I love it because, in my head, I get to sit and have a coffee whilst the baby sits on the floor banging a rattle contentedly for half an hour and the toddler amuses himself on the slides and in the ball pool.
I hate it because THIS NEVER HAPPENS.
What happens is I remove my shoes immediately upon entering the establishment because I know it is only a matter of time (usually approximately one whole minute) until I am instructed to join the toddler in the soft play area. This would not be so bad if they didn't have those horizontal rollers which are probably most enjoyable to roll through when you are five. But when you are over thirty and still carrying some baby weight (I hate you jeggings, for lulling me into a false sense of security), they are uncomfortable at best (i.e you make it through them) and embarrassing at worst (i.e you get stuck).
There are so many things I dislike about soft play. I keep going because I am ever hopeful that each visit will be the one where I can sit blissfully with my book whilst the toddler runs off through the rollers and over the foam wedges for an hour or two (I actually once saw a woman reading a book at soft play. I aspire to that. And also, lucky cow). But until that day comes I will just have to put up with it (if it ever comes - my kids seem to love burying me in the ball pit - it was fun the first time but it's one of those many parenthood mistakes I've made - NEVER do anything you are not willing to repeat a million times. Because kids love repetition - especially when the situation puts you in false peril and makes them laugh. And when an eight year old dive bombs on you because you are so well hidden).
However, on a visit to soft play this week, I realised that, with a few tweaks, it could be drastically improved:
1. Alcohol. Soft play areas should serve wine. The soft play would not change but my level of 'giving a rat's ass' about kids climbing up the slide would. Which leads me nicely to.......
2. The Slides. My eldest is so pre-occupied by the slides that, if there wasn't one, I wouldn't waste part of the mortgage on a visit to soft play. However, whenever we are going to a soft play area, he constantly asks: "will there be a slide there?" and it takes all my self control to not reply "yes darling but there will also be at least one little sod CLIMBING UP it whilst his mum drowns in cappuccino three yards away completely oblivious to the fact that her precious child is committing one of the ultimate soft play no-nos." Soft play slides always have a sign saying 'don't climb up the slide'. These are clearly ineffective as EVERY TIME I go to soft play there are numerous perpetrators of this rule. Someone needs to invent some sort of slide similar to those weird walkways in airports where you can go through but not back. Once you reach the end, you are unable to return back the way you came. This, for me, would make soft play a thousand times better. If not a bit 'Big Brother'.
3. The Staff. Soft play is full of parents desperate for a break. I am lucky in that my husband works from home so I often have a wing man when going to soft play which helpfully means we can take turns 'enjoying' the indoor obstacle course maze prison that is a soft play area. However, I have been to soft play on my own with two children. I love my husband to the ends of the Earth, but if the guy on the door looked like Jon Snow (from Game of Thrones, not Channel 4 News), it would make my visit a little more enjoyable. Similarly, I'm sure if the girl serving coffee resembled Kirsty Gallacher, my husband would be high on caffeine by the time we left.
4. Removing other people's children. I don't mean children who are playing nicely or children of friends who I might frequent a soft play area with. I mean the children lobbing plastic balls at my three year old as he enters the playground. I do not pay good money for my child to run a gauntlet just to haul himself up some huge foam steps. I am also referring to the child who must have been at least four in the baby area the other day who was, and there is no better word than this, terrorising the babies in the ball pit. As a teacher, a parent and a human, I am not good with children who do not demonstrate kindness, care and compassion for others. I am not ashamed to admit that I tell them off. I would just complain to their parents but they're often nowhere to be seen, probably drowning in cappuccinos at a nearby table.
5. Make it cheaper. We have a few soft play areas near us, of varying qualities. One is great and really good value. One is good value but quite a drive and you're only allowed an hour so we spend more time in the car there and back than we do actually at the soft play. And there is a very good one which costs an arm and a leg. Plus we have to buy ourselves coffee and crisps to make the whole experience more bearable.