Will Lodge – Venturing out can be a dangerous business no matter how soft the play

Mila Lodge meets Father Christmas

Mila Lodge meets Father Christmas - Credit: Archant

Superdad Will Lodge braved a soft play area with baby for the first time.

Despite my job – which frequently sees me venture out to meet new people in strange situations – I still find it an anxious time when I enter uncharted waters. While with my professional life I can put on a front, my work veneer, in personal situations there is nothing to hide behind.

I was thinking about this the other day when I took Baby – who I must really now refer to as Toddler – to a local soft play area for the first time.

For fear of over-exaggerating the anxiety of the situation I had been to this place before with my older children, and I was also not alone accompanied as I was by my own mother.

But the toughness came less from the unfamiliar physical environment but from not knowing the social norms, what you are supposed to do and how you are supposed to behave.

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In the under-fives area you can just sit back and let your little one wander round, but Toddler is not yet old enough to do that.

So I found myself in the position of having to climb up the soft play ramps, slide down the slide, and slither in the ball pool – all in the name of play.

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It was not a high-octane adventure. Her own unfamiliarity meant she slowly crept around and took things in rather than rushing around to try all of the new toys she could play with.

While it was quiet to begin with, it soon got busier with a sizeable number of mums – and to my relief a bit later on a couple of dads – with their own youngsters.

What made this daunting was not knowing anyone else, while they all seemed to know each other. One group looked like a regular club who met up each morning, or once a week, to natter while their little ones played, while others seemed to give that knowing nod of familiarity as one might give in the playground to fellow faces you see each morning.

That said my little interaction with the other adults was fine. A small smile, a quick thanks, and Toddler is too small to start snatching other kids’ toys so I did not have much to worry about on that front.

Far scarier was when the other children tried talking to me.

It was all innocuous stuff. “My mummy’s name is Lisa”, one told me, while another explained how best to go down the slide.

I couldn’t help but feel paranoid.

Would the other parents think I was sparking up conversations with their children? What should I say back, should I keep the conversation going?

Ultimately, what is the done thing?

I resorted to moving away politely, but as soon as possible, making it clear I had my daughter with me.

Isn’t it silly how I felt the need to do that. Presumably the authorities would be quick to add if a childless man, or woman, rocked up to such a venue.

But perhaps this is just indicative of the times we live in.

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