Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Heinous things that nobody's actually going to make you do #1: Soft Play

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.


  1. I think Eli has spent a total of 30 mins in a soft play area in almost 4 years. It's just not something we do except if there randomly happens to be one when we sit for a cuppa at the zoo and even then I view it as a) somewhere to exercise her immune system and b) a lesson in the unpleasantness of her peers and hopefully how to cope with them.

  2. My girls have been twice and I hated every moment of it....They of course loved it!! Horrible, horrible places x

  3. There is a small soft play near us (easy walk) located in a pub. Genius. You can have a drink while your kid plays :) It's also nice and quiet on weekdays. I can tolerate that one...

  4. We are heading to our second soft play adventure on Sunday, my daughter is 19 months and the only reason it's our second go is because she was invited to her older cousin's birthday party at one when she was 13 months old (and she mostly clung to me throughout but still managed to get kicked in the head on her only adventure into the play area) the visit at the weekend is another birthday party. That will do for us until the next party and she absolutely will not be having any parties of her own at one!

  5. I hated soft play, you've just had a baby and you're supposed to crawl around in there with your kid, showing your arse to everyone?! No thanks! But when we moved to France I suddenly started to complain that there weren't any and what could we do on a rainy day? The fastfood chains have soft play structures, but they're like child prisons. They just go up and up and are too small for most adults to go, so your kid thinks it's great climbing and climbing, then they get hit by the bully waiting at the top (yes the same rules apply in France) and scream for you, but you can't get to them. there are too many other kids hyped up on happy meals in the way and the holes are too small to push yourself through. They did give one thought to the parents and put some tables and chairs in there for you to eat your Big Mac, but 1. you feel even less classy eating it in there than in the main restaurant, and 2. it smells of socks.

  6. We actually have a nice soft play near us, set up by a local group of Mums with home made gorgeous cakes and proper coffee. And a decent lunch money. I've been there late enough in the day to watch them cleaning up and going round the whole of the soft play with handheld vacs and after being open for two years it's still in excellent condition. The ball pool is small and only in the under 3s section.. It's also really easy to see wherever your child is due to how light and open it is.. In general, I agree with you, but this one is pretty good. They even have a loyalty scheme whereby your 10th visit is free. I suspect it is so good because it is run by Mums!

  7. I hate it. Because when we go I have to practically put a sign on Seth. We had a tshirt made that says 'I have autism' because when you sign to a small child and they sign back, you feel like you're in a fish bowl, you can feel all eyes staring.
    Isla loves it, its a sensory nightmare for Seth

  8. I may be going against the grain here but I quite like soft play on a rainy term--time day. Not all of them - there's one at a pub that is dingy and grimy with toilets used by toddlers whose aim leaves something to be desired - but there's a couple that are quite good. One is at a garden centre and I can manage it relatively easily with a toddler and a baby; the other is quite a new place, big and airy and with no music or TV. My son once spent five hours there and didn't get bored.

  9. I agree that they aren't necessarily safe places to play, depending on the size of the soft play, you can't always get clear sight of your child & you never know if they are being trampled on by the "Sebastian's" of this world. I had a friend who's daughter bit the end of her tounge off in soft play because she fell down a large slide....cue lots of bleeding.
    Having said that, there are some good soft play places out there. I particularly like ones who only allow under 5s in. It makes for a more relaxing experience. I know under 5s fight, but 11 year olds going ape around a soft play scare me to death...
    Ones attached to pubs should be avoided at all costs. They stink.
    On the whole they are a festival of germs & you get ripped off for a cup of tea, but since having my daughter, it's one of the only places I get to meet other mums & sit down & talk about stuff whilst my daughter wears herself out!!

  10. Last time we went to soft play someone projectile vomited in the ball pool and dd stood in someone elses poo on the slope.