Parenting is full of dilemmas. One of the biggest ones strikes on a rainy day. Do we stay indoors and risk the kids destroying the house and our sanity or take them to soft play.
Those words strike fear into the hearts of many. If you think soft play is no big deal, then you’ve never been during the school holidays when the horror is at its most extreme.
I believe soft play needs to come with a public health warning. Here are the reasons why:
1. It’s every man/woman/child for themselves
Upon entering the battleground, sorry, play area, chaos takes over and even the most well behaved child can turn into a minion of the antichrist.
This change in behaviour also occurs in adults. Grown men and women who are normally perfectly respectable outside of soft play revert to being children themselves.
They ramp up the excitement levels, inciting their kids to almost dangerous levels of mania. They also increase the noise levels, as if it’s some kind of parenting competition. The parent who shouts their kid’s name the loudest and most frequently must be the best.
There are rules, they’re printed on a big fat sign. And yet no one follows them.
As a result what can go wrong, will go wrong.
2. Injury is highly likely
As the excitement builds the chances of your child falling over, hitting their head, banging their knee, stubbing their toe and a whole manner of other injuries increases too.
Yes it’s soft play, but you can guarantee that one corner of exposed concrete that isn’t covered with a play mat is exactly where your kid will fall over.
3. The unsupervised kid
There’s always one parent who has hit their limit with their little darling and abandoned them inside the soft play area.
This mum or dad is now enjoying a coffee in the adjacent cafe, but they have turned their back to the soft play. Because if they can’t see it, it isn’t happening.
The trouble is little Jimmy is now running riot. He’s hurling the squidgy, but bulky, shapes meant to be used to build towers and forts all over the play area.
He then steps things up by piling these at the entrance to the slide and sitting on them, creating a blockade preventing anyone from using it.
When other parents ask little Jimmy if their child can use the slide, he simply offers a joyful smile and shakes his head, as if to say “my parents can’t make me do what they say, so you absolutely can’t either”. Little bastard.
While little Jimmy’s parent is relaxing, your stress levels are soaring to new heights.
4. The anxiety
Seasoned soft play visitors can be spotted easily. Their little one is throwing themselves off of the top level head first and they’re not even batting an eyelid.
The newbies are holding their toddler’s hand, even when they’re just floating in the ball pit.
Witnessing kids three times the size of your own racing towards them at full speed and watching another limbering up to practice their Wrestlemania moves does not make for a relaxing experience.
5. The participation
If you’re lucky your toddler will bounce off excitedly and entertain themselves for the entire time you’re there.
However most toddlers want you to join in, with everything. You can’t get away with sitting it out on the sidelines.
As a result you will have to contort yourself into all manner of awkward positions in order to squeeze into the little spaces where your toddler insists you must follow.
You will forget the ceiling height is at hobbit level and hit your head at least a dozen times. Dodgy backs, knees and other old injuries will flare up. The things we do for love!
6. The smell
Soft play has a singularly unique smell to it. If you’re lucky enough to be the first ones there then it’s mainly just bleach.
However once the place starts to fill up a bit this is combined with dirty nappies, mouldy sandwiches and feet.
It will permeate your clothes and if you’re already feeling a bit peaky, may send you over the edge and cause you to throw up a little in your mouth. Nice.
7. The flying foot
As children throw themselves into playing with wild abandon they lose the little sense of direction they had and revert from partial control of limbs to none at all.
This means that at some point someone will catch a foot to the face. Perhaps helmets should be made compulsory in soft play?
8. Your eardrums and sanity
Screaming, shouting, squealing, squeaking, raspberries, tantrums, crying. All of these noises mixed together will leave you with more than just a headache.
The deafening sounds of soft play not only make your eardrums hurt, but leave your brain crying out for silence.
Clarice Starling wanted the lambs to stop screaming. And so do we.
9. The germs
At one point my kids were coming down with a new cold every week. Then we skipped soft play for a couple of weeks. No bugs. Coincidence? I think not.
I’m all for germ exposure at an early age, that immune system needs to grow after all. But we don’t want blocked noses causing problems at 3am every single sodding day.
Colds, flu, veruccas, scarlet fever, chicken pox and hand, foot and mouth. These are just some of the bugs kids swap at soft play.
Between the dribbling, snot, mushed-up food and goodness knows what else kids drop in soft play, it’s impossible to avoid the germs. Unless you put your kid in a giant plastic bubble and roll them in.
10. Your internal clock is ruined
Five minutes feels like five hours at soft play. You look at your watch with the anticipation of relief that will surely follow when you see it’s time to go. But it’s not time to go. You have another 40 minutes of this hell still to go.
Once you finally emerge into the sunlight you blink with confusion. What day is it? What year?
On the positive side, you’ve entertained you kids for an hour. However it’s only 11am and you’re so knackered you’re wondering if you can get away with putting them to bed after lunch.
Are any of these soft play experiences familiar?
I would love to hear from you.