It was our first Christmas together and we were spending it away from London, in a house in the country. There was great excitement all around: from the boys who we had been filling with expectation for weeks, and from us hoping to make our first Christmas together special and memorable. However, something that we had not considered was the weather – which was, quite simply, horrid.
It rained constantly and apart from the gloom that it brought about, the rain prevented the boys from going outside. It was very cold and the garden and surrounding countryside were quite literally a mud bath.
It took us a while to realise what was happening, but regardless of out attempts to keep the boys busy and entertained, we started to notice that they were becoming less and less happy with their surroundings. By the end of day three things were bad. Their behaviour was getting out of control and we had little patience left. They were sent to bed early amid tears and anger.
The following day – Christmas Eve – started pretty much how the previous day had ended. The prospect of having to deal with two increasingly uncontrollable little boys, on top of preparing for the big day tomorrow, was quite simply looking beyond our ability. My sister – a far more accomplished parent – phoned to ask how things were going and I shared our distress. The conversation went something like this. Me: “We have had enough, the boys are clearly unsettled being here and none of us are enjoying it, in fact the boys are driving us mad.”
Sister: “They have been cooped up for 3 days, it sounds like big time cabin fever to me.”
Me: “Could be, I hadn’t considered that.” (duhh)
Sister: “You need to get them out to release some of that energy that’s just building and building.”
Me: “We can’t, the weather is just too terrible’ I think it best that we just go home.”
Sister: “Don’t be silly, you have everything planned and set up for Christmas there. Why don’t you take them to a soft play area?”
Me: “What’s a soft play area?”
Once she had finished laughing at me – the oh-so clearly novice dad – she introduced me to the word of indoor play and advised that there was a great centre about 50 mins away, saying that it would be a journey I would be very grateful for.
51 minutes later we were paying to get in and I could see the boys positively ‘chomping at the bit’, waiting to be let loose. Armbands on wrists, the gate was opened… And they were off, immediately running into the thick of it without looking back.
We found seats and made them aware of where we were and they did not come to us for over 30 minutes (and these were still the very early days when they never seemed to leave our sides). They ran, they climbed, they jumped, they slid, they shouted and they laughed – before they even thought about us. When we did finally come to mind they ran to us for a quick drink and then they were off again, and it was like this for the next two hours or so.
I have described it as like letting a dog off a lead – you could see the ‘need’ they had to get rid of all the pent up energy – and it was actually a delight to watch. Our sons are quite active little boys, so of course three days stuck indoors was bound to drive them mad – and, by default, us too – it is just shocking how oblivious we were to the blindingly obvious – even as it unfolded around us.
We live and learn and, as painful as we parents can find an hour or two in a soft play centre, that place saved our Christmas. Soft play has become a regular part of our lives ever since.