Prescription for Disaster

Sunday, 16 March 2014

That was a totally normal family walk. Well, except for the part with the poop.

Every weekend on at least one day at around 7:30 am I wake up, turn over to my husband and say in my brightest, most cheerful voice: "where do you want to go for a country walk today?"

He's not divorced me yet, so I'm taking this as him being on board.

The hiking backpacks were packed. The kids were dressed and ready in their sneakers, the dog had his cute little coat on and I'd raided the kitchen for anything that could pass as a picnic lunch - a hastily made tofu chao mein. The coordinates were in the sat-nav and we were ready to go - to Cow Roast, England (yes, really) the starting village for our brisk 5 mile morning hike.

It started out fine, as it always does, with a lovely walk along the Grand Union Canal - walking past canal houseboats and along the charming green waters and locks. We'd been passed by a couple of cyclists and some smug runners, stepping patiently to the side and continuing on our way. A few minutes later the same smug runners came back toward us - on a circular route this seemed strange - maybe they had left something in their car .

We should have paid more attention.

In another ten minutes we came to a bend in the path, the thin strip of land between the waters of the canal and the thorn bushes on the other side had been flooded out - now a path of squelching mud and deep puddles dotted with bits of dry (ish) grass. Thus began the hop and dance among the mud and along the canal, understanding now why the runners had wisely turned back to smugly run along the motorway instead. 

There are only so many times you can say "it looks like it gets better around this bend" until you just give up hope, each pick up a child and slog straight through the puddles, stagnant muddy water submerging our white sneakers up past our socks. It didn't matter, our shoes were already well past the point of salvation and it surely had to get better at some point. It would just be better to continue on than to head back. And so we did.

We sludged through the 'path' of mud and water for another mile and a half, carrying the children and gripping tree branches for support where we could, the girls begging for a picnic break despite our assurances that a mud-hole was not an appropriate place to put down the picnic blanket. 

Having completely missed the turnoff for the route we were on we ended up in a random farmer's field with distant cows and some sort of prison tree planting work crew off in the distance, a perfect place for a picnic! We unpacked the blanket, ate our chao mein noodles and then sat back to enjoy the lovely view. 

"Mummy, I have to pee."

"Mummy me too."

We turned around, sat on the blanket, to look for a concealing bush when instead we found Kaitie, standing beside the picnic blanket (and the back of her father's head) completely naked from the bottom down. We hadn't realized how serious her need to pee was and both scrambled to get up from the blanket - dead leg! We both had dead leg! Pins and needles shot through my legs as I struggled to my knees, Paul having resorted to rolling around on the picnic blanket yowling and cheering me on. I was shaking with laughter and trying valiantly to get to my feet when Paul shouted "hurry! Her hips are wiggling!"

He was right, Kaitie's knees were crossed and the pee-dance had started, there was no turning back. I had to get to her before she wet her pants and shoes for the remaining duration of the hike -  and also before she got the blanket. Paul cheering me on from his own dead-leg struggles on the ground I lunged for Kaitie, scooping her up in my arms from behind and gripping her by the calves I pulled her up to my chest, barely able to stand and she peed - a powerful arc of yellow spraying out and into the field like a fire hose, barely turning her in time to miss the blanket and her sister. I was laughing hard from the pins and needles numbing my legs and from having barely missed Paul with the pee-cannon, my thighs shaking from the squat position I was in. Kaitie's stream sputtered to a finish and feeling immensely relieved I made to put her down when she shouted "no wait, I have to poop!"

Wait, what?!

"No Kaitie no! You can't poop in a field! Wait until we get back to the village! Or something! Paul! Help!" She wasn't having it, she said it was coming out right then. I couldn't do it, I was laughing so hard I was near to wetting my own pants. Paul had recovered and ran to the rescue, snatching Kaitie from my arms and holding her 'in position'. I was positively howling with laughter on the sidelines as Kaitie asked Paul if he had a bag - like for Huar Huar's poop. I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe as I guided Paul in teaching a girl 'how to poop in the woods (he was holding her far too close to the ground) when Lochie chimed in with "Mummy I'm going to pee my pants."

What is with these kids! Do they not feel the urge of bodily functions before it hits crisis point? Do they wait until the most inopportune moment to need us? 

I left Paul bent over in the field holding a straining three year old and yelling "this isn't funny!" as I wiped tears from my eyes and darted over to Lochlynn, ripping down her pants and gripping her by the back of her calves - I would at least keep this one away from the field and headed for the cliff overlooking the trail to the canal. Off she went with a powerful foamy spray - I had to lift her continuously higher to avoid the spray hitting her pants and shoes, bum high up in the air just as a large family passed by on a canal boat, looking up at the hills to see me holding a half naked toddler up like Baby Simba and shooting urine directly toward them, Paul yelling "it's a big one!" in the distance behind me. Shocked faces looked back up at me as I stared back at them, mouth agape and all words having escaped me.

Lochie finished and I ran her back over to the blanket, leaving her to deal with her own pants as I was now laughing so hard that my bladder had hit its own critical level. Paul's did too, as he left Kaitie mid-strain and ran for the bushes to relieve himself, me right behind him shouting "what is wrong with our family?" and him nearly peeing on our boundary-challenged dog. Everyone having relieved themselves Paul picked up Kaitie's poop in a wet-wipe, placed it inconspicuously in the bushes, wrapped the wet-wipe in a bag, just like one of huar-huar's, and put it in the backpack, as you do.

The four of us gathered back around the blanket and just kind of looked at each other, unsure of how a family hike and picnic had descended into urine-shooting chaos quite so quickly, but all now feeling full, relieved and ready to get on with our hike toward the prison gang up ahead.

And really, really hoping that they didn't see the whole thing.

Family Bikes and Flying Toddlers

So this year is the ‘year of the bikes with camping’. We’re ready for a cross-over of adventure. The only problem? Our kids are only three years old, and can barely ride their bikes. Too big for the old double bike trailer, too slow on training wheels. Something had to be done.

A bit of googling and the recommendation of a good friend and we had ordered trailer bars off the internet (what could go wrong?). Other than a bit of actual child endangerment, multiple injuries and near-divorce we’ve found that these things are actually pretty great. You simply hook your toddler’s bike up to your bike and tow them along. Perfectly safe and looks very cool. Actually, you look like a pretty awesome parent riding around with your kid gleefully riding along behind you – until you turn a corner along the gate of the busy playground and plow your toddler face-first right into the fence. Cue screaming child and every single person in the park turning to stare, judging you on the cool contraption that just nearly murdered your own child. 

I ran over to pick her up, brush her off and have a laugh with my screaming kiddo as falling isn’t that big of a deal (although I admit that being mashed into a fence on your bike by your oblivious mother is probably a little bit different) as my husband and other child turned back gracefully and came back with admonishments of ‘you need to turn wide, like you’re pulling a trailer.’ 

Thanks, tips.

Okay, brush it off. Walk it off. We’re good. I talked Kaitie into getting back onto her bike, though she looked dubious. I promised to go slowly and to stay away from fences. She climbed back on – at which point we then had to have a talk about keeping her hands off the brakes while we are moving. More promises from mum to go slowly and stay away from fences. 

Off we went, following my husband and Lochie until a sudden scream was heard from behind and a dragging sound. We looked back to see the toddler bike twisted onto the ground and Kaitie sticking out of a large bush a couple of feet away. Had she jumped? Flown? Leapt off like a deluded superhero? More well-intended comments from my husband of ‘turn wide’ (we were on a straight path) and ‘tell her not to use her brake’. I wasn’t sure that her touching the brake could to that but hey, what did I know?

I fished the poor kid out of the bush, lovingly picked brambles out of her hair and bribed her back onto her bike with promises of watching a Disney movie when we got home. She looked at the bike with great mistrust. She wanted more. We were in a crowded park and everyone had just seen my child fly off this contraption face first into inanimate objects twice now – I needed her to get back on the bike and show everyone what a good parent I was, I had very few bargaining chips here. I conceded, and whispered that if she got back on the bike and rode home she could have an ice-lolly while watching a Disney movie. She could even eat her ice-lolly on the new couch. 

That got her on, though she remained dubious. We did well, feeling a bit of success while riding along behind my husband and Lochie until we had to go through another gate and wham! Mashed toddler again! I was going slowly and carefully through the gate – as straight as possible. How in the world was this happening!? We just needed to get home – we were just a street or so away. No more bribery, I resorted to straight up threats and she got back on the devil-bike, I had convinced her that if she just gripped the handlebars and held on for dear life she would be just fine – and she was, all the way home.

This led me to assume that the problem wasn’t me, it was fences and gates. And also maybe bushes. Surely if we just went somewhere more open it would be fine. 

My husband wasn’t sure. He wanted to go back to the same nearby park the next day to do some more ‘test runs’, as maybe it was a problem with the bike or the bar. Nope, no way was I going back to the same park to publicly endanger and injure my child again. We would have to, at the very least, go somewhere nobody knew us. Another town, maybe? Something more open, without fences and gates? So we drove around for two hours on the nicest day of the year so far trying to find a wide open field with a bike path – which did not exist. We pulled over by a park bench to both google Middlesex Bike Trails on our phones for somewhere to try, oblivious to the two teenagers making out on the bench beside our car. The twins piped up from the back seat with a running commentary of what the teenagers were doing with and to each other until it became so awkward and bizarre that we quickly put the first link’s coordinates into the GPS and peeled away – my husband shouting “Awkward!” out the window to the now very explicit teens on the bench as we did.

We ended up in a lovely woodland full of bike trails and people out enjoying the spring day with their own bikes, dogs, buggies and scooters. They all stared and even some took pictures as we set up our matching tandem bike trailers – eager to see how these worked. 

I prayed there would be no fences.

A particularly wonderful thing about toddlers is their ability to completely forget the events of the day before – a great benefit at the moment as both excitedly climbed onto their bikes – ready for a ride. We were off and the crowd was impressed. Oohs and aahs were abundant as we rode out of the parking lot, down the path and into the woods… and into a tree.

What the hell was with this thing? And why weren’t Paul and Lochie having the same kind of trouble? This was supposed to be the ‘summer of biking and camping’ – how could it be going so horribly wrong already? There were Paul and Lochie cycling away like a couple of graceful swans, hair blowing in the wind and looking like they were in a commercial for family holidays and here was me, unwrapping Kaitie from a tree and brushing mud off her jeans. I stood the bikes back up, assuring passersby that we were fine and that Kaitie wasn’t really begging to go home, she’s a real kidder that one. I looked at the bar. It seemed fine. It was a bar, what could really go wrong as long as it was still straight? Her bike seemed a bit twisted but I just gave it a good pull and it straightened out alright. Now to get her back on…

This time wasn’t so bad, her helmet and vest had taken the brunt of the tree impact and she was ready to try again, given that I promised to go very, very slowly. And so I did, nearly so slow that it was difficult to keep the bike upright, but she was happy and seemed to finally be enjoying herself. I sped up, just a little, anxious to catch up to Paul and Lochie, as well as to get this bike ride properly underway. And so we went, passing impressed looking other cyclists and walking families until out of nowhere there was another screech from behind and a dragging sound – the bike was on the ground again behind me and Katie was lying on the ground, traumatized. I was starting to get really upset at this point. I was sick, and was finally feeling well enough to do something fun with the family and it was just turning into a spectacle of being a horrible, abusive mother. My face flushed with shame as I again ran back to collect my crying toddler, with Paul and Lochie gracefully turning back to ‘help’. He assured me that it wasn’t my fault, something was probably wrong with the bike. We tried switching kids but Lochie shook her head – no way was she getting on mum’s deathtrap bike. Kaitie had nearly perfected the tuck and roll maneuver – it would probably be best for her to just stick with it, but this time I would go in front so Paul could possibly see what the problem was. 

A bit more cuddles and assurances (straight up lies) and Kaitie was back on her bike and ready to go, slowly. Off we went, in a straight line very slowly. We came to a place where the path veered dangerously close to the river (of course!) and I told Kaitie to hang on tight as I slowly and carefully rode along the path until more screams were heard from behind – Paul yelling for me to stop and Kaitie yelling not so much for me but this time at me as she rolled along the path and toward the river, stopping just before going over the short bank, only to be accosted by an over-excited and soaking wet Labrador Retriever. I again leapt off the bike and ran to Kaitie’s aid, though she made it very clear that she wanted Daddy, not Mummy. Mummy was far too dangerous. 

Heartbroken I turned away to collect the bikes when Paul came to my side, assuring again that it wasn’t my fault – he could see that the bar was twisted. I exploded (steroids didn’t help the instant rage) and vented to the world that I knew it wasn’t my fault, I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong but poor Kaitie kept flying off that thing and getting hurt. I was feeling like the absolute worst mother in the world as what I had originally intended as a charming family bike adventure had become Kaitie’s experience as a crash test dummy. In public. 

We decided to remove the bars and let the girls ride back themselves, which they didn’t as they were now too terrified of their own bikes as well, given the scene that Lochie had just witnessed. We were about half way back to the car when Paul looked quizzically at Kaitie’s bike and the bar hitch on the front. He turned to me and said: “You know what? I think I know what the problem is. I think the hitch is on crooked, and I didn’t tighten it enough. No wonder it kept dumping her over.”

It wasn’t my fault after all.

It was his.