Why do I subject myself to this torture? As I attempt to get myself and my two children ready I wonder who thought soft play centres were a good idea; it wasn’t a parent, that’s for sure. Perhaps play centres were invented as a form of psychological torture for adults. It lures you in with the promise of entertaining your child for an hour, throwing in the added bonus of being able to grab some time to yourself while you brink a machine made, posh coffee.
I had to exercise my finest parenting skills while trying to get everything I needed to be done before I left for ‘Playtime Xtreme’. I had no idea that the Xtreme of the play centre’s name was the extreme headache I would get after just spending five minutes in the place. Whoever comes up with these play centre names must have a dark sense of humour. On the surface, they appear innocent and children friendly but when you look closer you realise a message underlies. Take the example of ‘Mischief Makers’, sounds innocent but what parent wants their child getting into mischief? I don’t want to encourage anti-social behaviour in my six-year-old.
If play centre’s had names that reflected their true self, nobody would take their child there. I could imagine suggesting to one of my mum friends ‘ let’s take the children to the violent cesspool of miniature insanity’ would not go down well. However, with a name like Playtime Xtreme, what could possibly go wrong? The butchering of the English Language, with the word Xtreme, using a my gears to breaking point., How are children expected to spell properly when all the places they visit think it would be fashionable to miss out the E?
‘Mummy, Clara won’t get her shoes on!’ cried my son Ewan in a voice that signalled he conspired to get her into trouble.
‘No shoes, me want unicorn wellies!’ screamed my two-year-old daughter as she sat on the bottom of our staircase with her arms folded. Clara’s arms folding trick was a signal to us all that she wasn’t backing down from the argument and that a full-blown tantrum was on the way.
‘You can’t go the play centre if you don’t wear your shoes’ pipes up my son before I even get time to intervene. Again, his voice indicates that he will stick his tongue out any minute; its the voice of a bragging ‘know it all’ or in his case thinks he does.
‘Clara, sweetie, put your boots on like a good girl and we can go out in the car’ A trip in the car meant freedom for my two-year-old and usually worked in crisis negotiations.
‘No, I want wellies!’ she screamed as I attempted to place the Chelsea boot on her foot. She threw her head back and kicked her feet away from the shoes, hitting me in the chin in the process.
Can I go back to bed, please?
‘I’m soooooo tiirrrreeeddd’ she wails at me; it’s half nine in the morning and she had a full twelve hours sleep. The tired card is played several times a day by her when she does not get her own way; what it means is ‘I’m annoyed at you mother but I don’t have the vocabulary to express it yet.’
‘We are going to be late’ I say through gritted teeth.
‘Just let her wear them’ pipes up my husband from the comfort of his computer desk.
I cannot let my daughter wear wellies to a play centre, its Spring for pities sake. If I roll up with her looking like that, what would the other mums think? I will get them judging stares as if I cannot afford to put my children in ‘proper’ shoes. There is always a parent at the play centre who will look down their nose at you. As she sits there, dressed immaculately with her expensive phone in an elaborate jewelled phone chase and designer handbag at her side you parade in looking like an extra from a zombie apocalypse movie.
The time ticks on, we will to be late. Fear descends as I realise I have to negotiate driving through the town and thenparking; I have no choice but to lose this battle.
“Right, unicorn wellies it is” my daughter snapped out of the tantrum as quick as she got herself into it.
“If she wears her wellies, I want to wear the Christmas hat.” My son chimes in as if he has been disadvantaged by my decision.
“But it’s not Christmas Ewan, it’s Spring”
“I don’t care, I want to wear my favourite hat” He grabs the oversized Christmas pudding hat and places it on his head. Why does my son insist on wearing Christmas clothes when it is not Christmas? Does he do it because he knows it makes me feel uncomfortable? Christmas clothes are for November onwards; not for an unseasonably hot day in April.
When it comes to clothes, I have certain rules that must be followed or it will bring shame upon the person; no nightwear outside of the house, seasonal clothes to be worn in the correct season and no clashing colours. My children break these rules on a regular basis, it burrows into my soul and festers like a parasite of shame.
‘For goodness sake, wear the hat then’ I just wanted to get out of the house at this point.
“Have a great time at the play centre.” My husband says to the children as he gives them hugs and kisses. He looks to me and gives me a sly smile; I know he is relishing this moment. “Have fun too, love you.” He is well aware that the next few hours will be a cross between a Zoo and The Hunger Games; why did I agree to this?
“Thanks for taking them darling,” my husband says gratefully as my children clamber to open the door and run to the car. Putting the children into the car is a task for epic proportion; I hate my daughter’s car seat on account I have tocontinually loosen and tighten the safety belts in order to get her in and out. She makes the situation worse by squirming.
“Put the radio on mum” shouts my son
“Let me get sat down first” I bellow as I adjust the driver’s seat. Due to my husband being a giant and using the car a few hours before, I have to move the seat forward. I hate driving, I hate traffic and most of all I hate having to park the car. I once had an argument with a trolley bay when parking; I lost and the scratches down the side are a constant reminder of how bad my parking skills are.
As I approach the car park of Playtime Xtreme; my chest tightens. What if there are no spaces and I have to turn around? I will struggle to get back out. I slow the car down to a snail’s pace and observe the tiny car park. Thank heavens, it is not busy, I can take my time and reverse in without much hassle.
As we open the entrance to the play centre, the noise hits me first,, second is the smell of sweaty children. As I queue behind a Dad and his children my two decide to play tag in the reception area, circling around me like clowns who have had too much caffeine.
“How old are your two kids?” asked the woman on the reception desk. My mind goes blank, this always happens, why do I keep forgetting how old my children are? Come on mummy, get it together I think as I get my card out of my purse to pay.
“Six and Two.” At least I got something right today. She buzzes me in and I proceed to hunt for a table; I need to sit down and grab a coffee before the inevitable headache kicks in. My children have not even made it to the table with their shoes and coats; they are flung across the path from the entrance as they run towards the madness eagerly.
After rescuing my kid’s items I pick up my latte, diet coke and the children’s fruit shoots from the counter and sit at a table for two, the other chair seating the kid’s coats, shoes and infernal Christmas hat. I look up at the children in their soft play cage and cannot help but think it resembles a zoo more than anything. It is like Mr Tumble on steroids with WWE threw in; kids are squealing, jumping on each other, wrestling and running around like it was the end of the world. Who thought this was a good idea?
I look at the other parents around the room; they look at ease in this environment. The two Dad’s next to me chat about buying houses and various financial schemes that could make them money while they ignore the carnage theirchildren create. A group of mum’s sit at one big table gossiping and debating loudly while having their phones in hand and checking social media at the same time. Another group of mums serve their children sandwiches and fruit, looking perfect in denim jeans, jumper and sporting a perfect ‘mum bun’.
Lost in the vision of the ‘popular mums’ I hear my daughter scream from the top of the slide. “Mummy, watch me”. Her curly hair now resembles that of a scarecrow as she throws herself down the slide in pure delight. Her laughter warms my heart as she proceeds to go up and down the slide a further eight times.
This is why I subject myself to the torture of the play centre; because it makes my children happy. One day in the future, I will suggest going to a play centre and they will snarl “we are not babies” in a tone that reeks of pre-teenage angst. I will look back at this moment when I am older and remember the joy that my children had.
But can’t they just do something about the deafening noise?. I can only describe it as a cross between a drill and a tumble dryer at full volume. Is it wrong for me to want them in a soundproof room where parents can watch them on video screens, drinking the finest lattes while eating cake? Of course, they would have a tannoy that parents could nag their child over, like the voice of reason.
“Derek, don’t hit your sister in the face”
“Bob, stop trying balls at people, it’s not acceptable”
“Judy, only donkeys kick, are you a donkey?”
“Horatio, it is time for your couscous and celery”
My perfect version of a play centre sounds like it would be filled with old, middle-class men like Derek talking about house prices and investment schemes. I dread to think what names the children in front of me have without sounding like the ‘judgy mum’; best not think about it.
“Mummy!” Clara screams at the top of the giant structure. I look over and signal for her to climb down. Tears stream down her red, puffy face as she refuses to move from her spot. Great, I think, this means I have to do the ‘climb of shame’. The climb of shame is where a parent has to go inside the soft play area and squeeze themselves through the holes designed for children while they attempt to rescue their beloved offspring from the horrors of the violent cesspool of miniature insanity.
Awkwardly squeezing my chubby frame through the minute holes as I try to reach my daughter, I vow to get my husband to take them next time. Mummy is too old and grumpy for Playtime Xtreme. As I take her back to the table and console her, my son runs over to us.
“Mum, there was a boy throwing balls at people,” He said gravely
“Really?” I ask inquisitively
“That’s why Clara was crying; he hit her in the face with a ball” he informs me.
Well, I thought, at least Playtime Xtreme lives up to its name as I bundle my children under my protective wing and whisk them to the safety of home.