The changes blew in with the autumn leaves.
Storm tossed and rain drenched from summer, we set off in search of fresh air and quieter minds. It was a path we had walked many times before, looping round the woods from the car park and crossing the road to collect pine cones and chase squirrels.
But today it felt different. The weight was on my shoulders alone.
Olivia was straining on the reins as I chugged behind, gleefully kicking up whirlwinds of orange- and brown-hued foliage with tiny toddler toes. Their dry-curled edges fluttered on the breeze like fairy wings for a moment then dropped benevolently around us.
We walked on, mossy strands slithering across forgotten branches. The sky was crystal, the trees cinnamon. Something stirred on the path ahead – a bird maybe? “A bat,” suggested Maya.
Nonchalantly she added: “Grace says a bat did a poo on her head at the zoo.”
I considered the image for a moment. Small child. Confined space. Dumbstruck parents. The volume of ice-cream required to dull the sense of public humiliation of being six years old and smothered like a Knickerbocker Glory in the faeces of the world’s only flying mammal.
“How big was it?” I asked.
Maya made a face as if to dismiss my question as one of epically stupid proportions. It was like, I felt, asking David Attenborough if bears were want to defecate around these parts.
“Medium,” she said. “Of course.”
We walked on in silence, the darkness starting to creep upon us now, the wind slicing deeper. We had gathered handfuls of leaves, acorns and ferns, stuffing them into my swag bag like pirate booty. They crinkled as we walked.
I was just about to suggest turning round when the tears came. It was only a little stumble but enough to unlock something inside. I knew the signs.
First came the top-lip tremble, then the warning bell of sobs before, finally, the full tortured torrent of anger and upset came coursing through, railing against the world and its numerous injustices in huge throaty gasps.
I tried to hug her to me, her tears staining the afternoon with great inky blotches.
Olivia, now increasingly agitated for the emergency-ration chocolate, broke free and threw herself to the ground, pummelling her now-scuffed boots into the ground and smearing mud across her Hello Kitty tights – clean on this morning.
For a moment I wasn’t sure which direction to head. The inconsolable child to the left, or the toddler to the right, locked into a nuclear-strike tantrum. It’s not like this in the adverts.
Back at the cafe by the car park, noses blown and hands washed, hot chocolate and biscuits replaced the tears. Jammie Dodgers, no less. Well, it was the weekend.
Soon afterwards we would drive home and Total Wipeout would transfix the girls while I busied myself with the pasta. But for now it was enough to sit and be together.
Together was enough.