
Hello! I’m Jay, married to Jon, living in North East Scotland with our 3 daughters: Maxi (10), Midi (8) and Mini Minx (6).
Favourite place in the world:
It’s hard to choose between the stretch of Moray Firth coast between Findhorn and Cullen, and Westray (a northerly Orkney island). Both have an amazing diversity of beautiful coastlines in a small space (empty, clean, sandy beaches; crystal-clear rockpools; crags, cliffs and stacks), fascinating wildlife, friendly people and endlessly interesting weather. Bar visits to friends and relatives, we’ve taken all our holidays in Scotland, north of where we live, for many years. We’ve still barely scratched the surface of this beautiful country.
Favourite things to do outdoors:
Rock-pooling and scrambling on local beaches; camping; walking in the gentler local hills; foraging for fruit and jam-making ingredients; and growing our own fruit and vegetables against the combined deterring efforts of our cat and the weather.