A trip to an indoor play-centre in no way aims to educate, edify or otherwise ennoble a pre-schooler. Only to keep them happy and out of your hair for a precious hour or two.
You pay your money, read the poorly apostrophised signage that warns you not to eat your own food or remove your socks, wiggle through the turnstiles and set them loose. Then you retreat to a formica table to sip lousy coffee and catch up on some social media.
The indoor play-centre is the lazy parent’s mecca.
We hadn’t been to our local for a while, so I felt justified in suggesting it the other Tuesday (a designated stay-at-home dad day, on which kinder is closed and I have sole charge of our youngest while his sister’s in school, hence the longest day of any week.)
Set back from a six-lane highway, on a block that includes a car-wash, ducted vacuum cleaner outlet and a discount windows supplier, it’s a vast, poorly heated cavern of a place. There’s a softplay pen for the under-fours, a kiosk cafe and seating area for lazy parents and guardians and a series of futsal courts stretching out to the horizon, but the draw for the boy and me is the main installation.
Come February, he’ll be in school, submitting to structure, submerged, little by little, into the world of duty, responsibility, expectations.
This is a tower of climbing-frames, rope bridges, bouncy castles, tunnels and flying-foxes, held up by garishly-painted scaffolding and foam balustrades, all roads leading inexorably to the apex of the “big slide” itself, an eight metre high, three-lane descent of undulating coloured plastic (red, purple and green - top tip: purple is the fastest).
My decision on this particular Tuesday to hit the big slide wasn’t all down to selfish, slack dadhood.
Our son is already five. Come February, he’ll be in school, submitting to structure, submerged, little by little, into the world of duty, responsibility, expectations. The end of an era. This, for once, was a Tuesday not to be killed, but seized.
This would be one of the last opportunities to clamber over an obstacle course alongside him, to let him batter me with punchbags as we cross a wobbly rope-bridge together, to launch a tickle-assault while he dangles from a flying-fox - all the while giddy with the knowledge that everyone else out there on this midweek mid-morning is busy with chores, plying trades, sitting through meetings, learning stuff or otherwise doing as they’re told.
This morning’s bouncy castle smells a lot like freedom. At least, I think that’s what it is.
The tower of fun feels poignant today, my son and I comrades on a campaign of futile defiance against the ticking of the clock, the reckoning to come. By the second circuit, we’re euphoric, almost hysterical, and I don’t even mind that the green slide-lane has a disconcerting wet patch halfway down, deciding that it’s the result of a leaky roof, rather than some other slider’s over-excitement.
In fact, we have the place pretty much to ourselves. There’s one mum sitting with a coffee and magazine while her kid tears about the place.
We cross paths with him at the flying foxes. He’s about the same age as my son, with a shock of auburn hair and a friendly look about him. We’ve arrived at the activity at the same time, and there are only two zip lines. As the responsible adult, I decide to do the right thing.
This, for once, was a Tuesday not to be killed, but seized.
“Hey, why don’t you two play together? I’m going to have a sit down now.”
“My name’s Dylan,” offers the kid.
My son takes a step closer to me, and buries his head in my t-shirt.
“Hello, Dylan. Blake, why don’t you tell Dylan your name?” I suggest, realising too late that I’ve made that kind of redundant.
Eventually I am able to prise the boy from my abdomen, and he is persuaded to play alongside this gregarious peer. They spend a happy half-hour together.
This is the cherry on the morning’s cake. Our son is in the process of being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and making friends is far from easy for him.
About as far from easy as it’s going to be for me to wave goodbye on that first day of school next February.
I resolve to make the most of our remaining Tuesdays.