Crying at Soft Play

A boy and a girl playing at soft play and moving giant balls.

Little boy, few weeks ago, your teachers suggested that we could do some extra things to help you develop your gross motor skills. Perhaps, we could try soft play, take you to more adventure parks. Even a little may help.

PE, you see, is such a difficult part of your week.

More often than not, you refuse. Or you begin and need to be taken somewhere else, somewhere calm. The physical things that other five year-olds do easily, take delight in, even – they are so very hard for you. They climb and jump and run – and you prefer the bean bags and the books. I know. I prefered them too.

More than this, PE is hard for other reasons – there are rules and expectations and demands. And there are groups who all must follow rules, perform the same action. Now you must balance on the beam. Now you must star jump for thirty seconds. It is hard because you physically struggle to do what others do without thinking. It is hard because it is chaotic and loud. It is hard because the demands make your anxiety pulse like a wound. It is hard because the other little boys and girls do not all behave in a way you can predict.

Gorgeous boy, you do not often finish PE. But the targets are there, plain on your EHCP. We need to help you  learn to control your body, and your frustration.

And so, last weekend, we went to soft play.

We have stayed away for a long time – more than a year, I think. Your little sister was unsteady on her feet, cooing and babbling, the last time we went. She could not follow you around and climb up. Just like PE, soft play can be very, very hard for you. And so we stayed away.

You are excited as we arrive. We make sure we get there just as the doors are opening – there are fewer children then and you can cope just a little better. As you run towards the tower of bright colours and strange shapes, fascinated, I hold my breath…

You climb straight up to the very top, without any help, without me lifting you. You hesitate at the top of the huge slide only briefly before whizzing down, alone, giggling as you go. You climb over rope bridges and beams, oh so carefully, much slower than the other children, but still, you reach the other side. You help your sister over huge plastic barriers – just a boy and his sister, laughing, playing.

And I am crying.

These are miracles. These things, they were impossible, a year ago. These things, you make them look easy. You are a boy at soft play, climbing and sliding and helping his baby sister climb into the ball pit. Of course, they are not really easy. The noise, and the demands and the physical strain, they take their toll. Some children are climbing the slide, bottom to top, despite the sign saying they should not.

Now you are crying.

You are inconsolable with grief because they are breaking the rule. You cannot be calmed, your logic irrefutable. If it is the rule, they should not be doing it. If it is not the rule, there should not be a sign. Your shoulders heave, your little body racked with sobs.

You are exactly right, Sweetheart, exactly right. These two truths cannot be reconciled. Your despair cannot be calmed. So we head home, both our faces stained with tears.

But for a little while, my gorgeous, amazing, resilient little boy, you were just a child at soft play, laughing and playing.


For more like this, you might like:

The Best Day

His Own Milestones

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7 thoughts on “Crying at Soft Play

  1. Wonderful to read, with happy tears sparkling in my eyes.

    I don’t know your son or his particular challenges, but I know from my own son that now, at nearly 14, he does things we could not have imagined or dreamed even a few years ago.

    Then, had someone told me of how he would mature and grow I would not, could not, have believed them. But now most days are a joy, when once they were a struggle.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting – that is so wonderful to hear. My son is autistic and struggles hugely with very rigid thinking and he has significant motor delays. Already though, he amazes me every day. I just know he will keep on doing that, even though I do still have days when I worry about his future – but all parents do that, in any case. Thanks so much again.

      1. PE was something our ASD son was routinely excluded from in primary school, yet at his clever, caring mainstream secondary he attends PE without a support worker – a measure both of the difference the school environment and caring staff makes, and a measure of his growing maturity, confidence and ability.

  2. Congratulations to biggest! King Ben seems to go for ages doing the same then out of the blue he makes a gigantic leap and does things, or stops doing things, we wondered if he’d ever learn. Then, like you, we cry tears of joy.

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