Like any parent who happens to be hanging on to the loose threads of their sanity, I loathe soft play with every fibre of my being.
It’s sticky, it’s sweaty, it’s noisy. The tea (or coffee if that’s your bag) is crap and when you finally manage to remove your tantrumming child(dren) from the establishment they will almost certainly bring away with them an unpleasant illness.
And yet, despite this deep and enduring dislike, somehow it keeps us coming back like moths to a brightly coloured, faintly smelly flame.
Over the past few weeks I have had a brief respite from ‘the padded hell hole’ as the toddler has been in the early stages of potty training.
When she was little and still an only, I met up with a friend at a local soft play. I say soft play; it was a actually a pub with a small ball pool and a squishy slide tacked on to the side, the only good kind of soft play really.
Upon arriving were were told by a slightly angry barmaid that it was closed because a kid had taken a dump in the ball pool. The kicker was that no one had alerted the staff to the situation until much later on; the parents had snuck out with their turd-covered toddler without so much as a whisper.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt for a second (which the barmaid did not, and for good reason I imagine. She probably still isn’t over it years later) perhaps they were just too ashamed to say anything. Still, decidedly UNCOOL. Shit happens, I guess, but I very much did NOT want my kid to be that kid; ergo, no soft play for us.
The idea of potty training in June was that we could spend the majority of the day outside and have fewer floors to clean.
However, as I could have predicted from having lived through 30-odd British summers, this has not proven to be the case. Finding things to do with two toddlers when the weather is inclement is tricky. We’ve been to every garden centre, we’ve jumped in enough muddy puddles to bore Peppa. Being outside in the rain is just pants; the big one is not a fan of getting wet and becomes very angry when people do not have hoods up; she’s not beyond telling a stranger off. The little one looks forlorn strapped into his buggy, the raindrops pattering on the ill-fitting raincovers; he does not want to sit, he wants to run and climb. And the rain does absolutely nothing for my hair.
And thus, with the June weather remaining dismal and dreary, with a heavy heart it was back to soft play for us.
Upon entering the ‘arena’ (I couldn’t think of the right word, but this conjures up images of children as gladiators, which isn’t actually far from the truth, so I kept it) I immediately became:
1) Continually Nervous Parent.
I couldn’t take my eyes off my child for more than a second in case she decided to relieve herself in an inconvenient place and asked her about every five seconds whether she needed a wee. It was exhausting and nerve-wracking. The little one was more or less left to fend for himself which worked out well as he learned to take himself up and down the slide.
It was my first time at soft play as Continually Nervous Parent. In case you were wondering, I have categorised the other parents you will find at soft play:
2) The First Timer
Looks: Bemused, unsure of what’s going on.
Likely to be: In the baby section with their small child who is not yet able to walk, worrying about whether they are going to catch something awful from putting the ball pit balls in their mouth (they are) and foolishly thinking about how much fun it will be when they’re older and can use the Big Slides.
This was me once. A long time ago. They were simpler times.
3) The Very Very Very Tired Two-Under-Two Parent.
Looks: Like a zombie. Has a tired, vacant stare. Often with a newborn strapped to them. Looks very much like they are in the seventh circle of hell, which they probably are.
Likely to be: Knocking back awful coffee like a student (OK, anyone) drinking alcohol at a wedding with an open bar. Reluctantly following their toddler around and wishing they’d stayed at home and put CBeebies on.
The words I dread hearing –
“Come get me, mummy!”
4) The Can’t Possibly Look After Them Both/All Parent
Looks: On the verge of giving up. With more than one mobile child, soft play (or just life in general) becomes a bit of a challenge.
Likely to be: Chasing after one child and listening out for the familiar shriek of the other who has got themselves stuck somewhere.
This is me now.
5) The Fun Parent
Looks: Like a mad person.
Likely to be: In the middle of things, joining in by throwing themselves down the slide headfirst. These parents are also known as dads. Oooh, sexist. And yet very true in our household.
6) The Winner
Looks: Fairly normal, as human beings go. Perhaps one might even say ‘un-parenty’ (they probably wouldn’t though, as it isn’t a word).
Likely to be: Sitting at a table with a magazine or iPhone and a crap tea/coffee. They might even be chatting to a friend about something other than what they found in a nappy earlier. They will barely glance towards their children who could be committing any number of soft play sins.
Let’s be honest. This is who I want to be. I can only assume that the promise of one day becoming this parent is what brings us back, time after time.