If you are a parent there is one place which to you is hell on earth but to your child it is the place of amazing fun that they beg you (quite often) to take them to… yes, it is soft play!
I was naive at first and if you are a new parent you most probably will be too. It was a safe environment where he could fall and not hurt himself, it was brightly coloured and offered a selection of activities to stimulate his mind. As he grew and learnt to walk I discovered my attitude changed from ‘awwww, look at him trying to pull himself up’ to ‘oh my god that child has knocked him over, oh my goodness why is no one stopping their child throwing those balls and bloody hell I am going to have a heart attack if one more child pushes past mine as he is clinging to that ladder!’ As your child grows, each stage brings new feelings towards the soft play world. If you look at the parent’s with older children they are happily sipping their tea, whilst browsing facebook without a care in the world. Those with babies are lapping up the new experience, hugging their little ones and chatting to their new Mummy friends. Those who have toddlers are running around, chasing them, helping them up and over apparatus, sweating their arses off and getting pissed off at the unruly kids who are determined to hit them square in the face with a plastic ball from the ball pit! I am the latter which is precisely why I will pick any other activity any day over enduring a morning at soft play.
Last week he wanted to go and I had put it off for so long that my guilt took over. So off I went and paid somebody £3.60 for the privilege of entering the one place that spreads cold germs like wild fire and leaves me with a banging headache. The moment we are in ‘come on Mum, you come in, you come with me!’ he shouts excitedly ‘oh yay, I have so been looking forward to this’ I say as I slowly remove my shoes and step across the sticky floor (I have been to quite a few of these places and most seem to be grimy in quite a few ways – some much worse than others!) So off I go being dragged up the spongy ladder, banging my head at the top because of a new bar they have placed there – thanks soft play people! Then scramble through a turny thing which I can just about get through, get pushed out the way by one of those ‘let me through’ type children and pull myself up to the very top just for Jake to get on the slide and zoom off. I yell down that I will stay there and he can come back up and find me. ‘NOOOOO MUM, you come down’ he shouts so all can hear… fine, I can’t be the Mum who refuses to follow her two-year-old down the slide can I? Down I go and hooray he wants to do it all again and again and again… lucky, lucky me. Then it’s the ball pit, climbing over more spongy things, over a very painful net, through the teeniest tunnel and down yet more slides… who needs a bloody gym membership eh?!
I just about manage to escape to buy a much-needed bottle of water and what do they put in the glass cabinet at toddler eye line? Oh, of course, chocolate. These people are not daft are they? He begs and begs for chocolate at 10:30 in the morning. I stand my ground and say no. He gives up and runs off to the cars, you know the ones that want a pound for a 1 minute ride? Yeah, no chance son! He happily sits on it for a bit then goes back towards soft play… via the chocolate dream cabinet – the begging starts again and he gets the same answer. He decides he won’t win so off we go again and I get dragged back around the squidgy world full of over excited kids for another half an hour. I did manage to chat with one Mum for a bit about the craziness of toddlers but then we both got pulled in opposite directions by our kids. That’s the extent of my social life!
Then comes the moment you have to utter the words ‘it’s time to go!’ Those four words which can turn a perfectly happy-go-lucky child into a demon child in 5 seconds flat. I always choose to say it quite cheerily and quietly so that it comes across as a positive statement. It doesn’t work and he quickly yells no and runs off. I try again but it is met with a high pitched ‘NOOOO’ and a collapse onto the floor. It’s ok because I am now a pro and walk slowly away and start to get my shoes on. I gather up our things and take his shoes to him and explain what a lovely time we have had and how I am going to make such a lovely lunch. ‘Cheese?’ he asks ‘why yes anything you want’ I answer, anything to get me out of this hell hole and towards the paracetamol! It works. Until we walk past the grabbing machine and the tattoo dispenser and bouncy ball game… this is where the holding onto the wrist and keep walking move comes into play. No eye contact, no talking, you just get your child out!
So here are my top tips to help with your survival of the soft play hell:
- Wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting a bit grubby and that allows you to move (squeeze) freely through the obstacles.
- Take plenty of water – you are gonna need it!
- Wear trousers that allow you to go at speed down the slide. Jeans stick and you end up looking like some fatty whose bum is too big and has got stuck in the sides! Also the faster you go the happier your lil one is.
- Take socks.
- Conveniently forget your change so you can show your child that you do not have a fiver to
wastespend on all the machines they place around the establishment.
- Be prepared to be shoved, pushed and have things thrown at you.
- Be prepared to help out other children because their parents are too busy enjoying their hot tea to look up. A good catch reflex is always a great skill to have!
- Also be prepared for children to follow you because you are the fun parent who has come into the soft play world and theirs hasn’t. If they are cute it’s not so bad. If they are chatterboxes sometimes it’s best to not talk too much or they may even try and join you for a snack at your table!
- Take wipes, plenty of wipes.
- Wash your hands, their hands and possibly your clothes straight away. I may sound like a snob but I have received far too many germs in the past.