On Valentine's Day we decided to meet dad downtown for lunch since the kids were on break anyway. I'm getting better, as are the kids, but we are still quite the show walking to the bus stop, getting on the bus, then maneuvering our way up and down stairs at the tube station and on and off of the trains. One adult carrying a heaping diaper bag, a folded stroller, a baby in the bjorn on the front, and a stubborn toddler who refuses to walk. And two other kids who are kind of helpful with the diaper bag and stroller, but kind of not since they usually end up swinging them around and hitting people.
We made it to lunch and were excited to see Dad. He even had flowers for me. :) But lunch was more complicated because the menu was just a little unfamiliar and some kids weren't as happy with the options and we had to haul the stroller up and down more stairs and then there was disappointment that I hadn't ordered what they thought I'd ordered . . . and on and on. So even our fun, happy lunch with Dad in the city turned out a little less idyllic than I'd hoped and certainly lacked some of the London charm I always imagine (except for the flowers Matt surprised me with - that was charming).
But I persisted with my next plan, which was to go to Kensington Gardens.
When I was in London in 2013, there were so many things that were easier and perhaps more enjoyable by myself. I could glide in and out of the tube station quickly and I could walk all over the city without carrying anything except a few pound coins in my pocket and an Oyster card. No children needing diapers or snacks or whining about tired legs or thirst. Just me. I could stay as long as I wanted at one piece in one art gallery or pop into a church that was having a free lunchtime orchestra concert. But during my solo trip wandering, I discovered the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and wished I had Danny and Kaylee with me. It was the most magical playground I'd ever seen, and I was only allowed to peek in from outside the gate. I longed to someday take my kids there.
Fast forward four years and 2 kids later, back to Valentine's Day. Another short tube ride to Queensway Station and we were almost there. I found a public toilet on the edge of the park, so we made quick use of that so as not to waste playtime once we were in the playground. Again - quite a complicated endeavor with 4 kids of mixed genders and stairs to go down to the restroom and 50p to use the restroom - all of this would have taken 3 minutes by myself, but with our entourage it was another 15 minutes.
Then, with the playground literally in view, Abby had an exhausted meltdown. She didn't understand where we were going or how wonderful it would be and just didn't want to go any further. I picked her up and carried her there. And finally. Finally. We made it.
And you know what? It was as magical as I had envisioned in 2013 - my children running and exploring this incredible playground with all its winding pathways and brilliant climbing structures and slides and swings. Their whimsical smiles and giggles filled me to overflowing. And I had found a new, wonderful piece of London that my children and I could love together.
|The Elfin Oak just outside the playground, which is mentioned several times in our neighbor's book, Rowan Oakwing. Danny was giddy to find carved into the wood the very fairy from the story.|
|Huge pirate ship. Danny is in the blue shirt in the middle, swinging from a rope. The kids loved climbing up to the crows nest as well.|
|This picture doesn't quite capture the fun of the climbing structures, but Abby Jo loved finding every different slide and going on them again and again and again.|
|Happy Abby with Kaylee exploring in the back.|
|Camping out in teepees.|
|Some boys about Danny's age found him and asked him to join their tag/hide and seek game all over the playground. Here they are doing some type of "bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish" thing to figure out who is going to be it.|
|One of the many, many hidden, winding paths.|
|James rode in the Bjorn and enjoyed watching everyone else play.|
|On a rock tower, that has fountains in the warmer months. You can see the whole pirate ship behind. We are excited to come and play some more in the summer when the fountains are going.|
We played and explored and explored and played. And it was a glorious, glorious day.
Of course almost as soon as we left the park reality set in again. Kaylee fell hard on the gravel and skinned her knee (note to self, bring band-aids in the diaper bag). The younger two fell asleep before we even got to the tube, and navigating the stairs with a sleeping toddler in a stroller was a bit complex (thank you kind strangers who helped me out).
|So. So. Tired.|
It was still a glorious, happy, fall in love with London, magical, charming kind of an afternoon. I'm glad we persisted. And we even made it home in time to make a Valentine's feast and chocolate chip cookies for Dad.