I am largely at the end of the softplay era. My children are enormous, comparatively. I sit with my eyes down, my head tilted to the page, my soul reveling in the fact that I am reading whatever novel I am reading while all around me it’s all going on. And I don’t have to look.
I am too old to have actually gone to softplay as a person. In my day we just went outside, jumped about, climbed things and went home again. In the twenty years that elapsed thereafter, softplay became a thing. Some of my colleagues are young enough to have gone to softplay though. I am therefore contextually old.
Some things I love about softplay. I love ‘winning’ at softplay. It involves arriving at the crack of dawn, getting a bacon roll and a cup of tea and the place to yourselves, before the hordes arrive mid-morning and the whole place becomes a hellish sweat/snotfest.
I used to love the chicken burger and chips at Caperhouse Playbarn (no longer with us), even although their mayonnaise wasn’t Hellmans. The aforementioned bacon roll was enjoyed at Sportykids Southside. There was a good phase where one local softplay place diversified and had a roller disco and laser tag on a Saturday night. Then they went bust and shut. But at least I got good use of my life-begins-at-40 roller skates. I love, sort of, the parties you can have there, because you just have to hover nervously and deal with little crises, while someone deals with the actual party for you. There’s enough to deal with in the way of broken digits, wet pants, bumped heads, social disasters etc without having to run party games and slice cake to boot.
Which leads me on to the things I don’t like about softplay. The biggest irritation during my decade and a bit of regular softplay attendance was …. the big fat women that sit about in the ball pit with their child. Then they seem to think their microscopic child wants a) their company and b) to climb totally high. In an effort to assist their child, they try to reach around to their back, tug their pitifully inadequate t-shirt over the fully visible expanse of flesh above the back of their jeans as they roll themselves to height. They then ‘help’ the child up a bit of the play frame that is designed to stop microscopic children getting up to bits they can’t cope with. Then, the child gets too high, doesn’t cope and then needs rescued. Any volunteers?
Harsh? Fattist? Apologies. Just let the child play. When they get big enough, they will climb it themselves. Stop helping. Buy a bigger t-shirt. Get out of the ball pit and sit on a chair.
When I was enormously pregnant and therefore enormous (and I really was enormous) I just had to wait until any of my ‘stuck’ children came back down, or until a thoughtful friend (thanks Susan) went on a rescue mission. It wasn’t long though, before child#1 was big enough to do the rescuing. So that was good.
Sometimes it was tricky to know how to handle spats between children. Once at Almond Valley Heritage Park Softplay, a daughter came back telling tales on some evil child running a brutal totalitarian regime on the inside. Crying with fear, she described her assailant: “She’s got blonde bunches and a Peppa Pig T-shirt”. Terrifying. What to do?
As the years pass, the anxiety about losing them in the play frame gradually lessens. The children become more understanding of the fact that you are going to leave when the two hours is finally up. They get big enough to go and queue at the café. They don’t need taken to the toilet. If you practise for years, you can block out the sound of the aircon, the generalized squealing, the strains of Capital FM or whatever and sip well-made tea (thanks Lollipop Land) and… you could be anywhere… peace, perfect, perfect peace.