The play centre

Running super fast. Wide eyed and over excited. Straight past reception. Over the multi coloured climbing frames. Diving head first into the ball pit.
I just can’t help myself!
Play centres are so much fun. Or at least they used to be.
The first time I took my child to one of these places I was like a kid in a candy shop. I handballed baby to mum and took off. Scaling large geometric shapes with a single bound, dropping down slides and throwing kids aside as I treated the equipment like my own personal playground.
Every weekend we were trying out new ones. Some centres were good, some were bad and some were incredible. Slides, zip lines, swings, pump guns that fired plastic balls, trampolines, netting, grab rails, moving stairs and gladiator style obstacles to manoeuvre through.
The timeline from the love of play centres to the dread at the very thought of them is gradual. It starts off ok. You take your x-month old into the toddler area. Playing nicely. Silently cursing the older kids that shouldn’t be in there. Protecting your little precious from being accidentally knocked over from these older ruffians. Where are their irresponsible parents and why are they not supervising?!
Then they age to the stage where you hold their hand and guide them up the slippery stairs in their little socks. Following them up and over and in and out of the different levels. At the very top you ask yourself why no-one ever cleans the thick layer of muck off the tops of these plastic mats. Random coloured balls lie abandoned and trapped behind a wall of netting, coated in a light dusting of flaky skin and bodily fluids.
You watch the joy on their sweaty, beaming little red faces as they work hard to find their prize at the end of the maze. The slide.
“Race me dad. Race me”.
And as the months and years pass they master the stairs themselves. They launch themselves over and under the moving pads. They reach the summit. The hardest and highest point to get to and you hear them scream.
“Daddy , daddy look at me  – look at me”.
You raise your head from the coffee and newspaper. Your Sunday morning hangover kicking in nicely.
“I‘ve done a poo-poo daddy, I’ve done a poo-poo…. come and get me ….daddy, I’ve done a poo- poo”
You sigh a weary sigh and slowly rise. No longer embarrassed by the announcement of a fresh poo. No need to hide it. It won’t be long till they smell it anyway. Hoping beyond hope it has contained itself to the nappy. Nods of understanding from other parents as you lethargically make your way up and through the obstacle course to the very, very top. Your body crying out as it contorts around pyramid shaped barriers.
But the nappy has once again let you down. With gritted teeth you edge your way back down and over to the exit slide. Like an oscar winner you raise your child above your head. Hoping the smears along his back touch nothing as you make your way to the toilet, grabbing wet wipes and nappy bags on the way.
You are pleased at your etiquette of doing all you can to keep bodily excretions from touching the equipment. If only you could be so sure that others do the same. But you know they don’t.
The ball pit or the ‘e-ball-a’ pit as I now call it – used to be my favourite.
Hiding in amongst hundreds of plastic spheres and exploding out like Rambo as the balls scatter in a shrapnel rainbow was always a highlight. Kids screaming in glee as I pelted them while they fled.
But now all is see is a large petri-dish. I have seen much more than just blood, sweat and tears in these things and you would be hard pressed to get me back into one.
As the play centre years forge on your kids are happy enough to entertain themselves. They no longer need dad or mum to play, chase or rescue them. And if they do, their request is usually flat out denied.
And so I found myself able to have a solid 20 minutes to myself before the first complaint arrives.
“Dad, Max is annoying me”
“Dad, Zak won’t let me play with him”
And the classic…..
“Excuse me are you that boy’s father……”
Then comes the request for food and drink.
“dad can I have a fizzy drink”
“can I have some chips”
“can I have a milkshake”
“Here. Eat these cucumber sticks and have some water.”
“Aaaw da-ad”
Finally when it comes time to leave you can’t just get up and go. No. You need to locate the missing sock. Chase the child that refuses to leave. And collect all the bits and pieces that you came with while simultaneously wiping down the child that is covered in food.
As you exit the building sweat pouring off your brow you realise one child is missing. Scanning the room like the Terminator you see your little bundle of joy waving at you from the top level throwing balls at the kids in the toddler pit.
Other parents are now looking on, not so understanding. You can hear them muttering.
Who is that little ruffian and where is his irresponsible parents.?