Today, I accompanied Year 5 on a school trip to a wartime farm for their WW2 topic. How I love my job. We got to be bossed around by a strict teacher in an authentic school room, writing with chalk; participate in rag-rugging (I want to do some at home!); weigh out how much cheese and butter you were allowed for our rations and walk around the farm visiting the animals. We had some free time in the afternoon before our coach took us home, so the children voted to go back to the park so they could - wait for it - play on the little tractors! Yes, there was a racetrack there with some toddlers pedalling around in tiny John Deeres. Nine- and ten-year olds playing in the toddler park. It was so lovely to see them just being children again!
As I lead them across the farmyard and past the barns to the park, I felt a sudden pang in my heart. I realised it was the effect the farm was having on me. How long ago it was that we used to take Ben out to these types of places, where you'd be totally in control of what they were playing on. Not for about seven years have I had to think that red is a Massey Ferguson and green is a John Deere tractor. I haven't had an excuse to pet a small animal that wasn't in my garden. I haven't milked a cow or a goat since then.
There is a country park near us which we ALL went to when they were tiny. I can't quite remember when we started going, but even after my maternity leave, we used to meet up - prams at the ready, buying our animal feed and using our annual season tickets that we'd been bought as alternative Christmas presents. We would hurry the children through the gift shop on the way in (yes who would put a shop in the Entrance?!) and start on the circuit we all knew so well. At first, we would tour the whole place, stopping off to feed them along the way (the animals and the kids), then we graduated to a shorter route, with a possible hot drink stop on the way - how racy! In the end, in the months before they started school, we'd scoot really quickly round to the gated field, pitch up on our rugs and let them loose. Our picnics became second nature to make on a mummy-morning (as opposed to a work-morning, whereby I couldn't possibly have made my own lunch!). I suppose I didn't realise that the last time I went there was, in fact, the last time. Like all of those last times that you don't realise. They just don't happen again.
Fast-forward to 11 years old - before I leave work, if it's not a sports-club night, I check whether he's in or out on his bike. I then get another call later asking if he can stay out until 7pm (no!) and then on a Friday, another one asking if a mate can stay over.
Don't get me wrong, I love the time this gives me, but today I realised I missed holding his hand and helping him into the little trikes, watching with pride when he managed to negotiate the bends in the tracks. Watching him ditch the trike and run to the next activity, without a care in the world, happy in these activity farms. But I wouldn't have time to write things like this if he wasn't playing out this evening!