Tag Archives: motherhood

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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Survival guide for clueless mums of school-aged children

27 May

We are three quarters of the way through our family’s first “official” school year, and I am still getting my clueless head around the demands of the daily school run-playground-classroom-playground-school run grind.

In a spirit of  generosity, I will share some of my hard-earned wisdom for those embarking on this treacherous journey come September this year. In no particular order:

  1. Limited parking spaces near school turns parents into frenzied dog-eat-dog monsters. No solidarity, no polite giving way to other drivers, just pure go-for-the-kill ferocity. If you wish to survive, arrive half an hour early to bag a good spot, or expect to park at least half a kilometre away.
  2. Some other mums are simply never going to be friendly, some may even inexplicably blank you. I have been puzzling for some time over the lack of friendliness / plain coldness of some other mums and I can’t quite work out why nor what the point of it is. (In one nursery setting, where there were really not enough children and their respective parents to justify claims of ‘not knowing’ who other parents were, one mother regularly blanked me. In spite of  this, muggins-me still insisted on smiling and saying hi nearly every day as we passed each other going in and out of the nursery. She did eventually thaw but this period only lasted a few days, and then she was back to blanking me again. Go figure.)
  3. On the other hand, you may encounter other mums who over-share semi-intimate details of their lives within one minute of meeting you. This also leads to some awkward moments but is definitely preferable to the blanking scenario encountered in #2.
  4. Your child’s nursery / school teacher will at some point make you feel as if you should go stand in the naughty corner. If you are perennially disorganised like me, chances are your child’s teachers will give you that look or make a few pointed comments at some point or another during the school year due to you having committed one or another of the following parental crimes:  you’ve once again brought your child in late making them miss important class activities SUCH AS THE ANNUAL CLASS PHOTO / you’ve forgotten their swimming kit / you’ve forgotten to dress them in the right colour  or what not for a special activity etc etc (yes all real-life misdemeanours committed by this atrocious mum).
  5. Following on from #4, you realise that you don’t really change your wicked ways once you become a parent of school-aged children. Sadly, your failings as a human being persist even once you are a parent and ought to know better. I don’t quite know what I was expecting of myself, but after this many months of this school year have elapsed, I’m afraid I have come to the conclusion that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I was late and did my homework at the last minute / after the deadline when I went to school myself, and now I’m often bringing my own children late to school.
  6. Forget spontaneity, playdates have to be set up weeks in advance. Feeling as if it might be a good idea to get my children to interact with their school and nursery peers, I’ve been valiantly attempting to arrange playdates. Ignoring my inner murmurings of ‘why is it always you initiating these dates?’ (and yes, it transpires that there are more than one or two similarities between playdates and the romantic variety), I have been rebuffed on many an occasion by super-busy fellow London parents. To avoid feeling too desperate, I have established a policy of no more attempts at ‘chatting up’ a parent after two rebuffals. (Luckily, I’ve discovered a few other last-minute, more spontaneous parents out there with whom we’ve had quite successful playdates. Phew.)
  7. There you were happily listening to Radio 4 every morning, but then you commit the fatal error of buying your child/ren a CD to listen to in the car on the way to/home from school. Children love mindless repetition, I have discovered. They WILL want to listen to said CD ad infinitum / ad nauseum  / ad unbearablum. You will be obliged to accidentally-on-purpose lose / scratch said CD at some point to avoid the need to commit an act of mindless violence.
  8. It’s okay if neither you nor your child really enjoys their own birthday party.  Just like when I was a shy child and found my own birthday parties an ordeal, it’s acceptable to be secretly wishing your own child’s birthday party to be over – especially when they seem overwhelmed by all the attention themselves.
  9. You may feel secretly proud of your child when they tell you they were a ‘cheeky monkey’ with their friend at school that day and got into trouble with their teachers. You will of course have to tell off said child and instruct them to behave better henceforth, but inside, you may be secretly beaming with pride at their feisty character.

These are just a few randomly scribbled discoveries I have made. More to come, but in the meantime, bed beckons. Good night!

POSTSCRIPT: I should end off by saying there was a happy ending to the missing the class photo debacle. Given we are in the digital era, the photographer was able to take pictures of my son and one other child who was also late and Photoshop them into the class photo. Phew again.

Postscript 2: To clarify, I’ve got away with the lack of punctuality this year as we are still in the pre-school nursery year. Come September it’s reception, and I’m going to have to seriously pull up my socks and learn how to be on time. Or bad mum is going to be really in trouble.

Yuval Noah Harari provides brain fodder

19 May
As part of a campaign to encourage my baby brain to retain a modicum of sharpness, I am listening to an audio version of Yuval Noah Harari’s sweeping work Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
 
I do keep having to rewind and replay as my sloppy mind wanders and I miss key points, but that notwithstanding, I’m loving the way Harari casually debunks so many accepted truths about the world.
 
For someone brought up in the Orthodox Jewish community, where God created the world in seven days is an elemental truth, I’m finding it refreshing to be confronted with Harari’s absolute insistence on the fact that all religions are no more than delusional myths that homo sapiens have learnt to tell themselves about the world they inhabit.
 
Reading Sapiens makes me realise (shamefacedly) that as I’ve got older, I’ve become complacent – or should I say lazy – about my beliefs. When’s the last time I really analysed or even questioned my beliefs about existence?
 
This complacency is also bound up with becoming a mother. With little children, it’s just convenient (but perhaps also kind of necessary?) to be part of a system and a community (Modern Orthodox Jewish, in our case) that provides clear answers and purports to hold truths about the world.
 
Is it okay to give ambiguous or philosophical answers to my four-year-old son when he asks his adorable ‘metaphysical’ questions? Or is it not fair to confuse him at such a young age?
 
Isn’t it hard to be a mum when you are full of niggling doubts and an awareness that you don’t really know what the “truth” is when your child comes to you wanting clear answers?
 
In any event, thank you, Yuval Noah Harari, for dragging me out of my baby-brained fogginess back into the land of doubt and questioning.
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