I was distantly aware of the kid-like Mecca that is soft play before I had children. In fact, I even ventured into one once pre-motherhood. It was awful – there was screaming, sticky chairs, suspicious looking wet patches on the floor, it was hot and humid and there was a plethora of exhausted parents head down, nose shoved into i phone. Never again I thought to myself.
When my first child was around 6 or 7 months old a Mummy friend suggested soft play would be ‘fun’. My mind flashed back to those visions of seemingly half feral children charging around with wild abandon and parents working desperately hard to avoid direct eye contact with any children they may have borne. But since becoming a mother I had changed. Having been covered in every bodily fluid imaginable and been put on a sleep deprivation regime the North Korean’s would be proud of, I was different. I had a child now so soft play will be totally different hey, perhaps it would even be ‘fun’ after all. I. WAS. WRONG!
I have had to venture into the brightly coloured battle zone on a number of occasions now – it seems a pretty unavoidable part of parenting. So I have had the unfortunate opportunity to acquire a number of distinct dislikes for the squishy, bouncy hell on earth. Here are my top five:
1. The children
I’m not proud of it, but there are days I’m not too keen on my own children and they (well the toddler) have the advantage of being able to push me to the brink of a monumental meltdown to then give me the biggest cuddle, cutest smile and tell me that they love me. Other people’s children cannot employ this tactic. It’s always the ones with the longest string of snot hanging out of their nose, the stickiest fingers or smelliest nappies that seem to seek me out. They then either want to touch me or climb all over me. I’m not a complete monster, if I see them hurt themselves I will pick them up or offer some assistance usually only to be met with an avalanche of snot and / or screaming. These children usually appear to have come sans parents as I frantically look around for someone to rush on in and kiss better whatever body part has been injured.
2. The refreshments
Thankfully a few of the noisy chambers of doom have invested in a half decent coffee machine but still quite a few seem to think a mere 10 granules of the cheapest instant coffee available mixed with lukewarm water is worth the princely sum of £3. If you do get a reasonable cup of java there will no doubt also be a multitude of sugar laden treats perfectly positioned at toddler height, usually unavoidable from the entrance to ensure that your already wired child is hyped up to cosmic levels.
3. The parents
It pains me to say it, especially in view of the sisterhood and all that, that other parents can be one of the biggest causes of stress. There’s the nervous wreck parents, hovering over little Jonny’s every move, frightened to death he may trip and fall onto a perfectly cushioned, soft floor. At the flip end of the scale there’s the hands off parents, clutching their latte as if their life depended on it, totally engrossed in whatever exciting entertainment their smart phone is presenting them with completely unaware (or certainly pretending to be!) that their precious super-sized 8 year old is rampaging through the 3s and under section leaving a wave of toddlers quivering in their wake. Where do I fit in you ask? I’d like to think somewhere in the middle but in reality probably in my own sub-section realising how unfit I am trying to retrieving my overactive two year from top of the play frame when it’s time to leave.
4. The stench
From the moment you walk in you are hit square on by a wall of smell. A putrid, stomach churning smell that is like no other. A unique combination of sweat, feet, vomit and poo creates an aroma I can only imagine is akin to a post-apocalyptic world. The majority of soft play centres seem to be situated in industrial unit type tin shacks which only serve to ramp up the heat and, by consequence, the aroma.
5. The tantrums
From a bust up in the corner over a cosy coupe to the fish wife like shouting over the play house to the ear piercing screaming over whose turn it is to go down the big slide the entire duration of your visit will be awash with tantrums. Sure, some will be your own child’s but, unlike at home, even when they are happily playing you will still have to witness the overflowing of emotions from someone else’s little cherub. And then there’s your exit. You’ve barely survived the visit, you’re exhausted and have a head pounding like you drank two bottles of wine the night before. It’s now time to pluck your offspring out of the netted palace and wrangle them out the door. My advice? Leave them there. Or, if you’re concerned this may fall into the bad parenting category simply move into one of the playhouses.
If you do find yourself faced with unenviable prospect of a soft play visit the only helpful advice I can offer is 1. Do NOT go when your child is over tired and 2. Do NOT go on a wet day in the school holidays (seriously, lie if you have to – you may never make it out alive!).