One of the best things about home educating is being able to take spontaneous holidays, off-peak - and therefore at lower cost. In our case, this happens when my husband's work allows. Such a window of opportunity appeared last week and as his week off approached, we were watching the UK weather forecast. We decided quite spontaneously and rather last-minute to head to north Wales, which has become our default family holiday destination, mainly due to our budget. We were so last-minute on this occasion, however, that we managed to book some really beautiful accommodation - a converted barn equipped to 5* standards and sleeping 10 - for half the normal price, and we took my parents with us.
It is becoming increasingly challenging to keep all our boys happy. Our eldest son is now almost 14, whilst our youngest is only 3. Our eldest wanted to stay at home where he has his welder, tools and car project on the go, so we had protests all the way. He was quietened somewhat by the fact he had his own room at the cottage, complete with TV. This meant that he wanted to spend most of his time watching 'Quest' - Scrap Heap Challenge, Wheeler Dealers, American Chopper - all research for his project work back home. We figured it could be worse, and just made sure his viewing was punctuated with plenty of time outside. The cottage had an amazing garden with a huge trampoline, climbing frame and set of football goals, so games out there with his younger brothers were played willingly enough. We managed to get him down to the beach several times - where our younger three boys will still wile away many happy hours - and, again, we found ball games and athletic pursuits were undertaken with some enthusiasm, once we got him there!
I also taught him Slam, a fast game of cards for two players, which I loved in my student days. This, too, seemed to grab his enthusiasm and he would happily take on any willing challenger, swiftly mastering the game to beat us all, which gave him great delight.
As we considered things our eldest son might enjoy in the area, I had the mad idea that perhaps he would relish the challenge of climbing England and Wales' highest mountain, Snowdon. He seemed quite keen on the idea, so then we had to think about who might accompany him. Obviously, he couldn't go running about the Welsh mountains on his own, could he? I would have to go with him. Panic! My husband was very reluctant to commit himself. We are neither of us feeling particularly fit at this time of our lives. My parents fairly swiftly counted themselves out. My Mum, who had climbed Snowdon as a child (almost 60 years ago!) began to tell us about it. She didn't make it sound too bad ... According to family legend, my Grandmother had climbed up in her high heels. Well, I thought, it can't be THAT hard. So, one fine morning, leaving our youngest son to enjoy the beach with his grandparents, my husband and I and sons 1, 2 and 3 left on our mountaineering adventure.
Well, if I had known what I was in for, I probably would have never set out. And maybe sometimes it is best not to know in advance. Once you get so far along a path, it becomes imperative to make it, to press on for the summit. This hadn't much mattered to us in the beginning. We thought we could always turn back; we could just enjoy a pleasant hike in beautiful Snowdonia. The summit was not the be all and end all. Except that once you are two thirds up the mountain, the summit beckons all the more strongly and a resolve grows within you. You can, will and must make it. So we pressed forwards.
We were not too far into our walk when our eldest son asked to go on ahead as our pace was hindering him. Fine, I said, as long as you promise to stay on the path. I thought he might wait for us further up the track. But, who can blame him, our level of fitness meant we were walking at a very different pace. All credit to our other two sons for encouraging us along and keeping us on track. So, one step at a time, we climbed a mountain. I am amazed! It was really hard. But we did it! And in fairly reasonable time - three and a half hours to the summit, and six hours for the round trip. We didn't see our eldest son again until we were about an hour from the summit, on a really tough part of the climb. He strolled past us on his way down having got to the top in under two hours. "Easy," was his comment, and he really did make it look that way. It made me realise how big the challenges need to be to inspire our young men.
As we climbed, there were moments when I thought, "I really cannot take another step" but you just keep going, and then you'll get a new surge of energy and feel you must press on. The hardest part for me was the last hour down, when we were just so, so tired and my hip began to ache, ache, ache. Not young anymore. But our boys were amazing. Not one complaint, not one, "I'm tired ... How much loooooonger?" Not one whine. They rose to the challenge, and I was proud of them all - and myself and my husband too. It really is a beautiful mountain and, no, I do not believe my Grandmother can possibly have climbed it in her high heels.
When we arrived back at the cottage, elated but completely finished, my Mum asked me, "Haven't you ever climbed a mountain before?" Well, no actually, Mum. But I have now, and it makes you feel you could do just anything!!