If you ever have the idea that you might take your kids to a soft play centre during a school holiday, be alarmed by yourself. You’re clearly not thinking straight, seek help immediately.
In the mean time, here are some more attractive options:
Gauge your own eyes out with a blunt spoon.
Repeatedly hit yourself over the head with a singing Elsa doll.
Have rabid rats nibble your toenails off.
It was the first day of half term, it was raining, it was set to rain ALL FUDGING WEEK. As soon as the words ‘Do you fancy going to soft play this afternoon?’ left my mouth I knew I had made a terrible mistake. However, once the idea had been uttered, I had not a hope in hell of retracting the idea. No matter what other exciting options I then frantically blurted at them, the children ONLY wanted to go to the hell pit that is the local soft play centre.
There was nothing else for it. In order to muster some enthusiasm and to stop myself from weeping, I began to kid myself that it might not be so bad. Perhaps every other parent in the town would have had the sensible idea of NOT going there on a rainy day in half term and we would have the whole place to ourselves!? Yes, that’s right, and I will sit in peace and drink a hot cup of tea whilst the children scurry about happily, I thought, I’ll take my notebook, I thought, I might even get some writing done, I thought…
PAH HA HA HA! What an idiot.
Was it busy? Hmmm… The soft play car park and all of the surrounding streets within a half mile radius were crammed with the badly parked cars of desperate parents, who had built their little ones’ hopes up of an afternoon of climbing and sliding, in a primary coloured cage for half a day. They, like me, didn’t have the heart (or the resolve) to break the news that it was ‘too busy’ and turn the car right around, head home and stick the telly on. Which would have been the sensible idea.
We scuttle from the car to the centre in the pouring rain, adeptly dodging the dog shit and snails. When we arrive through the automatic doors we find ourselves wedged in a rammed foyer full of bedraggled and pissed off looking faces. A clip board is being passed around for parents to write their name on, to ensure that people are admitted in to the play area in the order that they have arrived. That way, no one gets punched in the face.
Someone mentions that the wait to get in could be as long as half an hour. Suddenly, everywhere I look, parents are bending down to plead with their kids, offering bribes, promises of future trips to bigger and better play centres, alternative activity ideas..including myself. ‘Shall we go swimming instead? What about the cinema? How about we go home and do some art and craft? We could stop and get some sweets on the way?’ Not one child relented.
25 minutes and 11 quid later we are ushered through the gate and pointed in the direction of the only free table.
The kids head for the equipment and I head for the food counter, I need a mug of tea pronto.
Back at the table I take my first sip of tea and realise that I have just spent £1.20 on a cup of something that tastes as though its been made with boiled swimming pool water.
The kids are back already, complaining that they don’t know what to play on. Apparently, the little area is too boring but the big area is too scary and “can we go to the cinema instead?”
Any parent will know the little ‘chat’ that followed. I won’t bore you with a breakdown. Needless to say, they were soon back in the cage, having realised that they did want to be there after all.
I take another sip of rank tea and wince before sitting back to absorb my surroundings.
I find myself frowning. It actually hurts.
There is virtually no natural light source. The fluorescent tubes are blaring out an artificial glare, exacerbating my eczema and making me squint. The machine that sucks plastic balls up a pipe makes a constant loud, low whirring sound behind me. Local radio is pumped in to the room at high volume but the peppy DJ who sounds like he speaks out of his nose, is merely a muffle behind the noise of all the people. Literally EVERYONE is shouting. I start fantasising about ear defenders (because that’s what has become of me). I scan the room and realise that the place is being run by teenagers, presumably because the grown up, term time staff refuse to work in these unbearable conditions. Or because they have cut their own ears off and are now on sick leave.. There are chips smushed in to the carpet under every table and dozens of children are running at full pelt around the seating area.
Grumble grumble grumble… (I know, I know, I’m not proud of myself)
Every 2 minutes a child screams out desperately “MUUUUUUUMMMMMYYYYY!” and each time my blood runs cold, I’m pretty certain it’s one of my children in terrible peril and my head swivels round like the girl from The Exorcist as I try and locate my children in the ‘enclosure’. I can’t and mild panic sets in before I spot the crying child and realise he or she is ‘not mine’ phew.
Eventually, the kids are back looking slightly pink and clammy.
‘Can we have some candy floss?’
‘Can we have a slush puppy?’
‘Can we have some sweets?’
Feel like the cruelest mum ever. My desire not to let my kids eat crap too often is tested to the max in these places where sugar is pushed around like crack. Sweaty kids are downing three bottles of fruit shoot and still need a drink. Ever eaten a packet of sweets and not had a raging thirst afterwards? No. It’s the same..
The pressure is too much, I finally relent and allow them to have a chuppa chup lolly. (One each of course, I’m not a monster).
They both have a 3 second suck on the lollies and then abandon them to go back in to the cage.
As I sit there enduring my torturous surroundings, I idly wonder what type of bug we will come away from this giant petri dish of bacteria with? A sick bug? tonsillitis? A rash of some sort? I make a mental note to pick up some Calpol on the way home.
After 11 quids worth of time has passed. I head over to the cage and wait until I catch sight of their sweaty little faces which intermittently whizz by in a blur. Each time, I feebly wave their shoes in their general direction and find I have become part of the cacophony of bellowing parents by calling their names at top volume.
This is pointless of course and is really just delaying the inevitable. I’m going to have to enter the enclosure.
I’m disappointed. I kid myself every time we go to soft play that I won’t actually need to engage in ‘soft play’ because my children, now 6 and 4, can navigate the equipment perfectly well without me following them around pretending ‘this is so much FUN’ whilst silently weeping inside.
There is, after all, nothing ‘soft’ about soft play. It is back breaking, knee crunching, boob squashing, bum bumping, ball pit wading, skin-burn sliding, rope-bridge-foot-torture and wobbly mirror ‘look at the state of me’ hell.
Having manoeuvred myself around the enclosure, (shaking off other peoples children who think I am in there to play with THEM) and located my own offspring, I shamelessly offer bribes as a technique for getting us all out of there without a fight. It works.
Shoes on, we finally exit the building. It’s still raining but we are closer to the end of day 1 of half term, the kids are worn out and happy and I feel justified that we can go home and watch some telly, relatively guilt free. But we won’t be going back to soft play in half term again, I can’t endure it twice in one week! So how will I get us through the next four rainy days?
In case you’re interested, here’s how I ended up at the end of the week: