Soft play, two seemingly innocuous, innocent and unrelated words. For anyone without children they mean absolutely nothing. For anyone with children however, it’s very different. Just stroll up casually to a parent and whisper the words in their ear. Now stand back and watch their reaction. They might start crying, sweating profusely, shaking uncontrollably or even break down shouting, “No, I beg you, no more rainbow slides.” Sometimes, even more bizarrely they might jump for joy then sink to their knees whilst crying tears of happiness. Those people are rarer and I should know, I’m one of them.
Quite simply, soft play centres are the bane of many parents lives. For a select few they can actually be the saviour and best friend of a frazzled parent. It really depends what type of soft play visitor your child is. Type one is happy to go off on their own and play all day. This leaves you able to hide in a corner rocking back and forth, necking the bottle of wine you keep in your oversized handbag. At the same time you remember fondly the days and nights you used to spend drinking, dancing and generally having fun before having children. Maybe you’re one of the very few that still gets to do it now. Actually, I don’t think those people really exist, they’re just an urban myth spread to cause us misery.
Type two are the ones that insist you spend every single second with them. This means you leave any shred of dignity you have at the door as you attempt to navigate the too small tunnels, ladders and worst of all the sausage shaped roller. You do your best to gently slide over it but every time you end up legs akimbo, letting out an ethereal scream that traumatises your poor child. Eventually, after having struggled to breath for an hour and having lost the will to live you try and leave. I say try because you end up having to stand there like an idiot for ten minutes before the permanently distracted staff member finally activates the escape hatch / security gate. You then burst through, rush out the door, sink to your knees and breath in the fresh air of freedom. You’ll never take life for granted again. You may think this is hyperbole but I’ve seen it many times, these people exist I’m telling you.
I appreciate that there are some adults who are perfectly happy to go to soft play centres. Seemingly permanently relaxed, they sit down with their perfectly manicured fingernails and spend their time gently sipping camomile tea with their friends whilst chatting about their perfect lives and how having children is so easy. I have seen these people but I don’t think they’re human. Bear with me, I’ve thought about this. I believe they’re synthetics built by the government and put in place to keep us feeling miserable about our own lives. This means we spend more money on self help books, therapists, alcohol etc etc. It helps the economy and the country prospers. You might think it’s far fetched but where do you think the idea for the show “Humans” came from?
I’m very fortunate and rare in that I have always loved soft plays. I was gutted when I was told I was too big as a teenager and I thought that was the end of my soft play adventures. Fast forward to having the girls and a whole new world opened up for me. I was now a giant but allowed to go on with my children, happy days. I’m sure the reason I love them so much is because I’m just a big child and never grew up mentally. Every visit would be the same, I’d be playing there with either one or both of the girls and within 30 seconds another child would come up and ask if they could play too. Within a few minutes they’d be about ten of us playing hide and seek and generally charging around having fun.
Invariably, concerned looks would start to appear on the faces of the parents of my new friends. In a seemingly blind panic they would then command their children to come down immediately. Sometimes they would actually come in and prise their child away. You’d think their child had wondered into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo and was innocently stroking a huge silverback. I suppose I can’t really blame them, in today’s climate everyone’s a bit wary. Having a slightly scary face and looking like a silverback gorilla probably didn’t help.
Now sadly, with the girls too old for soft play themselves I’m an outcast once more. Maybe I can start a new business running an after school club in a soft play centre, now that’s a good idea.