Our local soft play is called The Joy Jungle. They are absolutely right, it is a terrifying Jungle, full of biting creatures swinging between the foam rollers, but I take exception to Joy. There is absolutely no Joy for the parents at soft play.
You really need to mentally prepare yourself before a soft play session.
My overwhelming thought is heat and smell. You have basically paid a crazy amount of money to enter into a windowless and airless room and it isn’t for the faint hearted. It is shocking how damp sweat literally trickles off the walls in pools of condensation.
The floor is sticky with orange squash and ground in food (or wee or vomit… I don’t look too closely) which results in the smell of stale sweat, damp and chicken nuggets. Don’t get too close to the toilets or you may just pass out.
As you make your way to a plastic table with rickety chairs, the noise is crushing. It’s as if everything is on fast forward as children hurtle around the room at terrifying speed. Screaming, laughter, crying and yelling parents make a heady mix. You try to reassure yourself that within 5 minutes your senses will numb to the circus around you.
Before you know it, the shoes are being literally thrown across the room, coats dumped on the floor and there is a mad dash for the labyrinth of foam tunnels within the cage of hell. At this point I collapse into my chair with a drink masquerading as coffee and try to acclimatise to surroundings.
Ha! There is none. It is a free for all. A Hunger Games for the under 10s. Only the fittest survive and the weak will be picked off one by one.
Children climb up the slides, slide down the climbing walls and generally run wild. Rules are continuously broken and I am sure the only reason is it ‘soft’ play is so they break their fall when they are shoved out the way.
You are meant to supervise your children at all times but after years of following them around on all fours with my knickers showing, I resent even the slightest interaction.
I did my time! Larger children run riot in the baby section and ball pond is like target practice. No one is safe…
The logical move is to sneak in a pile of ham sandwiches, crisps and a few token cucumber sticks but this is not always possible. Back up is the rather dubious looking soft play ‘food’.
They have mastered the no-frills approach and dish up any combination of beige food you can think of. The kids are happy so why the hell not.
Due to the excessive amount of energy they are burning, the pleas for food come in thick and fast. Before you know it they have eaten a week’s worth of crap. The shame is stifling.
Try not to go alone. If you do, you will become preoccupied with where your children actually are in the cage and privy to the nightmare unfolding around you.
Meet another family, preferably with a mother you can gossip endlessly with. The trick is to block out the noise and forget where the hell you are.
Be prepared for an almighty, sweaty tantrum which results in you man-handling a small child out of a ball pond or having to climb up endless sets of foam steps to prise them off the sponge post they have wrapped themselves around.
Once downstairs, the usual dance of ‘hunt the shoes’ with ‘don’t let go of the children’ ensues. Pink cheeked with a screaming headache and mild nausea, you are realized into the outside world, and you will gasp for the fresh air like a fish starved of water. You are free and you have never felt so good.
My final note to you: Do not enter under any circumstances if a. it’s a school holiday b. you have a hangover c. you are of a nervous disposition. You have been warned!