Written by Daisy Leverington


Motherhood: The hard truth about soft play

Motherhood hasn’t come naturally to Daisy Leverington. Four years in and she remains wide-eyed, terrified and in awe of the little person she’s responsible for. This week she reports back from the ball pit.

at soft playOn paper it sounds idyllic. A couple of hours to have a brew, answer a few emails, chat to other parents while your little one burns off some energy in the ball pit. Red-faced and exhilarated, your little adventurer will return for a sporadic sweaty kiss from Mum, a slurp of juice and a quick hair ruffle, and you will be left once more to take in the ambient sounds of children’s laughter.

No. Nope. No way. Nah. I’ve fallen for the illusion too many times now. While the literature may advertise relaxation, what you get for your fiver might well be one of the most politically charged, passive aggressive few hours of your life.

Friendships will crack, there will be tears. Someone will leave wearing a neck brace. It’s like Thursday nights at ‘spoons.

At no point have I ever ‘relaxed’ while taking my daughter to a soft play area. The one local to us has a warning for parents (PARENTS!) that antisocial behaviour will not be accepted. I want to know what events led to the creation of that sign and whether CCTV footage is available.

There are characters who you will meet at every play area. ‘The Screamer’ is the child who, for reasons known best to itself, just squeals at the top of its lungs. All the time. Down the slide? Screaming. Sat eating lunch? Screaming.

Then there’s ‘The Refuser’, who will cause a 30-child backlog at the top of the slide until its dad arrives to shove it off the edge.

‘The Little Shitbag’ can be seen pushing the other kids around and policing whose turn it is on the go-karts.

‘The Renegade’ is a toddler hell-bent on playing in the over fours’ area, which means it inevitably gets injured or stuck somewhere, but refuses to stay in the baby pit.

“My dad once lost an hour pretending to be Miley Cyrus when he found a mini wrecking ball at our local centre.”

Likewise there’s always a five-year-old shoving babies out of the way in the under ones’ section.

Then there’s ‘The Pre-Teen’, the older sibling of a smaller kid who has no idea how huge they are and leaves a trail of fallen toddlers in their wake.

Worst of all there are ‘The Uninterested Childminders’, a gang of people who seemingly hate their jobs and ALL children, and sit looking at their phones while their diddy charges destroy the play area, because at least it’s not their lounge.

Soft play areas themselves are as varied as their feral inhabitants. We went to one recently which has equipment NASA would be proud of. Air flumes for ball-pit balls, a sports area in which some older boys enjoyed a game of ‘Concussion Ball’ and a bar I’d be happy to end up in on a date.

Others look like they’ve survived five seasons of The Walking Dead. Held together by gaffer tape and optimism, they sport what I call ‘Apocalypse Chic’. Totally fine, as long as your vaccinations are up to date.

static dandelion hairThere’s really only one deciding factor for me. I’ll trust you to look after my child if you trust me with the WiFi password. Easily available and free WiFi makes the three hours of watching a toddler yell, “Mummy look!” while they go down a slide slightly more tolerable.

All this said, as long as you can navigate the complex politics of parental table-ownership by the regulars, soft play can be survived, sometimes even enjoyed.

My child always has fun, even if she will not stop playing to rehydrate or eat or pee. She sweats out her own body weight and looks like a red-faced dandelion with all the static from the equipment, but she doesn’t care.

My dad once lost an hour pretending to be Miley Cyrus when he found a mini wrecking ball at our local centre. I once got stuck in a tube for the best part of 20 minutes while trying to follow my kid onto a slide. See, fun!

If you can bear the price of fish finger butties then go nuts and visit your local one. Just make sure you check there’s a lollipop machine or something similarly tempting on the way out, or you might never leave.

eating an ice-cream sundae@daisyjoy

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Written by Daisy Leverington

Daisy Leverington - Actor, mother, expert at winging it.