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Welcome to the jungle(rama): you need to follow the damn rules of indoor playgrounds

Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes loves indoor playgrounds. Chipmunks, Junglerama, Jumparama, Laughalots – she’s never met a soft-play establishment she didn’t like. There’s just one problem: too many of her fellow parents don’t seem to understand the (unwritten) rules. So listen, she’ll say this only once…

Oh Chipmunks, how I love thee. You are my office. You are my home away from home. If it were not for you I would never have finished writing my book. I am writing this seated in your comfortable brightly coloured chairs. Your staff know my coffee order. They do not judge me for my bad parenting.

But over many years of frequenting these fine establishments I’m starting to realise some people don’t get that Junglerama and Chipmunks and Laughalots and any of the other indoor soft-play heavens exist for a reason. And the reason is this: To be a place where parents pay a lot of money to chill and not have to do On Display Parenting.

Bless you for your boundless energy but please know this is a place where hope goes to die. Sleep deprived mums congregate here because it’s the only place where we can switch off for five minutes when we are trying to function on only a few hours’ sleep.

So welcome. Maybe it’s your first time here, you don’t know there’s a system, it’s OK. We’ll just have a quick run-down of the laws of soft play to make sure that nobody loses an eye. Let’s start gently…

NO BABIES IN THE FUCKING BALL PIT

Oh gosh, sorry for throwing a fuck in there. Couldn’t help it. Guess what – there’s a little section in almost all indoor playgrounds that’s for babies. The ball pit is not for babies. If your child can’t walk and is basically a slug (a beautiful, precious slug) – dangle some keys in front of their face instead of sitting them in the middle of the ball pit.

If they cannot climb in and out of the ball pit – don’t put them in the damn ball pit.

The Pit is a place of chaos. The pit at Chipmunks is more perilous than the pit at a Slayer gig. It’s like the world’s worst orgy – you can expect multiple balls to the face and a lot of fluid. That’s just how it is. You need to accept this. At The Warehouse you can buy a bag of balls for $12. If you want to stick your baby – or toddler who can’t walk properly – in brightly coloured balls, then buy some balls and do it at home.

DON’T GET SHITTY AT KIDS WHO ARE HAVING AN AWESOME TIME

Chipmunks is separated into three areas: Under twos which is chill AF, two to five which is chaotic, and three to eleven which is a vortex to Hell. You cannot complain if your child gets mauled in an area they’re not meant to be in. My kids always want to go into the big kid part and I’m like: OK but you can’t get upset if you get knocked over in there because that’s just what the big bit is like. They know this.

But if my kid got knocked over by an eight year old in the under-fives section I would feel comfortable saying: hey this section is just for babies. I mean I probably wouldn’t even bother saying that because I believe getting knocked over repeatedly at an indoor playground builds resilience in my children BUT if I was concerned about that the rules state I can tell the older child to go to their area.

This is how the age limit works – enter at your own peril if they’re younger. Keep them out if they’re older. As much as my four year old wants to go into the under two area, I won’t let him. But my 20 month old is always in the three to eleven section. And I accept the consequences. If he gets knocked over – he knows that he needs to just get back up again.

I have seen parents dragging a terrified toddler through the big kid area while snapping at the kids running around throwing balls and causing chaos. This isn’t fair. These kids are here to let of steam. Let them. Just chill. Read a six year old copy of Women’s Weekly. Drink some bad coffee. Spike it with gin. I will never judge, especially if you share your spirits with me.

Cute little boys playing in the ball pool.

PAY IT FORWARD

I take the approach that all of the kids in Chipmunks are mine (unless they’re being naughty in which case none of them are mine, including the ones that are clearly mine). If I’m in the playground and I see a child crying, I pick them up and give them a cuddle and put them down when they’ve chilled out. If they don’t calm down, I go look for mum and hand the baby over with a smile. Other mums do this for my kids too. If their foot is stuck, if they need a push on the slide, if they need help – give them a hand. Don’t tut tut when you give a child to their mum. It’s not necessary. It might make you feel good but it will make her feel terrible. Also thanks for watching my child while I take a slash. It’s a wonderful gift you can give to let someone pee alone.

KIDS ARE BEING KIDS SO CHILL OUT

Your baby isn’t going to get a concussion from a plastic ball hitting them in the face or from being overtaken on the slide. So chill. It’s normal kid behaviour to run and scream and do all of the dumb shit they do within the safety of an indoor playground.

I get it – when I first went to Junglerama I was like JESUS THIS PLACE IS TERRIFYING. But now, three years on, I’m just like: This is what dozens of kids in a space where they’re free to do their own thing are like. It’s actually pretty awesome.

But I do remember thinking Ohmygosh I can’t let my precious angel baby into this precursor to an accident and emergency waiting room. Eddie didn’t play in the big kid area until he was two and a half. Granted he had health stuff going on so I was concerned about germs… but still.

My second born has been running around in there since he could walk. Different strokes for different exhausted mums who don’t give a shit anymore.

In the six or more months that he’s been going almost weekly to Chipmunks he’s never been injured.

CHILDREN ARE CELEBRATED HERE SO YOU NEED TO GET THAT

Instead of beginning your indoor playground adventure staring down any kids you think are too big or too loud for the space, why not shift your perspective a little? Every time I go to Chipmunks I see kids being lovely to each other. They help each other on to the little bike thing. They spin each other on the merry-go-round taking turns. They ask “are you OK?” when another child falls over. Without adults standing over them saying WATCH OUT BE CAREFUL STOP THAT STAY AWAY FROM MY BABY SHARE TAKE TURNS they are free to instinctively be the lovely kids that they are. Yes they’re loud and they run and they throw things and get too excited and bowl each other over – but that’s because they’re kids and they’re happy here. Let them be happy.

Naughty kid playing in the playground

DON’T JUDGE MUMS WHO AREN’T IN THE PLAYGROUND GETTING THEIR ASSES STUCK IN THAT TUNNEL THING

Look, it’s almost like we’re in a purpose-built playground for children that is designed to be as safe as humanly possible. Wouldn’t it be weird if we just accepted that some parents come here so they can do other shit like work or fall asleep with their eyes open? If I wanted to watch my child every second of every minute of every hour that they’re playing I’d take them to an outdoor playground. One of the ones with water on one side and a road on the other. I can’t even leave them to do their own thing at home such is their desire to maim themselves. Indoor playgrounds are the only places I can go where I can work or have a bit of a conversation without my children destroying everything.

It’s cool that you want to be on the little tramp with your child. It’s awesome you want to race them on the slide. I am glad you’re enjoying yourself. I don’t mind. But please let me do my thing too. I don’t care if you think I’m a terrible parent – you wouldn’t be the first person to decide that. But parents deserve breaks. And for some of us, the only break we get is at an indoor playground that entertains and occupies our children safely.

In the Mum-Olympics of who can be the most attentive parent, you can win. That’s not a medal I’m after. A more pressing issue is paying my rent.

Also – you don’t know what’s going on with any of the mums out there. You can judge away that a mum is sitting blankly holding her coffee like it’s a lifeline while her kids are in the pit. But maybe she has PND? Maybe she’s just split with her partner. Maybe she’s lost her job. Maybe she’s just exhausted and lonely and wondering how she’ll cope.

Which brings me to my final rule:

BE NICE

Wouldn’t it be great if indoor playgrounds were a place for kindness in adults too? The other day I sat shell-shocked in Chipmunks while my children played. I’d just lost a most beloved family member the night before. I was devastated. My husband needed to prepare for her tangi so I needed to look after the kids. I came here because I knew I could have some breathing space. I wanted the kids to have fun before I told them their beloved aunty would never hold them in her arms again. I gratefully accepted cuddles from a girlfriend as my kids played. Then a mum came over and said “Are you Eddie’s mum? He was playing so nicely with my child”. I’ve had this a few times at Chipmunks but on that day it made me cry.

Everybody needs kindness – especially tired mums who are just doing their best. But gosh, some days you need a kindness more than other days. This mum couldn’t have known how much her words would lift my spirits. When nothing else made sense, a little kindness helped to begin to patch up the broken little corner of my world.

We never know if or why people are hurting. An indoor playground is just as good a place as any to reach out and be kind. Maybe it’s exactly the best place to do that.


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