We were planning to stay in one location, but instead stayed with different families in Shropshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Lanarkshire. Each night, somewhere different - coincidentally, each of our host families found they had urgent appointments after only 24 hours of enjoying our highly energised family units.
I had one remaining school friend, Jill, whom we had never visited. The ages were not right for optimum socialisation - she has a small baby and a 16-year-old boy - but I felt it would be wonderful to see Suffolk as all England's woodland is fast disappearing. My life-partner Chris agreed to come to spend his last days bonding with the kids before his departure to Namibia for six months.
Jill told me she had hens. I was looking forward to collecting eggs. Blown eggshells can be a wonderful medium for creativity in kids. None of the rest of the family was very keen but one of a good mum's important roles is to stand up against the innate conservatism of the family unit. Even when the children threaten her with the withdrawal of love.
Timon: "I hate the country. I hate eggs. I'll hate you if you take me."
Emotion Trainer Mum: "I completely understand that you love your home. You are fearful of a new environment and are wary of the femaleness of eggs. However much you hate me in the future I'll always love you very much." (Correct response.)
Timon: "I'm bored already."
Esme: "There'll be nobody for me to play with."
In these arguments, mums, never forget about gender stereotyping. Mum: "While Timon's helping Jill look after the baby, Esme can enjoy Social Play with Jill's 16-year-old son, Aidan."
I hadn't seen Jill since school. I remembered her as a mousey girl, so I hoped she would be sufficiently assertive as a mum. As a professional in the world of childcare one of my important roles in these New Environment experiences is to help mums. Jill's greeting was all too revealing: "I'm so sorry about the mess."
Me: "Don't undermine yourself by apologising."
Her baby had obviously been crying solidly for a week and anyone could tell Jill needed me. In her insecurity, she was worried that she'd spoilt the baby by going to her too often. Mums, you can never go to a baby too often. Baby needs a full programme of activities.
Me: "Social Interaction is the only thing she wants. She's bored."
Jill: "I've been up all night."
Me: "You must put her needs before your own. If rolling over on a blanket or touching items on a tray is her chosen activity she's not going to change just to suit mum's needs."
Jill: "'She's a 'he' actually."
My reply was crisp but I hope soothing: "We always call babies 'she' to try and counter-balance the general assumption in manuals that babies are male."
Timon and Esme were happy in their guest-room once I'd fixed up a television and a barrier between their beds. The barrier I constructed - without Chris's help - with some plywood, plaster and wire mesh.
Chris: "They should be able to sleep in the same room."
Me: "They are each their own person. Parenting the individual means ensuring that your children have their own space. Your maleness is threatened by my ability to build a wall."
Jill and I formed a wonderful female partnership which she particularly benefited from - I was able to give on-the-spot advice round the clock. For the first two days we went with Baby for woodland walks while Timon and Esme enjoyed their video sessions. The children missed most of the meals but I felt it was good for them to be upstairs on the same floor as Aidan, from the point of view of socialisation. On the third morning I was rewarded by seeing the three of them involved in a Native American Fantasy Play. I sustained a bullet wound when I pointed out that Esme was playing a gender-stereo-typical role as the female tied to a tree. But I made sure of dragging myself inside without too much fuss, and a minimum of blood on the carpet; never forget, mums, guilt feelings about inflicting injuries upon others can last well into adulthood.
My influence on Jill was so positive that by our last day she felt confident enough to spend hours at a time alone with Baby in the hen-house. Oh, and my kids did get round to some creative play with the eggshells, breaking them up with their feet and stamping on them, and so forming myriad patterns of wonderment all over the floor.