I am not a huge fan of soft play centres, they are often a breeding ground for germs (which Luca always seems to pick up) but the same could be said for his nursery, and he loves them both equally, so who I am to ruin the boy’s fun??
However, it seems as though people have cottoned on to my irrational fear of soft play centres and decided that every child’s birthday, parents’ coffee morning and wherever all the fun seems to happen is now at these brightly-coloured, padded centres of chaos.
So after attending a party, pretty much every week, it seems that ‘soft play’ often translates to ‘hard and fast Hell on earth’ with the occasional glimpse of ‘cute, quiet toddler area’.
The Hell part being a load of sugar-filled, lippy, pre-teen lunatics throwing everything they can find into the toddler area, leaving the little ones terrified and crying. Some of whom are probably sat in a patch of their own vomit that hasn’t been noticed/cleaned up. That does happen, trust me!
Or, if you are lucky enough, you’re left babysitting two toddlers that are bawling their eyes out as their parents have gone AWOL/outside for a cig. Or worse still, you lose sight of your own child for a second and panic sets in. Are they hurt? Have they p*ssed themselves? That sort of thing, when actually they are probably stood right beside you.
But of course there is always the cute in everything involving toddlers. The cute being, your child and his/her best friend are playing nicely, holding hands down the slide and jumping into a little ball pit (that is monitored properly by staff members who are helpful). This then allows you to take that adorable pic of your child to post to Instagram (cue hashtag #toocute). Yes, I know, I use that a lot!
So how do I otherwise survive this hell that my son seems to find so magical and exciting? Here are my tips:
No 1. Tag team – ensure you have someone with you, (a partner, a mum you are friends with) to ensure you always ‘have a visual’.
No 2. Make sure your phone has plenty of data and a full battery. You may need to look busy and pretend to work or something, rather than making small talk if you’re having one of those days. That and if your kid is going mental or wants to cry as it’s time to leave, so a blast of Paw Patrol on your phone and instant calm.
No 3. Always have a small bribe to hand, you never know when you may need to lure your child out of the maze of Hell or calm them down when they have smashed their face into a slide/post/mat/another child.
No 4. Feed yourself before you go. Both you and your child will be too hyper to eat. You, because of the caffeine you’ll be downing whilst you’re trapped for 2 hours. Your child, because they will be tearing around like a crazed maniac, fuelled by Haribos and some other kids’ Ribena they’ve swiped from a nearby table.
No 5. Dress your child in bright/distinctive clothing, that way if they go into the ‘crazy alien maze’ you have half a chance of finding them!
No 6. Take a spare pair of your kids’ socks. They always seem to lose a sock or two in the ball pit. Sometimes, with all the excitement, they may also p*ss themselves… so yeah, take a spare set of clothes too.
No 7. Don’t wear heels. Totally frowned upon by other mums and useless when you have to chase a toddler across a room when they’ve spotted a packet of Quavers that they’ve claimed as their own.
No 8. ..and as an extension of number 6, wear nice socks yourself. There is always a chance you may have to go in for a rescue op.
No 9. Antibacterial hand gel is your best friend. For some reason, the soft play centres I have recently visited have toilets akin to a medieval dungeon, which don’t seem to have hot water.
No 10. Always take cash. Always. The majority of these places don’t accept cards. Any attempts at using your plastic as payment will have staff recoil in horror at your futuristic ways and cause a rip in the space-time continuum, bringing down the entire universe as we know it. Oh, unless you want to spend over £10. Which is fine.