Ever since Alec and Kit learnt to ride their big bikes I have been looking forward to cycling together in the countryside with a picnic in the panniers and maybe a few bottles of ginger beer stashed away for good measure.
For years we have been circling our local park with various combinations of scooters, scoot bikes and big bikes until, finally, a day off and good weather have combined and we are on our first big family cycle ride.
But despite the bluebells, sunshine and lovely forest, the Bomford ship is not a happy one.
An hour in, and we are convened around a picnic table in a crisis meeting. My husband is wearing his pained-but-patient look.
“Shall we just go home now?” he asks. “You’re obviously not enjoying yourself.”
The boys are uncharacteristically quiet.
“No,” I squeak. “Let’s carry on.”
Oh dear. Mummy is in a bit of a strop.
Despite almost eight years of parenthood I still haven’t learnt that these much anticipated big days out often don’t quite rise to the occasion. Today I haven’t got to grips with yet another soggy parade – and it’s been spotted.
Our adventure had started so well too, with high hopes and great excitement, especially as I would be hiring my own bike to accompany everyone.
“Don’t worry Mummy, “ said Kit, five. “I’ll help you because you probably aren’t very good.”
After a prolonged toilet trip and 10 minutes fiddling around with Alec’s helmet because apparently the strap makes him look like he has a beard, we are off. Or at least one of us is. Harry, seven, shoots up the path shouting: “I think I’ll try gear two. No, three!” Kit attempts to follow suit but wobbles against the incline while Alec instantly drops his bike to the floor. “I can’t go uphill,” he wails.
And so our ride begins with me trudging up the hill pushing two bikes. Shortly afterwards, my husband is doing the same. Every now and again Harry returns to us. “Why am I the only one cycling?” he asks, and whizzes off again.
At last we reach the top and a flat section beckons. Alec and Kit scramble onto their bikes and are off. This is it!
“Woo-hoo!” shouts Alec. “Our family bike ride!”
It is great – just like the Center Parcs adverts – smiling in the sunshine as we meander along a leafy track. We continue like this for a good two minutes.
I am so happy that we are moving that I fail to notice that Alec and Kit are doing so rather rapidly. As they hurtle downhill I realise that applying the brakes is something we should have discussed in more detail earlier.
“I can’t stop,” shouts Kit, rather unnecessarily. Alec is wobbling all over the path at high speed.
My husband hares after them and manages to throw himself in front of Kit. When I round the bend Alec and his bike are lying in a ditch by the path and a man with a pushchair is looking rather startled.
“He’s fallen off, ” says Harry.
Thankfully, everyone is in one piece. And, much to Alec’s disappointment, there are no wounds to display.
At this point we consult the map and discover that we have progressed along approximately three per cent of the family trail. Clearly it is time to abort the mission.
We push the bikes to the play area and search for a picnic table. The only available one is in the shade, which suddenly feels like the last straw. I sit munching my lunch in chilly silence while my husband retreats to a sunny stump.
“Where are the children?” he asks when he tiptoes back for his crisps.
“No idea,” I reply, somehow conveying that their welfare is no longer my responsibility or concern.
And so it was at this point that he suggested, not unreasonably, that it was time to head for the car.
Of course, we didn’t. Instead, I returned my bike to the hire shop and admitted, rather sheepishly, that I would not be requiring it for the full six hours after all. Armed with my refund, I brightened considerably.
Harry and my husband headed off on the extended family cycle route while Alec, Kit and I explored the woods.
It goes without saying that once we’d abandoned the day’s goal, everyone had a much better time – even me. I vowed that in the interests of enjoyment, expectations would be kept to a minimum on our next trip.
Harry returned exhilarated from his ride and Alec and Kit greeted him with enthusiastic chatter about their woodland adventures. Kit even managed to submerge his entire foot in the forest’s only patch of mud.
So honour, if not my dignity, was more or less satisfied. The boys returned to the car with cola ice lolly smeared across their faces, muddy trousers and tales of near-disaster to boast about. A good day out, by anyone’s standards.
“When are we ever going to go on a proper family bike ride?” asked Harry as we drove away.
Sometime soon, I reply – and it’s going to be brilliant.
Oh Jess, I can’t count the number of times we have had days like this. Good days, but in unexpected ways. I have found that as they get older, the reality slowly becomes closer to the dream. That the joy of sticking with it and not losing your passion…
Sharon, I think the curse of the over anticipated day out (and the eternal optimism that this time it will be different!) strikes us all. Good to know that your perseverance is reaping dividends though. I live in hope.
This looks very familiar. My husband manages to have the children spend an hour dragging a branch around Greenland Dock, or playing at the base of a statue, whereas I am always trying to reach a special somewhere.Our next project is “let’s go camping” – something else to balance the realistically achievable against the idea in my head.