As Halloween approaches, I’m seeing a slew of fall festivals with scare-the-living-crap-out-of-you haunted forests and hayrides, but for a parent of a child between the ages of 2 and 6, there is nothing scarier than these words… “Can we go in the play place?” Your heart races. You grasp for excuses. But sometimes, you have to give in and go into that parental torture chamber and face your biggest fears for the happiness of that chicken nugget-loving goblin that is your spawn. Being mentally and physically prepared for the following can help buffer the madness.
Noxious Odors – Small cubbies often beckon to kids to take off their shoes before climbing on the apparatus. Be warned that foot funk knows no age boundaries, and the toe cheese on little Suzy Jean can rival that of the steam off of an elephants ass.
Ghouls and Goblins – What I’m talking about are other people’s kids. All kids are NOT cute, and it becomes very apparent just how far from cute they are in the play place. I’m not ashamed to say that my kids are small people with heads the size of dinner plates. Will they grow into them? Maybe. Add tiny heads, greasy fingers, mouth breathers, spitty talkers, personal space invaders and inappropriate touchers and it’s like a Seinfeld episode gone horribly wrong in there.
Poor Air Quality – Not only is the play place enclosed, but it’s sealed with some sort of bullet proof plexiglass that cannot be penetrated by noise, fresh air, or the screams of victims. After all, the restaurant wants the innocent, child-free bystanders eating outside of the play place to return some day. Pair the sealed chasm with the aforementioned noxious foot odors, mouth breathers, and kids filled with potato and dairy loading diapers, or screaming ‘I just pookied!’, and we’ve got a potential HAZMAT situation.
Deafening Sounds – The echo. My god, the echo. I’m not even sure how it’s scientifically possible for a 45 pound person to make that kind of noise with bare feet on plastic, but I’ve made a faster hearing loss recovery after front row seats for Aerosmith.
Claustrophobia – If you’ve had the pleasure of hearing a child sob from deep within the inner-most tube of the play place labyrinth, only to recognize it as your own child, you may also have ascended the structure to make your way in for an emergency rescue. Luckily, the tubes have usually been greased up enough by children’s hands over the years, that your 14o pound body may be able to squeeze unharmed out of the 125 pound sausage casing.
Petrie Dish – The fact that some establishments have a little antibacterial moist towelette waiting for me in a dispenser outside the door is more their way of saying ‘Good luck wiping off the Ebola’, than a helpful gesture. While you’re busy opening doors with your sleeve and trying to cover your nose and mouth with your turtleneck to avoid the airborne pathogens streaming from errant sneezes, and colliding with your mucous membranes, your kids are most likely licking hand rails with carefree abandon. God forbid you have to climb into the ball-pit of despair to retrieve a lost hair bow. There should really be some sort of exit process, providing an acid shower and a bath sheet-sized moist towelette before you’re released back into society.
I hope you can use my list to better prepare for your next play place visit, though some things just can’t be prepared for. Your best bet is to either warn your kids that there will be no play place, or come armed with a good excuse. If you’re not quick enough on your feet, you may have to go in. Just remember, we’ve all been in there, and many of us have made it out alive. Bring your ear plugs, bring your air freshener, and bring your SARS mask. But next time?…bring your car through the drive through instead.