Soft play – nothing soft or playful here

Other things I’ve learned today.

Whoever coined the expression soft play was wrong – so far wide of the mark they must have been having a laugh.

But I’m glad someone was, because I certainly wasn’t. Today, out of idleness and a really petty attempt to get my own back at Boy Three (So you’re not sleepy then, I’ll take you somewhere that’ll make you tired) our local soft play centre seemed like the ideal place to go for lunch.

Over the years we’ve been a few times, even hosting at least one of the boys’ birthday parties there.

As soon as we’ve paid up and been allowed through the security gate, the noise hits and I’m reminded that I have – on several occasions – vowed never, ever to return. The combination of shrieking that almost, but not quite, drowns out badly amplified music must cause brain damage, the main symptom of which is amnesia.

Primarily you forget why you think this is a reasonable thing to do with a Sunday lunchtime and a tenner.

Clearly, though, for some customers the affects are more far-reaching. One poor chap had to have his daughters’ name tattooed on his neck. A desperate solution to soft-play-induced memory loss.

The sight of tense and grim-faced parents and puce, sweating birthday boys and girls reminded me of another soft-play moment – possibly one of my most horrific.

Boy Two, I believe, had decided that the soft play warehouse would be the venue for his fifth birthday. Invites issued and accepted, guests arrived, names checked off and sticky labels affixed. In recognition of the fact that once the brain damage starts, its hard to distinguish over-excited five year olds you’ve only just met. Clever me, I thought.

Not one but two labels each, in case one drops off or won’t be removed from the baby-blue knitted tank top that will, almost certainly, be discarded within moments.

So far so good. Then it’s time for the meal – that’s the plastic plates of chips and breadcrumb-covered crunchy things all exactly the same colour as the fake tanned skin of the staff. Really, just slightly over-cooked turkey dinosaur is identical to full-octane Fake Bake.

No one else seemed bothered, but I did a headcount and came up one short. I did it again. And again. One missing.

None of the other kids seemed to know or care… nor the staff. They had ketchup to devour and purple juice to guzzle. I dashed out of the, ha, party room to find the missing kid. Eventually I spotted a little girl right at the top – the soft play apparatus is on about six levels to the roof of the blast-heated shed. One of the staff cambered up to fetch her. The dreamy little girl was fine, hadn’t noticed the others had gone, but I felt dreadful. She got double helpings of cake.

Looking back, I didn’t really like the birthday parties I went to: jelly, icecream, pass the parcel, musical statues/bumps/chairs, blowing out the candles and “thank you very much for having me”. I don’t think I knew at the time they were supposed to be fun, just something you did.

I wonder, though, how our kids will remember the high-volume screechfests in soft play centres.

Is it good for them to go off into the colourful, padded slidescape where adults are too far away to manipulate their interactions even if they could make themselves heard?
Does having all of their senses stimulated seemingly beyond comfort wear them out in a wholesome way or set the scene for more sinister sensation seeking?

Here’s a better idea: reduce the music, install a licenced bar and turn the soft play over to the adults and let the kids endure musical bumps and jelly. After all it didn’t do us any harm…

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  1. Anonymous says

    You don't reveal how Boy 3 reacted to this particular ordeal!! And if I have to take a grandchild there again, I shall definitely be armed with the recently discovered wonders of ear-plugs!! Mxx

  2. says

    I remember a party at these places, and I dreaded it! It was so expensive and cheap naff food, not to mention cheap naff entertainment. Bloody disgrace to be honest! Bah Humbug!

    Amy had a major meltdown the last time we went to one, she was about 5 so it was 5 years ago. I vowed there and then never again. And I meant it.

    CJ xx

  3. says

    Mum, Boy 3, of course, loved it.

    Glowstars, that's a good idea.

    Heather, who knows why he picked the neck. It was quite big writing so I don't know what happens if he has more kids.

    CJ, occasionally there are little silver linings to having an autistic kid. Boy One refused to go to birthday parties until about two years ago!

    Panther, you take them next time then.

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