Me and Max at Hopetoun House, Easter weekend 2019

The Awkward Girl’s Guide to Having a ‘Nice’ Day Out With a Toddler

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One of the things that has been abundantly clear to Terry and I since Max came along is that days out with toddlers are not the same as the days out we had before. By way of illustration, here are some photos of a trip we took to Hopetoun House last weekend: a day that will forever live in our memories as an example of how NOT to have a family day out…

Mummy and Max at Hopetoun HouseStep One:
Spend at least an hour stuck in traffic

Because we apparently hate ourselves, we decided to have our family day out on Good Friday: a move guaranteed to turn a 20 minute drive into an hour-long idle on the motorway. We were off to an awesome start! Still, as well as ensuring that we all arrived at Hopetoun in a state of maximum crankiness, this also gave Terry and I ample opportunity to listen – and, indeed, re-listen – to The Story of the Fox and the Goat, playing on an endless loop from the activity centre we thought we’d lost months ago, but which, nope, was just hiding in the back of the car, apparently. Surprise!

By the time we reached our destination, in addition to being able to recite the Fox and the Goat story perfectly, Terry and I were also now doomed to walk around with the words, “Please, pick me! A little flower!” echoing constantly in our heads. Awesome!

Forever Amber: UK parenting blogStep Two:
Find a random hill in the car park. Stay there forever.

Upon alighting from the car, watch your child’s face light up in amazement at the sight before him: a random hill to one side of the car park. (Yeah, you thought it was going to be the stately home, didn’t you? Nope: it’s the hill…) That’s it, folks: it’s best to just accept that you’ve now seen all of this beautiful stately home that you’re going to see, because this hill is WHERE IT’S AT, and you will now watch your child walk up and down it until bedtime. Enjoy! (Also, feel free to curse the fact that you paid for entry to the grounds BEFORE you realised the car park was much more interesting. On the plus side, think of all of the money you’ll save in future, and how, when your child is older, you’ll be able to say, “What do you mean, we never did anything as a family? We took you to ALL the best car parks in the country! You’ve seen them all, dude!”)

If you’re feeling particularly energetic, however, you can attempt to lure your child away from the car park and move onto step three:

chasing a toddlerStep Three:
The Chase

It’s now your task to chase down a person who is much smaller than you, and yet inexplicably faster and significantly more cunning. This photo, for instance, is pretty cute…

happy toddler

… right up until the moment you realise he’s only laughing because he had managed to thwart my attempt to stop him trying to eat stones he’d picked up from the gravel driveway, and was feeling mighty pleased with himself:

Good Friday, 2019

We’d now been at Hopetoun House for at least half an hour, but had yet to make it past the driveway, which remained a source of fascination to Max, who just couldn’t believe his luck at landing in a place with SO MANY STONES. Gradually, though, we made our way across the driveway, and on to Step 4 of our day:

Max, April 2019Step 4:
“Lookit how cute he is, though!”

Seriously, though: a tiny little person! Who can walk, and talk (Well, sort of…), and, er, try really, really hard to eat stones, like, OMG SERIOUSLY, WHY?!

days out with toddlers

Step 5:
Parental intervention

At this point, you have two basic choices: you can either resign yourself to your fate, and accept that you live on this gravel driveway now, and will never go past it, or you can pick your child up and remove him from the situation. Having realised that our lengthy delay on the motorway, combined with the thrills of the car park and driveway, had seriously eaten into the time we’d allocated to our day out, we went with option 2. A short walk later, and we’d finally reached our goal: Hopetoun House’s beautiful Spring Garden:

daffodilThe Spring Garden at Hopetoun House, South Queensferry

Me and Max amongst the daffodilsAt this point, Max also realised one of his own main goals for the day: the finding of a really good stick:

Visiting Hopetoun House, Spring 2019

Which brings me neatly to my next point:

Step 6:
Find a really good stick

Seriously, though, what is it with toddlers and sticks? Because I feel like my camera roll right now is basically just a collection of photos like this:

Why do toddlers love sticks so much?

One day I could maybe get them all printed and make a photo book for him. ‘Sticks I Have Known’ or ‘To All The Sticks I’ve Loved Before’ or something. It could make a nice companion piece to my upcoming coffee table book, “Car Parks of Great Britain and the World.”

Good though these sticks were, though, they were soon forgotten when Max realised there was something even better on the paths of the Spring Garden: MOAR STONES!

A day out with MaxA day out with Max

As you can see from my dishevelled appearance here, I now looked – and, indeed, felt – like I’d been in a fight or something, and that’s because I more or less HAD been in a fight: a battle of wills between the tiny person trying to climb the stairs, pick the daffodils (Don’t worry, we didn’t let him…) and eat stones, and, well, ME:

wrangling a toddler

I just… I can’t understand why I’m not absolutely RIPPED by now, thanks to all of the exercise I get just chasing, lifting and wrestling with Max? On the other hand, it’s no mystery why I always look vaguely panicked, and like I might possibly have slept in my clothes, is it?

At this stage, there was only one thing for it: it was time to engage ourselves in a futile attempt to take a family photo, using the self-timer mode on the camera:

Step 7:
Take an awkward family photo

Remember how I was telling you how frustrated I am by the fact that we hardly have any decent photos of the three of us together? Well, we still don’t, folks:

Family photo, April 2019Family photo, April 2019Although, having said that, these may not be Instagram-perfect, exactly, but they are very US. Which is the most important thing, I guess?

Step 8:
Go home

And, with that, our time ran out: we had planned to spend much more time at Hopetoun, but we’d spent so much time sitting in traffic and eating stones in the driveway that we were now getting dangerously close to Max’s nap time, so home we went – with promises to come back another day. Because, like I said, days out with a toddler may be very, very different from the days out we had before, but these are the days we’ll look back on as some of the best days ever – or some of the best sticks ever, at the very least…

Mummy and Max

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  • Yes what is it with toddlers and trying to eat stones?! The photos and comments are hilarious 🙂

    April 24, 2019
  • Lol! This is so so true! And I was just thinking about taking Emilia to a safari park next week with my parents…maybe next year! 🙂 x

    April 24, 2019
  • We have a stick and stones collection next to our front door, collected in all the places we went to not see what we came there for…

    Anne|Linda, Libra, Loca

    April 24, 2019
  • Barbara W


    Max is adorable. And I am reminded of a song “The Fantastiks” :

    Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
    No one can hear with beans in their ears.
    After a while the reason appears.
    They did it cause we said no.


    April 24, 2019
  • Barbara W


    …a song FROM “The Fantastiks” ….

    April 24, 2019
  • Myra


    We still have a pile of collected sticks outside, but Max finally seemed to have lost interest in them when he was ten lol. As for the stones, Max was so fascinated by stones and fossils and crystals that he managed to acquire most of mine, and we spent hours in little seaside shops so he could add to his collection. A daytrip to Lyme Reigis was spent on the stony beach searching for fossils and great joy was experienced with every ammonite etc.

    April 24, 2019
  • Lila Athanaselis


    ??? I can’t remember collections of anything, but I can’t remember much anyway ?
    So funny Amber, just hilarious ? though I felt your stress ??
    Best to avoid these holidays and go the day before or the day after or just early and let Max nap in a buggy whilst you sit down somewhere as adults ? and rest ?

    April 24, 2019
  • D. Johnson


    Hilarious! This is also an apt description of me and my dog! I should not read your blogs in the library, however, as the laughs bursting out tend to disturb people.

    April 24, 2019
  • I’m so glad it’s not just my son then!

    His favourites on days out are also running up and down hills, eating/licking stones (and going MMMMM like it’s the most delicious thing ever) and collecting sticks. He also likes climbing stairs, picking every daisy or dandelion he sees and evading capture. Why am I not skinny from all the running after him I do?

    May 3, 2019