An afternoon in soft play hell

7 Jan

It’s two days before the end of the winter holidays and bucketing down outside. Any inspiration for coming up with yet another edifying cultural activity to take the little ones to long gone, there’s nothing for it, an afternoon at soft play hell beckons.

Naively convincing myself that surely a lot of other schools must have already gone back, I blithely drive into the car park of a large, popular soft play located not far from us in North West London.

And then proceed to drive straight out of the positively rammed, full to beyond capacity car park immediately thereafter, my heart plummeting fast.

Out of the corner of my horrified eye, I see something that looks like a queue spilling out into the rain at the entrance to the soft play, but quickly convince myself that surely this must have been a mirage.

We park at the first available spot several hundred metres away in a nearby giant supermarket car park. We trudge back up, bumping the buggy over the potholes and    humps in the road, inching our way round large puddles, all the while as the skies pour down on us.

We arrive at the door to see there is indeed a very real, very tangible queue of harassed looking parents and their restless offspring spilling out into the rain.

Notice on the door to soft play hell:

dav

I look in my purse, I have approximately 37 pence made up of 1 p and 2 p coins in cash, alongside an armada of credit cards crying out to be used.

Cursing all manner of deities, I wearily trudge off again, this time down a dreary alleyway snaking round the backside of the giant supermarket with my three bedraggled small people in tow in search of a cash machine.

Cash duly acquired, we enter soft play.  We are welcomed with gaiety:

dav

Glaring at the beaming cherubs in this painted scene, I dutifully shuffle along in the mother of all queues until it’s finally our turn to cough up cash-only cash in order to voluntarily enter soft play hell.

And we’re off. Instantly we are swept up in an intense cacophony of noise, children’s screams, loud music, heat, bright flashing lights, lurid Christmas decorations abound. Sensory overload.

A densely populated, heaving mass of humanity has packed itself tightly into this primary-coloured vision of dystopia.

Children streaking by, children wailing, children squealing, children chasing each other, children sliding down, children climbing up, children tumbling, children laughing with delight, children crying with undelight. All breeds of children. Big ones, small ones, pocket-sized ones, wild ones, dreamy solitary ones.

Tables packed full of families chowing down burgers and chips, slurping on lurid-coloured ice slush drinks, crunching on packets of crisps, chewing on chocolate bars, as far as the eye can see.

dav

Mum in question (me) feels existential pangs. Is this what it’s all about? I wonder for the enth time. I spot another mum in the throes of her own existential moment, sitting alone at a table absorbed in pencil sketching on a piece of paper.

I try to stealthily ignore large signs plastering the place stating that outside food may not be brought in and feed my children vaguely healthy lunch fodder brought in from outside. Soft play manager (#dreamjob) catches us red-handed within three milliseconds of said forbidden food items appearing. Disallows continued consumption. Groan. We’re all hungry. Off we troop to food station and fork out for the necessary supplies of crisps and confectionary.

I put my one-year-old down next to the table to crawl around at my feet. Take my eye off her for one second as I sip my cappuccino, look down again and she’s gone. Panic stations. Will I ever find her in the mêlée? With intense relief I see she’s zoomed off as quickly as her four paws will carry her over to the ball pond and is trying unsuccessfully to dive in.

Phew. Save her. But then, with dread in my heart, I realise exactly how the rest of my afternoon is panning out: From then on I am entirely at her beck and call, and must obediently trail after her up and down and round and in and out the bouncy, slidey, baby-friendly side of the soft play apparatus. Feel a brief moment of hilarity-cum-despair when I am forced to get down into commando crawling pose to lower my non-baby-sized self under a particularly height-restricted bar overhead in order to keep up with fast-moving toddler ahead and prevent her from tumbling down a slide face-forward.

You gotta laugh, it seems.

At such points in one’s life, one must be grateful for small mercies:

Small mercy #1: My two larger offspring go off to the main soft play apparatus to climb, slide, chase each other to their hearts’ content and do not require my participation in any of these activities.

Small mercy #2: Management of soft play emit frequent reminders over loudspeaker that visitors to their den of pleasure must not overstay their two-hour visit, or else will be charged an extra fee.

Our two-hour visit mercifully draws to a close.

We reclaim our footwear and stumble out into the chilly grey gloom of an early January afternoon in London.

As we head off home, my five-year-old says, totally spontaneously (and before his tiger mother has a chance to roar any command):  Thank you very much Mummy, we had so much fun.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

 

 

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One Response to “An afternoon in soft play hell”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The swimming lesson | rebeccainspace - January 24, 2018

    […] one must self-effacingly go through for the good of one’s child/ren (see previous posts on soft play hell and survival guide for parents of children entering their first year at school as […]

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