We started off with the idea that the lottie would be a whole-family activity - in one of those misguided, knit-your-own-sandals sort of moments.
When we were simply clearing the plot it worked quite well. At that stage the girls were so young that they were happy enough just grubbing around in the mud. We made them a make-shift sandpit to play in and installed a cheap barbecue with the idea of spending long hours as a happy family working and playing together.
It was always a challenge, though. In the absence of clear boundaries the little people seemed to have great difficulty knowing where to walk. They would seemingly be happily engaged in some harmless activity but all too often I would turn around to find them wandering across a neighbour’s plot (and seedlings), not meaning to do any harm but effectively flattening everything in their wake.
The rose-tinted spectacles didn’t last long, particularly in light of the distinct lack of facilities at our allotments. There is no water supply, which obviously also means no toilets. Not much of a problem for the male allotment-holders, more of a challenge for us women and a distinct problem for little ones. Yes, we could have taken a potty with us but we were trying to move on from all that. We made the mistake of dangling my youngest daughter over the compost bin to have a wee during one early visit. She thought this was great fun and suddenly needed a wee each time she came to the allotment with me. This quickly got tiresome (and tiring as she got bigger and heavier to lift) but at the age of only 3 her cries of “But I really really need a wee” were ignored at my peril!
No water also means no hand-washing facilities. So the idea of happy family lunches wasn’t easily reconciled with Mummy’s hand-washing fixation (not an unreasonable obsession when we were all elbow-deep in freshly-manured soil, I still maintain).
The girls made a fantastic scarecrow with help from the in-laws and this helped maintain their interest for a while. Taking advice from others including my own parents, we also provided them with their own small plot, complete with child-friendly and easy to handle seeds like radish and beetroot plus pretty Love-in-a-Mist. Again, this was initially a great success but they quickly lost interest and it just turned into somewhere else for me to weed.
Over time, of course, the more I wanted to go the allotment, the less the girls wanted to come too. They decided it was boring, and I decided that actually, I prefer going on my own. I now limit their visits to the “big wins” such as the fabulous pumpkin my daughter grew last year (well ok, she sowed the seed and I then did everything else) or the current favourite: raspberries to pick and eat on the hoof.