We went to one of those indoor soft play areas last weekend – you know the ones, lots of bright coloured balls flying through the air and kids screeching at the tops of their voices – aka The Headache Inducers.
The saving grace of those places for me is the fact that some of them actually do a really good cup of coffee, plus you get to read a trashy magazine for five minutes, safe in the knowledge that your child is surrounded by cushioned walls and cannot – you hope – do themselves an injury.
Sometime you even get some real life entertainment with a fight breaking out between angry parents over the behaviour of each other’s children.
Just such a thing happened last weekend when two equally red-faced mothers started screeching at each other enough to drown out the kids and silence tables full of coffee swigging adults – all doing the over-the-shoulder-but-pretending-not to-look trick.
The problem is that in these places you can’t possibly see what your child is doing at all times. Sometimes it’s hard enough to find them when it’s time to leave, and not just because they’ve buried themselves in the ball pit in the hope you won’t.
You keep your eye on them the best you can and pop in yourself every now and again for a sneaky go on the slide, but mostly you have to trust that they are behaving themselves – although that, it seems, is a big ask of children left to their own devices. Inevitably something happens and one child or another ends up crying.
I’ve been on both ends of this sort of situation. I was once ranted at by a mother because my son, who was four at the time, was being chased by another older boy and had accidentally knocked her child over during the stampede. At the same time that she came over to start yelling at me, my son arrived in tears.
Much to her disgust, while I was trying to calm my own son down I was unable to give her my full attention (one screaming person at a time, please!) and she stomped off even more angry than when she arrived.
Granted, my son shouldn’t have knocked hers over, albeit by accident. He is extremely clumsy at the best of times, something he gets from me unfortunately. When he was fully composed I took him over to apologise. This woman however was clearly not the forgiving type, and when we left she still had steam coming out of her ears as well as her coffee cup.
Of course, I didn’t have a problem with the fact that she came over to speak to me about the incident. I would do exactly the same.
What I did have a problem with was her speaking to me like I was a child and in a way that suggested her own son was incapable of ever doing anything wrong or causing an accident. There is such a thing as soft play politics. I wouldn’t speak to another parent like that, I know exactly what children are capable of, I was one myself once!
Wouldn’t it be good if the only screaming in those places was from the kids having fun? Because how can we teach them to speak to each other nicely if we can’t even do it ourselves.