Ahhh, British Summertime. The time of year when, if I had a pound for the hand of each child I’d held whilst running at Sports day because they were scared, embarrassed, or worried about coming last, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d feel a whole lot better about making a fool of myself doing it.
You see, each sports day, as I’ve half-crippled myself fastening the tightest sports bra I can hoist myself into before shoe-horning my post-two-ten pound-babies body into my merciful Spanx, I’ve dreaded it. The running. The jumping. The skipping.
No more are the days when I would bounce out of the door at 5.30 a.m before law school for my three mile morning jog, fresh faced and eager; for they have been replaced by the days when my youngest (one of the two aforementioned beautiful boys that I owe my tiger-striped midriff to) wakes at 5.00 a.m and wants to nurse from his poor, energy-sapped Momma who went to bed too late and was woken more than one too many times in the night (for the past three and a half years). Jogging isn’t usually high on my agenda for the day…unlike survival. Sometimes, getting through the day still awake is at the top. High-lighted even.
Yet it’s Summer. Whereas Autumn arrives on our doorstep bringing jewelled leaves, duffel coats and chunky knit sweaters, Summer breezes in, picnic hampers packed to the brim with fresh salads and juicy berries. It beckons us outside to play in the sunshine, far from the sofa and our sedentary lives…and we follow, hypnotised, addicted.
In England, with Summertime comes Wimbledon, and with Wimbledon comes the sweetness of strawberries and childhood memories. Despite being terrible at tennis, it’s almost impossible not to become engrossed and completely absorbed in the action centre-court. All week we’ve admired the Wimbledon whites on television and reminisced on past finals (especially Agassi’s).
On Saturday morning, Summer peeped into our back garden with promise from an early hour and after an over-enthusiastic picnic inspired shop at a remarkably packed Marks and Spencers, the Jones family grabbed our sun cream and hats (I forgot mine, hence the sunstroke today) and took a short trip down the motorway to the Rufus Stone in the New Forest (a well-loved haunt of ours in all seasons) for some exercise, family style.
We ran, we climbed, we tumbled, scrambled and scuffled our way through the shady, sun-dappled trees, baked mud and lush green ferns of the New Forest, immersed in a pool of immense natural beauty and surrounded by inquisitive New Forest Ponies.
After locating a shady, animal-evidence free spot (if you know what I mean) we set down the straw hamper and prickle-proof blankets to lay out our lunchtime treats. Little fingers unbuckled fastenings and even smaller fingers rifled through the colourful packets in search of something special.
Just as every child is different, every family is too. Some families are biking families, some are team-sports families. Some are no-sports families. We are an outdoor family; a foresty family. I want so badly for my boys to inherit the love that I’ve felt since childhood for the fragile, vulnerable, creatures of our world.
More often than not our weekends are spent as parents encouraging our little ones to explore and discover the world on their doorstep, with the hope that they too will fall in love with it. For we all protect what we love; and we all do things which we love with more frequency and intensity than those that we have to…which is why I never pick up a tennis racquet unless I’m teaching it, but will run like a five year old on a sugar rush through the cool, shallow waves along the shoreline as I did this past week just because it feels good (so long as no-one is watching).
After fuelling up for foraging, it was time to bug-hunt…but not before cuddles. Big, lazy, Summertime snuggles…
Lunch packed away, we hiked in and out of prickly holly bushes, rolled soft green ferns between our fingers and stomped, semi-sinking, through chocolate mousse bogs, discovering and uncovering live treasure, cherishing it.
Little hands reached out in hopes of touching something precious, feeling something new. Experienced hands helped and guided, gave and protected.
After finding new friends in the undergrowth, weather worn, fallen trees and gnarled roots waved hello, inviting little limbs to clamber high.
Make-believe took over and wooden horses were born. My heart swelled and happy tears sprang from behind the lens.
New heights were scaled by brave adventurers who sought reassurance…
…and found reward in bravery.
As the sun reached its peak, it was time to return home for afternoon tea and a chance to indulge in some ice cold Coca Cola (we never took the Cola to the forest because no one likes warm fizz), play in the paddling pool, and celebrate the huskies’ twelfth birthday belatedly.
Our bottles of Cola never lasted long….whilst I was reading up on the Work It Out Calculator, discovering that a 30 minute forest walk would work off the calories of one can of Cola (if I finally managed to steal away a bottle), little hands were at work, enjoying the bubbly treat in the delicious Summer heat.
Our Little Adventurer enjoyed his first Cola…which won’t be his last. He’s planning on plenty more with his mouse-eared friend in Florida.
No one does bubbles-up-the-nose like Coca Cola.
Eventually, as the last bubble was gulped, our day bowed out to the Summer evening, and little heads went (not without a fight) to rest on soft pillows.
As the day closed, I realised. I’m still terrible at co-ordinated sports, (except rugby) and I still make a million excuses for why I haven’t been for a run, but here’s the thing. In November we’ll run in Disney World at the Jingle Jungle 5k and we’ll wake up before the sun to do it…because we want to.
That’s the thing about exercise and motivation. We’re all driven to do what we love; and as exercise is an essential, vital part of a family puzzle, it’s just a matter of finding the right piece…if yours doesn’t fit snuggly, or you haven’t found it yet, keep searching. Your missing piece is still in the box, and there are plenty to choose from.