"Let's go on an outing!" I said! "No!" they replied. "It'll be lame! We just want to stay here and play on the tablet/watch CBeebies on the tablet/do homework on the laptop (really?!)" "Come on! Get up! I'm packing a picnic. Well, we'll split it between our rucksacks and that way we won't need a separate picnic bag and we can leave the buggy here as that'll be easier on the bus. We're going to a country park and farm we last visited 9 years ago. Look. Here are the photos. Weren't you two tiny and cute? Look how happy you were!" Cue moans and groans, but to give them their due, they got up and got on with it. I made a stack of ham sandwiches ("I don't like ham!" "Oof you had it in your lunchbox last week, and it's all I've got in."), and hoped that the bread would defrost by the time we came to eat it for lunch, forward planning not necessarily my thing... I also grabbed a packet of mini breaded chicken bites from the freezer, a few other bits and cobbled together an unplanned picnic.
Bags packed ("Come on sweetie I need you to empty your school bag so we can pack it for the day please." "But you didn't tell me last week what the plan was! You can't just expect me to do that now! I haven't had any notice! Aaaargh!" "I know. I'm sorry. I've only just worked out the plan myself." "Aaaargh! I'm staying here!" "Sweetie come back please! We'll miss the bus if we don't get these bags packed!" I hadn't actually planned which bus we'd get, but I was hoping that the need to catch the bus and so stick to the albeit last minute plan A would trump the need for advance warning in the world of autism, and this time it did...) and we set off from home at 10:25. It turns out that the promise of "seeing some animals" did little to comfort the 2-year-old's anguish at having to walk. The day before I had pushed an empty buggy while she ran ahead for most of the afternoon, but today it was a very noisy affair getting to the bus stop, and time was of the essence as Google informed me that the bus was running early.
We found the right bus stop, and it turns out that it's very useful having a sophisticated nearly 12-year-old who, since starting secondary school in September, is now a seasoned bus passenger. Weird though, bowing to her superior knowledge. We boarded with no problem (only a couple of minutes late, but the sky was blue and although we weren't actually in fine spirits, it wasn't too disastrous a mood between the lot of us while we waited), trying out an e-ticket for the first time (What if my phone dies?!) and took over the back seats. Oh. Travel sickness. I'd sort of forgotten that the nearly 12-year-old, the 2-year-old and I all suffer. But despite my almost constant questioning - Do you feel sick?! Tell me if you do! - we were all fine. I did have a Porta Potty liner at the ready, previous experience suggesting that the 2-year-old wouldn't either get or give much warning before spewing everywhere.
The 40ish minute bus ride passed without a hitch, thankfully, and it turns out that the 5-year-old is a particularly amusing passenger, and journeys seem to bring out the reminiscing in us all, especially with the 10-year-old who can remember every place we've ever visited.
Google was vastly optimistic on how long it would take us to walk to the country park and farm, especially with a full-volume shouting 2-year-old. Also, the sky was rather grey, and it was a lot colder than Coventry. The 5-year-old refused her hat and gloves. I failed to insist. Lesson learned.
After nearly half an hour of much moaning (nearly 12-year-old), shouting (2-year-old) and towing of the 2-year-old and "Come on! We're going to see the animals!", we arrived at a muddy track that Google said was the way to go. ("Ugh this is disgusting!" - nearly 12-year-old.) The track led us to a boggy, grassy field ("Ugh this is disgusting!" - nearly 12-year-old) and then a small play park, which instantly fixed everything for the intrepid 2-year-old, who got stuck in climbing and sliding and spinning. Being nearly 12 can be quite difficult if the play park is 'lame', and as a direct consequence, the play park was also rubbish for the nearly 10-and-half-year-old, who often emulates her older sister. The 5-year-old asked for her gloves. I shoved on her hat. Too late.
It turns out that it was a bitterly cold day, and I hadn't dressed anybody in enough clothing. The day before we'd been in Coventry city centre and it had been quite mild, with coats undone, hanging off shoulders and everything. Today was altogether different. I should have been alerted to impending disaster when the 5-year-old asked at that point to go home. The older girls asked that too, but we had to go and see the promised animals, who of course, were all inside as they're not daft. We noted the chickens, saw a rabbit, stroked a calf and a cow, noting the fur (soft) and the size (massive!), duly washed our hands at the outside tap which was a feat with coats on and mittens dangling on elastic, then the 2-year-old demanded lunch. We passed some pigs who were half buried in their straw inside their sty, huddled together for warmth, then came to a bench. The 5-year-old was beginning to whimper. The 2-year-old again asked for lunch. "Yes! Let's sit here. It's clean and out of the wind. Come on! Get all the food out." The 12-year-old went on strike and needed much cajoling. The 10-year-old loves food so just got on with it, plus was very helpful. The 2-year-old plonked herself down and also got on with it. The food was somewhat the worse for wear as the girls had sat on the bus with their rucksacks on, squashing the various bits of picnic that they carried. The 5-year-old had a full on meltdown, bless her. The whole of the farm learned that she didn't like ham and that she was frozen and just wanted to go home. The 10-year-old and I tried to huddle round her like penguins, at which point the 2-year-old felt left out and wanted to join the huddle. Most of us didn't eat much food. The chicken bites were still frozen. It wasn't that out of the wind after all. We were frozen. The 5-year-old cried and cried. We packed up and went to the loos. Again, not an easy task with coats and rucksacks and useless hand driers. We whizzed round the rest of the tiny farm ("Oh look! Donkeys!" "Mum, they're Shetland Ponies." "Er, oh yes. So they are. Silly me.") and left. "Perhaps this is more of a summer trip," I said sheepishly.
We still had the half an hour walk, the 40 minute bus ride and then the 10 minute walk to do before we got home. I checked that nobody needed the loo again before we set off. And then the dreaded 4 words. "I need a poo!" Right in the middle of suburbia, the long road not providing any corners to hide in. Thankfully - joy of joys! - I had the Porta Potty in my rucksack, so we set up camp by the only house that didn't have a driveway, their rare front garden wall providing shelter. "Girls! Form a circle round your sister please! Protect her dignity!" We closed ranks, and all of a sudden it was just very funny, especially to the 5-year-old, watching her little sister enthroned. I had prayed for something to redeem the day, especially for her, so I guess God has a sense of humour!
The deed done, I now had the problem of what to do with the shamefully opaque potty liner, dangling off my finger. My apologies, number 12. Your wheelie bin was closest on your driveway to the pavement, although scuttling back up your driveway felt like a very long walk of shame. Especially as I followed it with, "Run girls! Before they see us!"
The light relief was short-lived as the 2-year-old returned to her protestations at having to walk, and our arrival at the bus stop with only 4 minutes to wait made me happier than it ought, but at least the 5-year-old had stopped whimpering. She was back to her crazy self, and by the time we got on the bus, she informed me that she was "defrosting". The 2-year-old fell asleep, which at least meant that I didn't have to worry about her being travel sick. She also then walked the 10 minutes home with no grumbling.
We got home shortly after half 2, which means we were only out for just over 4 hours, most of which was spent walking or on the bus. Given the time spent waiting for the bus, the 40ish minutes spent walking each way, the 40 minutes on the bus each way, the 2 loo stops, I reckon we spent 50 minutes in the play park and the farm, during which time we also attempted to eat lunch, and the 5-year-old had a meltdown. I think I'll chalk that one up to experience!
After we'd finished our squashed lunch, now with hot chocolate and marshmallows, the nearly 12-year-old sat down with the laptop, turned the radio on and did her homework. The little two grabbed the tablet and watched CBeebies. I tried to suggest to the 10-year-old that she tidied her side of the her room so she earned back her tablet, but she didn't like that idea. The tablet the little girls had soon ran out of batteries, and mutiny was threatening. I wanted to see what creativity would emerge from their boredom and made a few suggestions, but it was the 10-year-old who came to the rescue by helping them with some crafts and then she found the sweet shop toy for them all to play with together. I thought I'd just have a little sit down on the sofa, but ended up rather too comfortable, refereeing from under a cosy blanket. I was too mean/not mean and thinking of their teeth to permit actual sweets with the sweet shop, but when I suggested they make some out of paper and bits and pieces, the 5-year-old exclaimed, "Mummy! That's a brilliant idea!" and I felt justified in my sofa parenting.
When Mark came home, the children were doing homework and crafts and role play and getting along fabulously. I was still on the sofa. "I'm afraid you're going to have to sort dinner out." "Oh OK. How was your day? Did you go out? What's for dinner?" "It's yesterday's leftovers, some squashed ham sandwiches and a few chicken bites. Yes we went out. Tell Daddy about our adventure girls!"