“Mummy?” said Sonny.
“Can we go to soft play today please?”
It was at this moment, at precisely 8.45 that morning, that my heart sank and my inner grump developed a serious case of bitch face. Both grump and I know we’ve exhausted painting, drawing, cutting, sticking, playing hide and seek, picking play doh out of each others hair, CBeebies, board games and finding all my stuff that’s been hidden in other stuff. All our indoor activities have been done and redone as many times as Katie Price’s boobs.
It’s still raining and so I resign myself to getting dressed, heading out and voluntarily entering into one of the worst places a human can ever visit. Soft play. Believe me, these words instil fear and loathing into every parent ever unfortunate enough to have been to one of Beelzebub’s play dens. The things I’ve seen in these places cannot be unseen. Once a kid took a shit on the top level and abandoned it to carry on playing. I’ve heard tales of piss in the ball pit. That’s the kind of ferrel antics we’re dealing with here. It’s a no holes barred crap fest.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I let my inner grump go full ‘aggie Thatcher I have to address the misleading name ‘soft play.‘
- There is nothing soft about your child’s head slamming into another child’s head at 20MPH after a collision around a blind corner. Apparently it is an unspoken rule that only running is allowed, which along with the compulsory socks makes for a spectacular slipfest.
- There’s nothing soft about the scaffolding that’s shrouded in plastic padding as thick as a sanitary towel. A bodyform one. Not even those massive ones you use when you’ve had a baby.
- There’s nothing soft about large plastic tunnels and slides that zap you with enough static to electrocute a mouse. Mickey would be screwed trying to get through one of those bad boys. Every time I’m forced through one – usually to rescue a crying child – I exit looking like I’ve rubbed my head on a balloon. Once, another parent laughed out loud in my face. It looked so ridiculous they couldn’t even stifle it. I just slipped away in disgrace as its pretty hard to throw someone shit eye when you look like Lisa Simpson.
Also, whilst I’m on the point of these terrifying tunnels, what are kids knees made of? Sodding sponges? Because they practically bounce out of those tubes and I always leave limping, feeling like I’ve been assaulted in the patella. Which incidentally is the name of my next album.
And now onto the word ‘play‘. This is the reason kids go to places like this, right? Wrong. There is little to NO play happening. It’s all running, screaming, slamming into shit and fighting. It’s like fucking WrestleMania in there. Survival of the fittest. Which is why up until now, I’ve been ball deep (literally) in the netted cages with Sonny and Bessie. But now they’re a bit older I’m trying to encourage them to venture out on their own. Which means shouting ‘Look after your sister‘ and ‘go hide in the tunnel‘ 457 times per visit and getting very little Facebook surfing done.
The independence I want them to have also presents me with a bit of a conundrum. I want to let them play and develop their feisty little selves on their turf. However I don’t want them getting into a fight with a snotty nosed terror, Billy the Bully, who has anger issues and is already flexing his alpha muscles. All soft plays have one. But then I tell myself that I do want them to know how to conduct themselves when encountering a child hell bent on starting some beef. I just can’t bear to think of them being hurt by the beef. It’s a tough one. I spend most of my time there flip flopping whilst dodging gaggles of children. To helicopter parent or to surf the internet for Game of Thrones memes?
There’s also the issue of how to deal with little Billy. The Mother Lion in me wants to march over and tell him it’s not acceptable to push kids out of the way to climb up a slide or throw his 12 inch Hulk figurine down it. But it’s not my place to interfere and I’m scared of his Mum as she’s sneaking drinks from a small bottle of Blossom Hill and looks like she could take me.
So what do I do? I try and conduct myself in the way I want my children to, which is to make a joke out of it, distract them with something shiny and move on to the next obstacle. Even if that obstacle is a small rope bridge covered in child phlegm and tears.
Hopefully I’ve found the balance. For now. I sit in the background and write and I only interfere if Billy’s Hulk makes contact with either of my children (and when his Mum has is rifling through her bag for a refill). As I look around I see all the other adults knuckling down and like me just getting through the morning. We’re all doing our best to tune out the piercing screams and let our kids have their version of fun in the coloured arena of confrontation. Billy’s mum catches my eye and we exchange a smile. We’ve all got their best interests at heart. Otherwise we would all be down the pub.