Whilst I'll happily admit that I'm not the biggest soft play fan (I much prefer the fresh air and open space type playing), I've never really worried much about the germs, bugs, grubbiness. To me germs are the friends to a kid’s immune system and an absolute necessity for its development. So long as there is a basic level of cleanliness and the place is safe I'm relatively happy. That was until recently. Jesse is now 19 months and has really found his feet. He loves to climb and run, often tripping over as his body takes him faster than his balance can handle, so soft play is the perfect place for him. However, we've found a problem. Food. I’m not talking about finding something he can eat from the limited café menu (that’s for another blog post!) but rather his exposure to food whilst in this type of environment.
Now I've always been one of those parents who tries (note my acceptance that I am not always successful in this) to insist we sit to eat. I don't let my children run around snacking firstly because the risk of choking increases massively when a child is allowed to move around when eating but secondly because I can’t stand the mess everywhere. Babies and toddlers are notorious for getting more food on the surrounding surfaces than into their mouths and so I would rather contain this to one area as much as possible. Making it much easier to clean up – whether that be at home, at a friend’s or in a public place.
However, since becoming a Mum and having the joy of play centres thrust upon me it’s become clear that not everyone has the same ideas as me. That’s fine. I’m not here to judge – we’re all plenty hard enough on ourselves without anyone else adding to that burden. Perhaps that mother has had the day/week/month from hell and just wants 5 minutes peace and letting little Ava run around with a cheesy cracker does just that. Perhaps Dad isn’t aware of the increased choke risk which comes from eating on the move. But there is something else. Something that I don’t think I truly appreciated until Jesse started to move around independently realising that those crumbs on the floor might actually be very tasty.
ALLERGIES. That stray crisp, that crumb of biscuit might actually contain something that could make another child incredibly poorly. The best-case scenario could be a bit of a runny nose, another small patch of eczema or an explosive nappy. The worst? Anaphylaxis – a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment in hospital. No one is expecting other parents to fully take on board the needs of every other child in a public place – it’s enough being responsible for our own offspring. But I really think that we need to help make everyone aware of the issues around food allergies. For the parent of an allergy baby life can be pretty tricky, working out what can be eaten from the menu, carrying enough snacks to avoid having to find something when out, making sure little one doesn’t take the cheese sandwich from their friend’s plate. So having to follow them around through tunnels barely big enough for a 4 year old let alone those wonderful child-bearing hips, down friction burn inducing plastic slides, picking up soggy breadsticks en route, is a job they could really do without!
So this is my plea to all parents, grandparents and anyone else who has to inhabit such joyful environments full of loud children; please, please keep food on the table. Not only will you make life so much less stressful for at least one other parent and keep their child safe and happy but you’ll also help to keep everyone’s socks clean!