Tuesday 8 January 2013

Use Your Words

I was at a soft play centre yesterday. Sorry non-parents, that might sound like I’m bragging, but I’m not, I swear. I’m just casually name dropping the awesome things I do with my time. I don’t mean to make you jealous, I’m just a normal person, yeah? People who know me, always describe me as down to earth. It’s just that I’m privileged.

You see, while you might be drinking a glass of wine in a pub on a weekday evening, or drinking too many on a weekend, I’m at soft plays. For those who aren’t aware, the basic premise of a soft play is this: I cannot be bothered with my child/children anymore. I need to put them somewhere. But I don’t want them to get hurt.

So, many years ago, a wise parent invented the soft play. Wipe clean, safe to fall on, stick-as-many-children-in-as-you-want, good clean fun. Kids love it because they get to go absolutely mental and be loud and screechy and throw themselves around without a) dying and b) getting done. Ebony loves it because she can potter about on her tippy toes, she can build a stash of ball pool balls, and there are loads of amazing things (older children) to look at (stare at, like a weirdo, with her mouth open in amazement). 

Parents love it most though. If you don’t have kids, you’re probably thinking: “Ah yeah, it must be nice to see your kids having fun.” Well it is, but that’s not why the parents love it. Most of the parents love it because it means they’re off-duty. They don’t give a shit what their kids get up to in the soft play centre, as long as they get an hour to drink a hot drink, moan to their friends about how hard life is, and check Facebook on their phones, they’re happy. And during this hour off, they have no idea what their kids are doing.

It’s mayhem. No parental supervision, an abundance of fizzy drinks, and a huge brightly coloured padded room of fun, mean that all the kids morph into the Lost Boys from Hook. There are fights. Actual fights. Kids scream and cry. Some vomit from sheer excitement. 

Not all the schools were back yesterday, so the soft play was heaving with parents on the edge of a nervous breakdown. You could almost hear them all whispering “Just one more day and they’ll be back at school. Just get through today and it’s over.” 

One Mum, adorned in her best gym outfit (I assume), had pretty much handed her parenting duties down to her first born. The child in question looked about eight, and was in charge of looking after one toddler, one screechy four year old girl, and an over-enthusiastic six year old boy who (again, I assume) really loved karate. 

It started off well, but within about fifteen minutes all of the siblings had fallen out, karate kid was going insane doing spinning kicks, the toddler had hidden somewhere (and not been found) and the screechy girl had stopped screeching and started sobbing. 

The next time I saw them, the karate kid was having a major melt down next to, what he referred to as, the funfair ride (one of those 20p lame ride on things). I didn’t see the prelude, but what I did see was the eight year old girl being kicked, punched and screamed at by karate kid. Their Mum saw what was happening, rolled her eyes and, begrudgingly, paused her conversation to come and sort it out.

“Why is he kicking you?” she said, in a tired voice, to her upset daughter. “What have you done?”

I react to things in the moment, and don’t always say the right thing. But this struck me as a particularly unfortunate way to lead a conversation about uncommunicated emotions, about violence and about being a victim. Instead of asking karate kid why he had chosen to lash out, or addressing the emotions he was struggling to express, the Mum basically asked her daughter what she had done to deserve the violence. “What have you done?” implies that certain behaviours would deserve this kind of reaction. 

I often say things to Ebony and then regret it later. Sometimes if she pulls my hard, which she does with the strength of a thousand bodybuilders, I shout “No” and an explanation follows some minutes after when I have composed myself. I wish it didn’t. I wish I could always calmly explain that pulling my hair hair hurts me and makes me sad, but I don’t. Sometimes it fucking hurts. 

Children idolise their parents. We imprint on them in ways we cannot see. Everything we say to them is absorbed, understood and reacted to. We need to make sure we are aware of that in everything we say. Sure, we will all make mistakes, and mess up every now and again, but the important thing is to acknowledge that, to right our wrongs and to build the confidence of our children without, perhaps mistakenly, teaching them lessons that certain behaviours deserve a violent response.

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