I was pregnant with my first child when I saw her. It was a beautiful summer evening and her blond ponytail swished as she pedalled along with her two children - one on a rear child seat, the other on a small bike beside her.
And I thought to myself: "That's the kind of mother I'm going to be."
Ha ruddy ha. I may have been hallucinating a decade ago. Because we all know that serene cycling with two children in tow is nigh on impossible. As is any kind of productive exercise. Consider my own contrasting experiences...
Let's start with the activity of choice of my blond pony-tailed friend. Like every good mother, I bowed to the pressure of removing my children's stabilisers as soon as humanly possible. Warning: This does not instantly guarantee a Von Trapp family cycling experience. Not in our case anyway.
As far as my children are concerned, the rules of the family cycle run are as follows:
- One of you should hurtle along as quickly as possible, while the other languishes at snail's pace. This leaves the lone parent in a satisfying quandary about who to stick with.
- Should any traffic approach, do the opposite of your parent's instructions. Don't stick to the side of the road. Instead veer towards the tempting white line in the middle of it.
- If riding in front, feel free to slam on your brakes without warning. This is a reliable test of your parent's reflexes - and their ability to curtail their language in front of you.
After reading the above, I know what you are thinking. Why would you even try? Here's the rub. I'm not a very nice person if I don't run regularly. And Mr Average frequently works evenings and weekends. Fresh air and exercise is good for them. Right?
It may be good for them, but it doesn't bode well for anyone who takes their running seriously. Or anyone with the misfortune to share the pavements with you. Determined to make a go of it, I've run alongside the kiddos on their scooters or bikes. Dog walkers and indeed any faint hearted pedestrians have regarded our small entourage with a mixture of bemusement and horror.
Kerbs present a particular source of frustration. Scooters don't go up and down them very satisfactorily. As with the family cycle, one child will high-tail off gleefully while the other will have a strop - perhaps even grinding to regular halts. You could try calling this stop-start situation *interval training*. But even I'm not that much of an optimist.
There is but one vaguely satisfactory solution: You run circuits round the park while they play. Everyone else will think you're nuts. After ten years of parenthood, that's probably true.
Surely it's possible to arrange 15 minutes of zen-like exercise in the comfort of your own living room? Not at Average Towers.
Child number two has declared himself my yoga partner. This enthusiasm may seem sweet. The reality of the situation is otherwise:
- He hogs the yoga mat, resulting in substantial parental carpet burn.
- He fails to do any of the exercises correctly, thus destroying any atmosphere of calm with frenzied panics as to whether he's injured himself.
- He openly guffaws at my own efforts. Certain positions cause particular hilarity. Reclined goddess anyone?
Meanwhile child number one, a gymnast who folds herself in half effortlessly, looks on scornfully from behind her novel. Just to add to the experience.