Any parent of a toddler will know that soft play isn’t all it is cracked up to be. In actual fact I liken the experience to labour and giving birth. A bit melodramatic you say? Well hear me out.
With its bright colours and padded floors, wipe clean surfaces and treats on display you would be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of parent/child heaven. A place where the kids can go off and play whilst the parents sit and chat whilst enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a slice of cake. Who cares if your little poppet has one small pack of chocolate buttons? They have all that space in the world to run off that sugar rush. Well this may well be the case when your child is older and close to the age/height limit instigated by these warehouses of hell, but when you have toddlers this is just a front, it lures you in and gives you false sense of security.
The Contractions of Guilt
It starts slowly, you aren’t too sure if this is what is happening or not but you can feel a few pangs…. Of guilt that you haven’t given the kids a good run around for a few days, perhaps soft play would be a good idea? Yep, lets go, we got this. We are prepared, we have our bags packed lets get in the car and go.
We are on our way. How exciting, first time, a little nervous and unsure what to expect but many women have done it before me. How hard can it be?
On a side note be careful not to run over the child that has somehow escaped their mother’s python-like grip and legged it across the car park.
As you walk through the door friendly smiley faces greet you. The gently spoken woman behind the desk asks you for your credentials and that of your child. You hand over a shiny note and she opens the gates into the rainbow kingdom.
It’s sounding a lot like going to hospital now isn’t it…?
Getting Settled In
As you find yourself a little corner in a room full of more adults than there are chairs you can feel the anxiety increasing. There is a lot of background noise, people rushing around and a sense of hustle and bustle fills the air. No one will look at you and you try not to make eye contact either. You know you are all in this together but you don’t want to see someone even more nervous than you as that will make you feel worse. As would seeing someone coping more than you! Why did you think you could do this?
The Main Show
Off you go, it has begun. Toddler runs off and you follow. You make are they are ok and can climb on the bits they want, you make sure they know not to go down the giant slide without you and they really seem to have listened. You got this! This is totally going to plan.
After a short while you are both in a rhythm, you may even have managed to sit at the side of the play area for a little while safe in the knowledge that they know where you are. As a few more minutes pass by you see an opportunity. You have smelt that coffee from the lady at the table behind you. You could do that. That could be you with a coffee. Informing your charge where you will be you head for the counter and place your order. Just as you hand over the money you hear the scream of pain emitting itself from your toddler’s lips. As you rush back to the aid of your charge you forget the coffee and the slice of cake you were eyeing up. If you have been to the establishment before and it isn’t your first time you will manage to run back whilst remembering your coffee and placing it on an appropriate table as you go. For all you first time mums don’t worry, it is a soft play emergency skill you learn.
Once the tears subside you and your toddler will feel a sense of achievement, you are invincible; this leads to the following thought process… Let’s go in the ‘big bit’. DO NOT GO IN THE BIG BIT. Nothing good is waiting for you in there!
Once in the ‘Big Bit’ (you damn fools! I warned you) the sudden realisation that you are not invincible, you haven’t got this, how the hell can you do this, who are these crazy, mental women that have done this before you? This is not what you expected, nobody told you! Like really, truly told you! A new found respect for your mother washes over you. You question how she did this when you were young. It is starting to really sound like labour now isn’t it?
Birthing in the Ball Pool
The ball pool will be safe, all kids love the ball pool with its rainbow colours, its safe confining sides. But as you wade through, dragging your toddler up from the depths before they suffocate under the weight of an older child, you have a sudden realisation that you are covered in bodily fluids. Is it even possible to have produced so much body fluid? Where has it all come from? Who has it come from? *At this point I can only hope that in actual labour the copious amount of body fluid is purely your own.
The Final Push
You gather up your belongings after what seems like a lifetime and you give one final burst of energy to the exit. You have bags and coats slung over you shoulders and a wriggling, screaming toddler hanging upside down from your arms. They don’t want to leave. They want to stay forever but for you the end is in sight. You can see that light at the end of the tunnel!
You’re done. You made it. You are in the car. An unexpected sigh of relief expels from your mouth. The adrenaline is wearing off now and you are starting to notice some aches and pains. Bruises and a high level of discomfort settles into your body and the amount of work you have just done really dawns on you. ‘Never again’ you vow to yourself.
Over time you forget the pain you felt. You forget the trauma and the effort. The pangs of guilt start again, you think you want to do it all again. It would do your toddler the world of good; they would love it. Then, before you know it, you find yourself back on ‘The Drive’.
The Experienced Mum
All of these stages being repeated slowly see you working your way into the ‘Experienced Mum Club’. This is a club reserved for the women who have spent the last 5 years going through this soft play labour process. They are the women with older children at school, who only need to ‘watch’ their toddler from a distance. They get to sit and drink the hot coffee you dream about and screams of pain never interrupt them because their toddler is used to being thrown about and pushed around by older siblings. These women will give a little smirk in your direction. This is meant to be a friendly smile of comfort. It was intended to be a reassuring smile that says ‘it gets easier’. Instead it is a smirk because it is impossible for them to hide their relief that they are over the shock of soft play, past the stage of being bruised. They are veterans.
I told you soft play was a lot like labour.
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