Soft play. Brace yourself because nobody braced me for how special soft play is. You’re planning a day out with the little one and chatting to your mum friends where to go and you settle on the local soft play. Easy for everyone, accommodating and cheap… what more could you want?
You walk in (after entering a 16 digit combination code found of the bottom of your receipt that your child has already torn in half) and bam, sensory overload. The decibels just hit 1000 and the sound of screaming children welcomes you and instantly the reminder of what soft play is really like comes rushing back. The smell of stale sweaty children and nostalgia of your school canteen is all too familiar. Brush off your shoulders, it’s time to armour up. The soft play war is upon us.
After finding the least sticky table to place your belongings, adjust to the noise levels and accustom yourself to the smell, you head to the ball pit. As you sit in the ball pit, cooing and playing with your little one who is putting every single ball in their mouth - you wonder when these balls were last cleaned or what lurks at the bottom of the pit but not for too long because here comes that one child. Dripping in sweat, snot dripping from their nose, reaching out for your child declaring “YOUR BABY WANTS TO PLAY”. Firstly, you are far too old to be in the Under 3’s area and actually my little one is quite content with scoffing these germ-infested bits of plastic in his mouth. You watch the child wipe their nose with their sleeve and decide its time to ask the question every parent has asked at soft play “Where is your parent?” ...in my experience, as soon as you ask this, panic sets into the child and you end up carrying too-big-to-be-in-the-baby-ball-pit Bruce out over the squidgy shapes to find their parent. The first rule of soft play (You’d have never of thought it but yes, there are rules at these places) “Children must be supervised at all times” Well why is it that when you find the parent to the missing child, they've got their feet up reading Ok! Magazine with a hot coffee? You walk over with Bruce in tow and they give you a look of “You haven't mastered this soft-play malarkey yet, have you?” No Susan, I haven't but you enjoy your coffee! You smile and walk away, ready to repeat the cycle again. Wondering “When do I get to be like Susan?”.
The second rule of soft play? Socks. Preferably not white ones as not even Vanish can save those and fully expect them to get wet but you’ll have no idea what from. Squash, baby milk, sweat, vomit, wee? All of it? Probably, but this is your life now.
Tantrums, these are everywhere and it's hard to not look at these and wonder if your child will turn out like one of these. “Can I go on the vending machine?” “I want to go on the big slide” “I wanted a red fruit shoot, not an orange one” “I want sweets” - You’d think the soft play owners would make it easy for parents but where would be the fun (and money) in that? None of the toys in the baby area have charged batteries but the vending machines selling plastic tat works perfectly fine so you end up scattering £1 coins round like confetti and it’s E-numbers for everyone!
There are some positives to soft play (aside from leaving), it gives the kids a pre-nursery immune boost - I mean if they're going to pick up any germs, soft play is the place to do it, why go for one type of germ when you can go for 50 all at once? Then comes the best part, you’ve bribed them into the car and prized the sweets/carrot puffs out of their sticky little fingers, fire up the car and BINGO - they’re asleep. The snoring and dribbling kind of nap and after all of that, you could only wish that it was you.