My recent experience at a soft play centre has persuaded me once and for all that they are not for me. Monday is my only full day with my two daughters, and on this particular Monday it was raining. Melangell is three and Morfudd four months old. We’d been up for a while and wanted to leave the house. We have not ventured far as a trio yet; the task of caring for two rather than one in a city still scares me a little, so at the moment I take small steps and stay local.
However, I thought that a soft play would be a good idea, an opportunity for Melangell to dispose of some energy. We set off to Coconuts near Barry. We had been there previously to a party and Melangell had enjoyed it. But as we turned up just before 10 am the place was closed. I was confused about the opening times (the website states two different times.) Well, as you can imagine, Melangell was in tears, as if something really terrible had happened. The thing is, when you have two little children, the effort to leave the house just to find that the place is closed does feel awful; it’s easy to lose perspective! “Doesn’t matter,” I said, “we’ll go to Mambo”; one of the largest Soft Play centres in Cardiff.
Almost an hour after we left the house, and after a miserable car journey, we arrived at Mambo, which is on a non-descript industrial estate on the outskirts of Cardiff. Melangell had moaned herself to sleep and Morfudd slept all the way (thankfully, because she can wail like a banshee). A chance for me to nap in the car before going in? Unfortunately, not; I was desperate for a wee. So I just sat there in the car park, catching up with a bit of texting, and trying not to think of water.
I fed Morfudd in the car, and then Melangell woke up. We went in to Mambo. There were three members of staff chatting away by the till. I stood there for almost a minute without them even acknowledging me. ‘Can I pay to go in?’ I asked. The girl took my payment without even looking at me, quite a skill. Being a new Mother is tough, and sometimes a really lonely experience, which can effect self-confidence, so being ignored in this way only added to the feeling of loneliness. I should have complained on the spot, but I didn’t; sometimes I’m just too polite and too Welsh.
Mambo is huge. There’s a section for under three’s and another for three to fifteen-year olds. We decided to go to the under three’s to start. Melangell was happy there for a while, but was attracted to the big kids section, and the screams of delight of the schoolchildren that were there on a trip added to the charm of the climbing frame / huge playground. “Can I go there Mami?” “Yes Cariad, but remember that I won’t be able to come in with you.”
I saw her going in and getting higher and higher, and further and further on the climbing frame, until the inevitable happened. She got stuck in a far corner, and because of the way the space is set out I could only just see her and she could not see me (there’s a small racing track in front of the huge structure). It is difficult to watch your child get more desperate and upset, but inevitably this is what happened.
After a while, two of the schoolchildren went to talk to her, but they could not move her because she had gone into a bit of a panic. I looked around; I couldn’t see any staff nor did I feel that I could trust anyone to hold Morfudd if I were to venture inside. I felt I had no choice so Morfudd and I had to go on a rescue mission.
With Morfudd in my arms and my heart in my throat, I climbed, jumped, squashed, and slid my way to the place where Melangell was stuck. Hand in hand, down we went, very slowly. On exiting the monstrous structure, we felt like we had completed a marathon, and a fantastic sense of relief.
We deserved a snack. A large coffee for me, and juice and crisps (a bad mother, but the truth is, I wanted to pick some of them too) for Melangell, and the boob for Morfudd. The three of us felt shaky after the adventure, but also energised. “I can do this, I can come to a ridiculous place like this on my own with two children.” Indeed, in the middle of all the excitement, I didn’t notice that I had somehow, whilst feeding Morfudd, managed to wrap my top around my neck. So not only did I draw plenty of attention to myself through staggering awkwardly with a little baby into the giant climbing frame, but I had also shown my bra and belly to everyone. I blushed.
The thing is, I don’t think that many people noticed. Other parents are so busy with their own personal battles, that they don’t care what other people do, as they themselves often experience epic adventures on a daily basis. We are all too busy trying to keep our children alive (and if possible, happy) to take enough notice of others.
After the adventure and snack, the three of us wanted to go home. I had only spent an hour in Mambo, but it felt like six. I cursed the place, between dramatic tears, all the way back to Grangetown. I’m not sure which of us was happiest to arrive home and watch some Cyw!
I’d like to finish my blog by asking two things:
Could we as Mums make more effort sometimes to look around us to see if another parent is struggling? Show a little more sisterhood? Can we say or do a little something that might help somebody else? My experience at Mambo would have felt much more pleasant had I had a smile or some recognition of my existence from another parent, and I would have felt a little less forlorn. Recognition from the staff would also have made me feel less lonesome.
Also, what is the overall opinion on soft play; am I the only one that finds them a tough going?
By Rhiannon Williams.