Now I am aware that I may, just possibly, have engaged in a teeny bit of ranting about soft-play centres before.
In my defence, there is a good deal about which to rant.
In a previous post, I proposed a set of rules which would make everyone’s lives a lot less fraught, and lead to considerably less gritting of teeth and muttering of “No, no, that’s fine”, delivered in a voice that is clearly actually intended to convey “In a minute I will hit you over the head with a baby walker and bury your body in the ball-pool”.
Clearly these rules have failed to catch on.
I have therefore had a re-think, following another delightful, relaxing session at our local play-gym, and I have a solution.
I think the problem is that people don’t like rules. Not the hard-and-fast, byelaw-type rules. We are talking about a British play-gym here, populated mainly by British people. And British people are famous for things like their fondness for queueing and their adherence to things like sportsmanship and fair-play.
Or something like that.
I am therefore proposing a slightly more flexible system. Less byelaw, more Queensbury rules. If everyone applies some basic principles of fairness and common sense, the world of soft-play would be a happier, less teeth-gritty place. I have accordingly set out a few suggestions below:
1) If your child hasn’t figure out queuing yet, he probably isn’t going to miraculously figure it out in the middle of Sunday morning play-gym. He is almost certainly not going to leap out of the ball-pool with a cry of “Eureka! I have invented a new and exciting concept involving standing in a line and waiting my turn.” It might, just perhaps, be a good idea for you to involve yourself in his queuing endeavours, rather than standing ten feet away, shrugging and grinning sheepishly as he pushes other children out of the way, yelling “Nooooooo! Myyyyyy turn!”
2) If you decide that queuing really isn’t something you feel your offspring should be subjected to, you probably need to embrace the idea that other parents might feel differently. Standing nearby, pouting and huffing really isn’t going to convince the parents of patiently waiting toddlers to lift your child, rather than their own, up onto the rings. And trust me, when another parent says “oh I think you’d better wait for your daddy”, what they actually mean is “Oy! You over there! We can all see you dithering wetly behind the slide and we’re not taking over your parental duties for you so you can slink off and read the paper in the corner.”
3) And if you do choose to allow your child to launch himself at the jumping-off point for the rope swing in an effort to get in front of the queue, you probably need to bear in mind that the child who is mid-swing will not be able to alter the laws of physics in order to accommodate the unexpected presence of another child in their already-established swing-trajectory. They will collide with your precious offspring. He will cry. This is entirely your fault. Not your child’s fault. Not the other child’s fault. Not the fault of the parent of the other child, or the parent of the child at the front of the queue. It does not matter how many baleful glances you shoot at everyone around you – this will not change the fact that it is your fault. And let’s be honest. You know that perfectly well. You are just choosing to ignore the unpalatable truth because it makes you feel better.
4) Other undesirable attempts at self-justifying blame-shifting include, but are not limited to:
Glaring and tutting when your child runs headlong into an entirely stationary adult and falls over.
Huffing and muttering when your entirely unsupervised baby crawls onto a trampoline that is already occupied by a happily bouncing toddler, and begins to wail to be rescued from this strange, unstable place.
Shooting the nearest, although entirely blameless adult, a venomous glare when your wobbly, just-walking child falls over in their general vicinity.
None of these things are convincing anyone but you. All that they are doing is ensuring that everyone else marks you up as Parent Who Must Be Avoided, and that no-one will lift your child onto the rings or slide lest they should be subjected to legal action if it all ends in tears.
5) The ball pool that has been set-up as the landing-point of a ring-swing at the end of a mini assault-course is probably not the best place to hold an NCT group post-natal meetup. Two week-old babies probably don’t need to be in a ball-pool. They certainly don’t need to be en masse in a ball-pool which is entered from above at 30 second intervals by airborne pre-schoolers.
6) If you really can’t think of anywhere your two week-olds should be, and choose to set up camp in said ball-pool, causing ring-swingers to perform elaborate contortions to avoid kicking you in the back of the head, it is Not Good Form to flinch and duck pointedly when the other fifty small play-gym users dare to attempt even a restricted, cautious swing. And it is Really Not On to physically shove them away mid-swing. This is likely to cause their parents to shed the already-stretched-to-the-limit veneer of civilised behaviour and belabour you about the head with foam blocks and small ride-on toys.
7) If your older child is following a crawling baby around the gym, taking away everything he tries to play with, the tight-lipped smile that the baby’s mother is bestowing on you is not intended to convey benign tolerance so much as “Get. Your. Child. Off. My. Baby.”
I am optimistic about the implementation of this new system. After all, everyone really wants to get along.