Just Like…. Riding a Bike!

Thomas has always loved bikes. Toddling around the local playground when he could only just walk it was always older children’s bikes that he was interested in. And sure enough, the scooter he was given was rejected pretty much as soon as he was too big to ride on the attached seat, because it no longer resembled a bike.
So we bought him a balance bike the summer he was two.
It was probably slightly too big for him, a child who was long down in the lowest part of the growth charts. So it took him a short while to get the hang of it, me running along behind, holding on to help him learn to balance (whilst simultaneously wrecking my back – ahh, parenthood!). And then he was away. Picking up his feet and gliding along, reaching speeds that made him challenge to keep up with. And “riding my bike” has been an obsession ever since.
Last winter he began asking for a pedal bike. By now, the seat of his balance bike was at its top height, and picking up his feet to glide was more of a necessity than a choice. And I could see he was ready to at least try.
His fourth birthday would have been a good opportunity. But the trouble with a winter birthday is that it comes along with big puddles, slippery leaves and so much mud. Not to mention short days a deep darkness. Hardly the ideal conditions for learning to ride a bike and consolidating that skill. If Thomas and I both hadn’t been so keen to avoid stabilisers and the potential loss of that vital balance skill, we might have done it. But I wanted to wait.
Winter and Spring were punctuated with reminders that he really, really wanted a “big boy bike” and to learn to pedal properly. He was adamant that riding a bike was something he was going to do “before I start school”. So eventually we promised that when we got back from Florida, we’d choose him a bike and he could start to learn.
We kept our promise. The weekend after our return saw us mooching around a few local bike shops, checking him against frame sizes to ensure we were picking the right one. We were very firm that we needed to look around first and we wouldn’t be buying a bike that day. Surprisingly he took that pretty well.
We learned quite a lot about bikes that day. About how the majority of girls bikes are pink or princess themed, and the majority of boy’s bikes are superhero themed. We learned that wheel sizes vary on the same sized frame, and that not all handlebars and brakes are equal. But in the course of our search, we came across the next model up from his balance bike. It has the same shape and styling, just a frame size larger and with pedal and two brakes. Back home, online, all the reviews suggested kids found the transition from the same balance bike to this one pretty seamless. And better still it was on offer.
Despite saying we’d not be buying a bike that day, what Thomas didn’t know is that by that evening it was ordered. We selected the free build service and arranged to pick it up that Friday. By good fortune I finished work early and had time to swing by the shop and stow it safely in the boot of the car, only having to remember not to let Thomas put his school bag in the boot when I picked him up.
The next day dawned overcast and showery and my heart sank. But by lunchtime the sun was out in full force, and operation ride a bike was go.
We asked Thomas if he wanted to go to the park. As we left the house, I told him that I needed something from the boot of the car. I only wish I’d had a camera ready as I opened it. “A bike, a bike, my pedal bike!” The boy was literally jumping for joy.
Despite his enthusiasm, we got off to a slow start. We encouraged him to use it like a balance bike and get the feel for it, but he seemed frustrated by that suggestion because it was a pedal bike and he wanted to do it properly. We worked our way slowly across the park with me first supporting the handlebars as he pedalled, and then just the saddle from behind. As we tried to assure him that he needed to maintain speed, Ian and I have never uttered the words “pedal, pedal, pedal” so many times in a single day. Thomas’s response over and over was to make sure that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly let go. I kept sneaking my hands off for moments at a time, and I was confident he could do it. He just wasn’t confident himself.
In the end, it was a train that made him ride.
We reached the section of the park where an underpass crosses the train tracks to enter the woods. It’s Thomas’s favourite place, because he can sit and watch the trains to and from London that pass with efficient frequency. As he heard the tell tale rumble of an approaching service he looked up and gave the familiar refrain of “A train, a train” and within moments he was away, feet up on the pedals and flying.
It took a good fifteen seconds before he remembered to shout “don’t let go Mummy”.
And I was trying hard not to cry as I shouted back that I’d never been holding on in the first place.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder before giving me a massive grin and declaring “I can do it. I can really do it.”
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Watching him fly along the path away from me made me think of all the ways he flying away from me as he grows in size, in independence, in maturity and in skill. But that cheeky grin and the pride on his face reminded me that he’ll always be my baby.
That was nearly two months ago, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s so proud of his skill, telling everybody about his new bike and how much he loves riding. He made me share it on his school’s online learning journal and couldn’t wait to call his grandparents to share the exciting news.
The only downside for me is that there is absolutely no keeping up with him on foot. But it does mean that my own bike is getting regular outings too, and suddenly a whole host of destinations are within much easier reach without needing to take the car.
Learning to ride a bike is one of those milestones that we all remember. I still remember my little Raleigh “Bullet” and my own dad running along behind me until I’d mastered it. And family cycle rides around the park are one of those activities that I’ve been looking forward to since that second pink line appeared.
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Magical moments indeed.

Oh Deer

I’ve written before about how much we love the National Trust’s Knole Park, so when a friend and her boys invited us to join her for a picnic a couple of weeks ago we obviously accepted.

One of the things Knole is known for is the large number of deer that roam the grounds and whenever we visit it can almost be guaranteed that we’ll come across plenty of them wandering and grazing. For the most part they are used to the presence of humans and are largely aloof as they pass by.

But last week, as we sat in the shade of a tree enjoying our picnic, a mixed group appeared over the hill towards us, looking every bit as though Father Christmas might follow on his sleigh at any moment. Rather than skirting around us and continuing on their way, they were quite interested in who we were and what we were doing. I just couldn’t resist sharing some of the shots that I captured.

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They really are magnificent creatures, especially the more mature bucks with their stunning antlers. The majority of the Knole deer are Fallow deer, but they exist in a number of different colourways, some almost white and others with a really beautiful coat of spots.

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Thomas has always been fascinated by the deer, especially at a distance, and for the last couple of years has liked to mimic them, trotting around with his hands by his head in lieu of antlers. Interestingly it’s the exact same thing that my brother and I used to do on our own childhood visits to Knole. Because these deer came a lot closer and seemed to be paying us specific attention, he was a little more unsure. It may have been the idea that they might try to steal his food (they didn’t) or simply that up so close they seemed much bigger and more intimidating, but it was a good opportunity to teach him that as long as you are quiet and calm and respect these wild animals, they will respect you back.

And of course, once the deer had moved on, there were plenty of fallen tree trunks to explore, sticks to find and swish and, unfortunately, Thomas’s first encounter with a stinging nettle sting. A day of learning all round then!

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Linking up to Animal Tales
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The Idea vs the Reality

Every parent makes plans. And has dreams and aspirations. It’s all so much worse in the era of social media and Pinterest where it’s all too easy to get swept up in the romance and beauty of other people’s picture perfect moments, even when we know deep down that these represent edited highlights and nobody’s life can look that good all the time. But it’s so seductive. And appears so effortless. It takes enormous self-control not to be swept along in to believing that we, too, can create those moments and memories with our own offspring.

And so it was, this week, that we set out on a little fruit picking expedition.

We had guests yesterday, and I had plans for some summer-berry based puddings to serve up. And since we live in the heart of the so-called “Garden of England”, virtually surrounded by fruit fields, it almost feels a little bit wrong to buy pre-packaged fruit, that may well have travelled miles, from the artificially controlled environment of the supermarket when we can go out and get it ourselves, straight from the bush, at a fraction of the cost.

And, you know, maybe have a few Instragram-worthy frolics whilst we’re at it.

You see, it absolutely wasn’t the aim of our trip. I’m not that shallow. I really did need a fruit haul. And I asked Thomas more than once if it was something that he wanted to do. He was actually disappointed when I delayed the trip due to the prediction of an imminent rain shower passing in half an hour (what did we do before forecast.io?!). But it seems that fruit picking is an “activity of the moment” (and why not, given that it is summer), based on the number of blog posts and Instagram photos of people’s idyllic days in the fields, with contented children, willing and able to assist in the harvest.

The sensible part of me worried that Thomas would not be all that keen. Unfortunately he’s a bit of fruit-hater, despite having loved the stuff up until he was a little over eighteen months old. Now, he’ll scream if you so much as suggest that he might want to try a strawberry. But we did take him blackberry picking last year, which he enjoyed despite his refusal to sample any of our harvest. And the strawberries, tomatoes and chills in our garden have provided plenty of amusement, if not any sustenance for the smallest member of our family. And so the not-so-sensible side of me said it would be fine. I let myself get carried away imagining us with thorn scratched arms, fingers lips stained purple from the juices of the ripe treasures we were sure to find.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Thomas was entirely unimpressed with the rows upon rows of bushes and tress at our large local Pick Your Own. From the moment we set off down the fields he began to whinge about wanting to find the car. He didn’t want to see the fruit on trees, or the berries hiding amongst green foliage. He wasn’t, unusually, even happy just to skip up and down whilst I picked what we had come for.

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“I just want to go and find the car Mummy” he pleaded, with such desolation on his face that to continue would have been cruel.

I did manage to get some blackcurrants. And we picked up more fruit from the farm shop on site. But it was most definitely one of those days where the idea in my head fell far, far short of the reality that ensued.

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Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

And we did head to the park once we got home. Which resulted in a much, much happier little boy (and pictures much more worthy of sharing, as it turned out. So much for the plans!)

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Even if he doesn’t like fruit, or its picking, he does love being outdoors and being active.

So you do win some!

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A Walk in Knole Park

I’ve written before about how much I love our National Trust membership, but now that I’m able to drive again, I’m loving it even more. With driving comes the freedom to nip to any one of the glorious spaces close to our home here in Kent. I no longer have to wait for the weekend, or someone else to give me lift to some of the more inaccessible sites. If the mood takes us, we can simply hop in the car and go.

So last week, we did just that. I needed to be in Sevenoaks in the afternoon anyway and it was a beautifully bright, if cold, day. So we decided to pop in Knole park for run around in the mud and a chance to spot some deer. (And, if I’m honest, to get Thomas to burn off some energy after some nightmare behaviour the previous day from too much pent up steam!) Thomas has been to Knole countless times since he was born, just as I went countless times as a child before him. It’s an amazing open space and something about the air and the light means I never fail to catch at least one photo that I love.

Thomas had a fantastic couple of hours racing up hills and through puddles, peering through cracks in the wall and the keyhole in a gate he spied. Armed with paper and crayon, I attempted to teach the idea of bark and leaf rubbing, with some fun results. We ate our lunch outdoors (as the tearoom and restaurant here is currently undergoing drastic rebuilding and refurbishment). Thomas climbed inside an old tree stump, and balanced his way along logs, tightrope style. When it was time to leave he begged to stay “just a bit longer” racing away from amongst the trees and inviting me to chase him. We took away a considerable amount of mud, both on our boots and on our car but Thomas was suitably worn out and promptly fell asleep during my afternoon errands!

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Running at Knole Running at Knole2

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Tree stump

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