Let’s face it: whoever said “Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground” had never visited an indoor play-centre.
Before I even step foot in one, I’ve already planned my exit strategy: those places are traps, I tells ya. They won’t let you bring in your own food, charge you a small fortune for a plate of fat that’s been deep-fried in even more fat, throw in some $2 rides and games for good measure (I mean WTF? I just paid $8.60 per child to enter) and the coffee is invariably like dirty sock water with steamed milk. And then there’s the overall effect those places have on my children: it’s like injecting pure E102 into their veins. So to get three kids out of there without having to call in the riot squad, you need to have yourself a Plan. Or just not go at all, which had pretty much been my key strategy up until last week.
So yes, last week, the onset of summer holiday cabin fever forced me to agree to meet my friend and her two children at our local Fun Palace. And because I was sporting an extra child for the day, my friend and I found ourselves trying to have a long overdue catch-up chat whilst we had a total of six children in our care. Within minutes, I started to feel like some kind of Secret Service Agent on presidential protection detail: I was on high alert, constantly scanning that room looking for any hint of violence, territorial dispute or accident involving my young charges (And “charges” is entirely the right word to describe them – you can virtually see the static electricity coming off them as they go down the big slides, their hair standing up like they’re touching a Vanergraph Generators in the science lab or auditioning for “Young Einstein 2”).
My surveillance services were made all the more necessary by the depressingly large number of parents who take a “Lord of the Flies” approach in those places and only ever lift their eyes from their newspapers and magazines to sip their sock water while their beastly offspring merrily turn those colourful plastic balls into lethal propellants and smother smaller children with the safety mats. Of course then there are those parents at the other end of the spectrum who show us all up by actually playing with their children. The nerve of those people! Don’t they realise it’s the one opportunity I get to have some semblance of a break (albeit one spent scanning… scanning… scanning…)? I heartily urge Those Types to go make (organic) lemonade stalls and carousel cakes (and all those other things my children are always seeing in books and wanting me to make for them) in the privacy of their own homes.
Honestly! As if I’m not already looking bad enough what with letting my daughter get her head caught in the safety fencing, while I’m selfishly breastfeeding my infant son. And yes, that really happened a few years ago. Luckily, I had recently seen this very same situation on TV and knew just what to do. So while people around me were calling for the Jaws of Life, I calmly talked The Pixie through turning her body sideways and slipping it through the fence – all with a baby still attached to my breast. And people think you can’t learn anything from the telly. For the record, TV has also taught me that All Abinos Are Evil, that you should never show a photo of your family on your last day of service in the NYPD and that turkey-slapping a fellow-contestant in the Big Brother House is not the way to win the respect of the Nation. But I digress.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering about my exit strategy with four children that I hinted at so heavily in my opening paragraph. Obviously I had one else I wouldn’t be at home now three days later merrily writing this blog – instead I’d be face down sobbing in the Ball Pit, still looking for Tiddle’s missing socks while everyone else took turns either duly putting on their shoes, or throwing them off with wild abandon and hotlegging it up to the highest point in the climbing tower. Without giving all my secrets away, let’s just say that bribery played a key role – although, I do so prefer to call it “positive reinforcement” to make myself sleep better at night – and that certain sets of small hands were all holding cupcakes during that peaceful drive home. I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who were imagining I’d set off a series of carefully controlled explosions to distract and temporarily blind my charges while I swung in on a rope to remove them with one deft swoop. But listen here: never – never ever! – underestimate the combined power of flour, fat and a whole heap of sugar because they just might save your life some day. No, truly.