Friday, 13 January 2012

Coombe Hill Birthday Circular Walk

In which I take the Chap for a walk in the fresh air for his birthday, think about how having a baby (ie, childbirth) is not as bad as people make it out to be, think about how actually having a baby (ie, in your house) is a lot harder than all those advertisers pretending we float past on a lily pad while wearing pastels are making it out to be, and admire the trippy woodland.

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 181
Time: 1 hour and a bit
Distance: 3 miles

Rating: Easy-Moderate Walk (a little map reading, very windy, a lot of mud)

Determined I was going to leave the house and not get my walk rained off, and inspired by a the book Chilterns Teashop Walks sent to me by Geekysweetheart, I decided it was high time I had a look at Coombe Hill. A picture of it is on the front of my Ordnance Survey map, and it's one of those places I've looked at for a few years and thought 'must go there', so I thought I may as well get on with it.

Safe in the knowledge that I would have cake to make up for my exertion, I decided to do this walk on the Chap's birthday. He was one year old this week, and that has lead to a lot of reflection and general assessment of the year between his father and I. We've decided that he has passed his probationary year and will continue within his employment as our son. On the whole, phrases like 'bloody hard work', 'I see what you are doing, and it is good', 'bloody hard work', 'completely knackered' and 'bloody hard work' passed our lips, mostly once he had gone to bed and we were quietly dealing with a bottle of champagne that needed drinking.

In fact, I think it is fair to say I was in labour for about 10 months or so - the actual act of getting the Chap out was hard work, but in many ways the labour that came afterwards (particularly in the first 6 weeks) was far, far worse. Hard bloody work, as Dick-Read asserts in Childbirth Without Fear (an interesting aside - did you know that the 'agony in childbirth' promised by the Bible is a mistranslation? The Hebrew words 'etsev' and 'itstsabon' are synonyms, but one got translated as 'hard work' in relation to a man farming and the other got translated as 'suffering' when it came to talk about chidbirth. It was a marvellous book to read in preparation for labour - although being a bit dry in parts and slightly quaint in its views every now and again, knowing about fear-tension-pain cycles and how the best way to have terrible contractions is to say to someone "The next one will be really bad, you must be brave" was really helpful.).
Coombe Hill has its own car park and a nice, obvious entrance gate, so I went through that and walked on the path that went straight across the middle of the field. Although I went further afield, this whole area would be fantastic if you have an off-road pram (or have a child who doesn't mind a bit of jiggling in a normal buggy) - even now, at the wettest time of year, the ground was pretty firm and there are a fair few packed-earth paths. Follow the path through a patch of woodland until you come out onto the wide grassy area and follow the obvious route towards the war memorial.

People seem to delight in telling you how awful childbirth is when you're going to have a baby. No-one ever tells you how funny it is. The ridiculous things my friends have done, such as shouting "THREE! TWO! ONE! RELAX!" in a manner that to everyone else seems anything but relaxing, or taking the mouthpiece from the gas & air out to pronounce "I haven't been this pissed in ages.". The favourite one from my labour was in searching for more towels to protect our carpet, I sent my husband into the cupboard to find an old towel that I knew was in there. I could feel the contraction coming, and just as it began I saw my husband turn around holding one of our best towels. "Is this is?" he asked, and with a contraction just starting to bite I was lying on the bed proclaiming "Nooo! Not the ones from John Lewis!".

Follow the Ridgeway
to Coombe Hill War Memorial
I meant to follow the grassy field all the way to the memorial but off to the left I saw a path heading through gorse bushes towards a pretty impressive view, so I followed went that way and found myself on the Ridgeway National Trail. I also found the views, which are pretty impressive.

I turned right and followed the Ridgeway up to the War Memorial, where I found some more views and a Welshman whose birthday it also was. He had taken the day off to take some photos, and had been pleased to find that someone he knew was listed on the war memorial, so he was taking some photos to send to his old regiment's history people. He kindly took a picture of me & the Chap with my camera, but it was too windy to be any good, really - I had too much hair flying about.

Continue to follow the Ridgeway around the edge of the hill - it's conveniently signposted by black posts with the National Trust acorn on.

This path leads you out of the designated National Trust Coombe Hill area. I left through a metal gate and then crossed a bridleway sunken into the hillside. Through a second metal gate, I continued slightly downwards towards Bacombe Hill.

By this point, I got the sense that maybe the Chap was a touch peckish. What could have given this away...?

"...or I'll eat my hat"

Marmite rice cake provided (the latest unexpected baby delicacy - but when I fished the first one out of the packet the other day his eyes lit up like a Hobbit declaring "It comes in pints?" and he has been a firm fan of them ever since) and the hat safe from chewing, we continued along the Ridgeway until you come to a fork - the Ridgeway goes downhill to the left, and an unmarked path looking like a sheep trail goes to the right.

I took the right hand sheep trail and followed this round a scrubby group of trees to effectively do a U-turn so I was then following the top of the rise along the treeline. Not far along this there is a wooden gate in a break in the trees- I went through this and then took the muddy path to the right through the woodland.

For a lot of this year, I have found dealing with the Chap really, really hard. Mostly because of sleep deprivation. For a long time he completely destroyed any semblance of quality of life that I had, and it has only recently I have felt like I have begun to get it back. For a long time I felt like I was sort of stuck. I found that I had a lot of conflicting emotions around being somebody's mother, but I found it really difficult to talk about any of it for fear of any of the slightest suggestion that maybe I don't love everything about being a mother would be indicative of me not coping. The concept of demonstrating 'coping' was very important to me for a long time, but I haven't thought about it for what feels like so long now, I think I must be fine. But I was terrified people would think I had not formed enough of a bond with my child, was being self-indulgent and generally the sort of person who should be slapped right onto the Safeguarding database so everyone can peer at my child's progress and judge me on it from now until the end of time.

 Basically, I think it boils down to the fact that this baby shit is _hard_. It's way harder than I thought it was going to be, and that's because I don't think anything can actually prepare you for the full on relentlessness of it. To quote Caitlin Moran (as oft I do these days),  'The parallels to war are multiple: you wear the same clothes day in, day out; you keep saying, hopefully 'It'll all be over by Christmas'; it's long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror'. The problem is, to say that child rearing is hard is expected, but to say you're not enjoying it is perceived to be an appalling affront to the very heart of motherhood. You! Not enjoying being woken up three times a night! Not enjoying having your hair and flesh repeatedly pulled! How dare you! Get on the database! You can tell people about isolated events that you dislike, but to actually sum up the whole activity as quite a cavalcade of unrelenting shit is somehow Not Cricket.

But there's the other side of the coin, because while, on the one hand, it is unrelenting shit, it's also lovely. There's a tiny little chap who wriggles round the floor and sticks inappropriate things in his mouth and learns all the time and is really happy to see you and lifts up his little hands so you'll pick him up and who you love with an extraordinary intensity.

But at the same time, he had, for a really long time, shot my quality of life through both kneecaps. A mother, we are taught to expect, is Selfless in caring for her child. How dare I resent not being able to go to the Opera any more! I should welcome the repetitive round of feeding and cleaning, because it is all For The Good Of My Child. How dare I find it boring!

Actually, I don't find it boring, not all the time. I like his enthusiasm for sticking things in his mouth, I am amused by the faces he makes, by him smearing himself in spoon-food, and by the damage four teeth could do to a slice of cucumber, the the destruction eight teeth can wreak on an apple.  But some days, playing with blocks is still playing with blocks, and I'm a bit old for it to be truly stimulating.
And now I feel comfortable to say all this, or at least to put it on the Internet, and I don't really think it means I'm a bad mother. Some people might like to think that of me, but hey ho. There's a Canadian website called Bad Moms Club (missing the apostrophe, I know, but it's them not me), so called because one of the main things you have to deal with  is that someone, somewhere, really does think you're a bad mother. And while it shouldn't matter, to be honest, it does matter to most of us. I don't think I'm over it, but I can say all this stuff about how I didn't like this or that and I know people will pop up on Facebook or somewhere and say to me 'yes, yes I felt that too', and that has really helped my sanity. And let's face it, sanity can wear pretty thin when you've been woken up at 12, 3 and 6 for months on end.

Anyway, this woodland. It's a funny one. The trees have been coppiced and (probably due to the handsome winds that blow around the top of the hill) are very... well, wiggly. I don't know if it was the day I was there and the light, but the colours were really weird - the bronzey orange of the leaves on the floor had some strange effect with the green algae that grows on the trees to make them seem almost like they were glowing. I hadn't taken anything, I promise. The colours were really kicking out.

Squelching along this muddy woodland path will ultimately lead you back to the Coombe Hill car park. It took me longer than expected because it was so muddy when I was there, but it was definitely better than retracing my steps.

Things I Learnt

  • Oof, it's windy up there.
  • I had forgotten my desperation for a lot of the year to demonstrate 'coping'. It involved doing my hair before I went out and pretending everything was fine. Pretending that I could be arsed about losing the baby weight. Lots of stuff felt unreal, as if when we were complaining about stuff we were acting out parts, and none of us really felt anything. People felt oddly interchangeable, possibly due to repetitive initial conversations with women in Children's Centres that I would never see again. Going to the Sling Meet has helped. Having a lot of people sitting round going "Were you the weird one in your postnatal group too?" "YES! I talked and everyone else just sat there looking at me like I was crackers!" is oddly reassuring...
  •  I am, as I always knew, not really a baby person. Now the Chap is one, I am delighted. For the past couple of months, he's been a great age. This is what I wanted- to have a child, to produce a person. And even though he will grow up and disagree with me and slam doors and bring inappropriate people home, that will all be part of him being him. Which I think will always be better than the tiny baby stage, even when it's horrible.

    It's been a long post, this one. Thank you if you're still here with me at the end :)


  1. I'm still here with you at the end.

  2. You put that there to make me well up like a girl, didn't you, you swine? :)

  3. Aww! I was going to say something then but then ChapDad made me go all aww and now I have forgotten!! I think people are very definitely baby or not baby people and that's just the way it is. I didn't think I was a baby person until I had J and L but I didn't mind the not sleeping-don't get me wrong, I was knackered 24/7 but I guess when you get to a certain point, you can't get any worse and I am fairly sure that 95% of the time I looked like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards. I've been reflected lots recently then I found old baby pics and reflected even more and actually I am going to blog about it later....I feel like I am a rubbish parent now; my son is intelligent but can't/won't write for anything or one and gets in trouble for it daily at school, I can't make that right for him so feel rubbish, he feels like he has no friends and it would seem that his younger sister is a million times better at everything they do and at the same time, the daughter is admired by friends, teachers, family friends alike but still finds herself sitting at the friendship stop at school with no friends. Somehow the endless sleepless night and talking rubbish all day to two little people was so much easier....for me....because I felt like I could solve their problems, we were self-contained and the whole outside world didn't really matter as much.
    Sorry, didn't mean to write an essay! I've offered my non-baby liking friend that I will have her baby until it is about 2 and has been socialised then she can have it back, maybe I should offer my services more widely ;)

  4. the weird one in the post-natal group.....brilliant. Where is coombe hill?

  5. Really enjoyed reading this. Wish there had been such an outlet when I was pretending to cope with my first ( of three ) chaps!
    Dare I say, with all that it yet to pass- it will do so in a heartbeat. My first chap will be 27 any day now ,isn't in therapy or tattoo'd and I'm left wondering how that time disappeared so fast. Good luck and enjoy as much as you can.

  6. Angela - Coombe Hill is near Wendover and affords excellent views of where they're going to put the HS2 rail line.

    Nic - I suppose we have all this to come. I am sure it's not you being a crap parent. I am worried about what it'll be like when he goes to school, because I totally loathed it until year 4 - I just wanted to be at home with my mum, I couldn't understand why I had to go. Does your son see your husband write? There's a whole Manly Precedent thing that is also linked to boys & reading- they're more likely to do it if dad does it. The sibling thing is weird, and not something I've ever had experience of. I find my husband's family fascinating, because even though they're all grown up they still label each other - who's the favourite, who's the clever one, who's the nutty one. I think identifying yourself as not your sibling must be very important, so if one is 'the schooly one' often the other seems to identify as 'the sporty one'. It is hard, really hard, because you know they have to suffer and find things hard to make them proper people, but your instinct as a parent is to try & make life easy. I think everyone thinks they're a crap parent some of the time, but that doesn't make it any easier when you feel like that...

  7. Allow me to siddle up to you in a conspiratorial manner and confess something. I don't much like babies. In fact, much as I love her, I didnt like her much for the first 6 months. She spent the first 10 weeks causing my nips to shred like cabbage in a stir fry, and screaming at the top of her voice. Man, that girl screamed whenever her mouth wasn't filled with a mix of breastmilk and nipple blood. She screamed so much that I was convinced she had some kind of mental problem... No, she just found sitting about while I talked to her very, very dull.
    Now she's crawling and babbeling away like a deliciously crazy person she's quite agreeable at times. It's very hard not to be won over by someone chasing a cat across the room while laughing their ass off, only to then solemnly attempt to put a wooden block on the cat in a new twist on buckaroo

  8. yeey, you linked me!! glad you like the book, it really would have been book-abuse to keep it hostage on my bookshelf here with all the other books I'm never going to read (Frankenstein, The Blind Assassin, The Qur'an...)

    your man there is a sweetie, my Husb0t never reads my blog... yea, this baby shit *is* hard... and the problems are exasperated by the fact that we live in a society that does not value motherhood... it's sad :-(