Ah, soft play areas, savers of sanity (most of the time). When you are accompanied by a tiny human who finds fantastic enjoyment from flinging themselves around in ball pits, on foam mats and generally tangled up in things, it makes sense to veer towards the large padded area on a rainy Friday morning. Unlike me, however, you should always stop off at a coffee shop first – for the insurance policy against the sanity loss soft play can bring before caffeination occurs.
We live close to a shopping centre which contains a soft play area with toy cars and other fun bits for kids to play with, free of charge, parental supervision and shoe-less feet are it’s only requirements. That, and no coffee in hand, a strict no food and drink policy is in place, much to my dismay on a rainy, cold, blustery morning where my toddler was, to be polite, “challenging”. I plonked him out of the buggy, threw off his shoes and let him run on in. Due to the weather, I was far from the only person with this idea for burning off surplus energy, meaning that the play area was quite full of little people with lots of emotion and very little volume control.
I should point out at this point that you can see not one, not two but three coffee places, all in your eye line, while standing by the play area watching your children run riot. They mock you for your lack of preparedness, your yawns, your puffed up under slept eyes. I’d have been tempted to grab child, head to cafe and come back with coffee and attempt to sneakily drink it, but the gaze of the security guard was constant and rules are rules (and apparently not made to be broken). Onward I yawned.
If you want to see true road rage, there’s no need to look at motorways, or horrible bottleneck roundabouts while Matt Cooper talks about the latest way the government is costing us money for stupid reasons. No, just stick six Cozy Coupe cars in a small play area with about fourteen kids aged 1-4. Frustration was evident from the drivers faces as other children stood out in front of their cars, fear on the faces of those being hauled out the door of the car by a bigger kid who wanted their go NOW.
Within his first five minutes, E was reversed into and managed to get into a Dodgem Car situation with another little boy – neither willing to give in, and him only able to reverse, never go forward. Alongside all of this, one little girl is having a meltdown because everyone is IN HER WAY and everyone clearly needs to know about it. In Outer Mongolia.
I can hear the milk frothing, the coffee machines at work, and want to cry. I check the time on my phone. And then look up to find my child gone. Vanished. Shit.
This play area would be great if it was fenced in, but as it is escape artists like my fella can do a runner quite quickly as there are lots of exit points and poor visibility. I turned around to see him running like something out of a Benny Hill sketch, laughing maniacally, acting Pied Piper of the shopping centre as a troupe of toddlers followed suit. Oh great, mine is the bad influence.
I haul him back into the play area. He thinks it’s the funniest thing ever, as does the security guard who is laughing away at it all. This happens a few times until a stroke of genius hits me – the ball pit – he’s not worked out how to get over the sides just yet. Instant Baby Jail. The promise of a five minute peace break is within reach.
Until a minute in, another child knocks down the wall. The floodgates are opened. Toddlers run riot, Braveheart style, heading down the corridor towards Marks and Spencers. It is too early in the morning for this level of running and hauling. I need a nap already.
We rebuild the ball pit. Himself is standing next to it, waiting to be put in, when out of left field a wild tornado in a skirt comes rushing through and ploughs into him, sending him flying to the (thankfully soft foam) ground. A roar. “Maaa-mee”. An attempt to convince him it’s grand, it’s an accident – until the same tornado starts hitting him, at which point it’s time to burn our bridges and decide we won’t become friends today. My mind starts plotting bribery to get him out of here, perhaps a scone, he likes scones. Well, he likes butter, he puts up with the scone underneath to gain all of the butter.
Back into the car. He seems to be playing nicely with one or two kids of similar age, so I take the opportunity to sit down on a couch facing them, eyes peeled for him doing a runner out the other side. I don’t recognise any of the other mothers there, I’ve not seen them at any mother and baby mornings I’ve attended, but I strike up a conversation with the woman in the chair next to mine.
“Which one is yours?” “Him in the red, yours?” “My two are over there” (gestures at one kid pushing another around in the car).
Normal conversations. How the play area should be fenced in, the weather, how great it is to have a resource like this. I comment about it being great for them to let off steam, letting out some of my frustrations of the morning.
My new friend asks if I have any more children. I say no, referencing the stressful morning, saying one is enough for me for the moment. She then proceeds to tell me how I won’t know myself until I have two, that when he’s a bit older it’ll be lovely. Sure I’d have to have another to keep him company. I say nothing. She goes on to tell me that theres 18 months between her two and she’s mad to go again with her now 19 month old sleeping the night.
Apparently the sleeping the night is key, once I’m rejoicing about that I’ll be mad to get knocked up again apparently.
I shake my head saying no, not right now. She asks if he’s good and sleeps through the night (to me, not exclusively the same question, but whatever), I respond saying not quite. He did, and now he doesn’t.
“Oh sure what, he’s only about 14 months, he’s only small”
“Oh. And really, he isn’t sleeping through the night? Oh thats not good. That’s really not good. Mine were asleep 7-8.30 by then. He should have a routine”.
The desire to up and walk away at this point was unreal but I couldn’t exactly abandon ship. I put up with a few more minutes of her telling me the tale of perfect parenting which goes on in her house. All the time, I was dreaming of the coffee I was earning after this. I mentally beg my child to pick a fight with another so I’d have to break it up and head home. No such joy, he’s never played as harmoniously in his life. Shite.
He eventually restarts his Pied Piper routine, escaping down the hallway towards the bank and I take my excuse to bolt. As I do so, another parent calls over to Mammy of the Year to tell her that her three year old is causing havoc with their child and was trying to bite them, looking thoroughly unimpressed.
I have to admit, I’m glad I saw that. It made the coffee I got to sip as the child made mush of the scone a few minutes later all the sweeter.
Lesson Learned : Never try to conquer soft play without conquering my coffee first.
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For a list of 7 things I will NEVER understand about Soft Play, head over here.