Something seems to come over you when you have a baby. You're suddenly dropped from a great height into a world that you previously knew nothing about. What do you do when faced with alien territory? Try to adapt and squash yourself into this odd world that seems so foreign. There's not really another way to approach it seeing as you're in it for the duration and there's no going back. What you don't have to do, though, is stop thinking for yourself. Here is my first installment in a series of pain in the arse, sickeningly twee or just plain hateful things that - believe it or not - you don't have to do when you're parenting a small child:
1. Soft Play
Here is Rory (18 months), smacking himself in the face at soft play: even he hates it.
JESUS. If there's ever a thing that's going to make you stop at having one child, it's soft play. Everything about it is odious. If the grime and the all-pervading stickiness of everything doesn't make you want to curl up and weep for your happy place, then the unbearable noise of 50 hyped up toddlers in close proximity, the miserable staff in grubby tabards, the eye-jarring colours and the smell of stale chip fat will. There is always a child called Sebastian running about maiming the other children. Sebastian's mum quite clearly doesn't want to take him home and deal with him on her own, so you get a running commentary of "Now stop that, Sebastian. Sebastian, if you hit that little girl one more time then you're going home. I mean it. One more time and we're leaving. Don't hit that boy. If you do that again then it's home time for you." (Translation "I AM FULL OF SHIT: CONTINUE TO HIT EVERYONE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE"). Something about being in a play barn seems to send kids feral, and they spend the entire time either sobbing or kicking seven shades of shit out of the other children (dependent on their hierarchy).
The argument for soft play is that it's a relatively safe environment for children to use to let off steam. We all know that children need to burn off a bit of energy sometimes. But even so, I'd really rather that Rory burnt off his excess energy outside, where his shrieking has a less concentrated effect on my eardrums and he can get some fresh air into his lungs. I also really dislike the fact that they are basically padded cells. Plus they're not as safe as we're led to believe. A friend's son had to go to A&E after a particularly nasty fall at soft play, which resulted in him being knocked out for a few seconds. He had the worst black eye I've ever seen for weeks afterwards. We're led to believe that they're secure, child friendly places where we can sit on our backsides and drink coffee while our children run riot. Some parents forget that they're still responsible for their child's safety and behaviour at soft play. And, before you start thinking that I'm being sanctimonious, that includes me: seven month old Rory was found climbing into a cupboard in the (supposedly secure) reception/kitchen area of our local play barn once when I took my eyes off him for all of 20 seconds. Obviously that was partly because he was an evil genius as a baby, but I have to take some responsibility for it.
Really though, the worst bit is the germs. When anyone tells me that they like going to soft play, my immediate response is to look at them with incredulity. What about the germs? Do they not know about all the bodily fluids in the ball pool? THE BODILY FLUIDS IN THE BALL POOL. How often do they think the stuff is washed? I'm thinking never. Congratulations: You have been fast-tracked to the front of the Norovirus queue.
Please come down from the bacteria infested padded block, sweetheart.
Around the time Rory hit 18 months old, I suddenly grew a pair and decided that we would not be going to soft play even when our friends were. He hated it, I hated it, we were just not going to do it. I felt more relaxed instantly. Since then, we tolerate it for the odd birthday party (and he has only recently actually started to enjoy it on these occasions, although this is mainly because he's so excited to be at a friend's birthday party at all, regardless of where it's held) and otherwise I take him maybe twice a year, generally at that point when it's rained for 4 weeks and we're desperate to leave the house. In the summer holidays. When there's less germs.
What do you think? Do you love soft play? If so, we can still be friends. Albeit friends who will never quite fully understand each other. I still like you though. For now, however, I'm off for a good wash; even writing about it makes me feel grubby.
Stay tuned for installment number 2: Dressing your child in stuff with bears on it.