Henry has learned a new trick. He can now roll from his back onto his front. However, he hasn’t quite learned how to reverse the manoeuvre so we quite often find him face down and whining about it. I have tried to help him learn how to roll back by placing his arms and legs in the correct positions and giving him a gentle shove. With my aid he can do it, but without it, he is like an upside down tortoise, only on his front rather than his back. (Thinking about it, that analogy doesn’t really work). I have even tried to show him by getting down on my stomach and doing tummy time myself, demonstrating how it is done by positioning my arms and rolling onto my back, all the while making encouraging noises. Mrs Aitchworld is bemused by this, saying that it will never work. She said the same when she came home one day and found me with my head stuck in the newly-installed cat flap in the back door, but the cats now know how to use a cat flap as a result of this demonstrative teaching method, so what does she know?
Now that the boys are becoming a little more mobile, we have started being a bit less complacent about not clipping them into things with the belts provided on things like high chairs, shopping trolleys, pushchairs and baby recliners. Of course we strap them into the car seats properly and most of the time we remember to wrap the seatbelts around the seats in the prescribed fashion and securely clip them in place. But while the boys were largely immobile and we were using the push chair on flat ground, we didn’t religiously clip them into place. However, now it isn’t an option. And what I cannot fathom, for the life of me, is why the clips have to be so violent. Every time I have to secure the boys it is like a resuscitation exercise in an operating theatre with the staff in there using a defibrillator, making sure tiny fingers aren’t anywhere near them, shouting “CLEAR” as I give them the final push into place. I am utterly convinced that these fasteners could do some serious damage to a baby’s finger if they were ever caught in them.
I’m not so lucky – virtually every time I put the boys in the pushchair or bouncers or swing or high chairs, when fastener that ties up all the belts is put into place, captain halfwit here isn’t quick enough and I trap some skin on my fingers in the clips. On any given day my fingers are covered in blood blisters, bruises or red marks from these damn clips. Mrs Aitchworld laughs at me; well she did until the pushchair got her the other day when we were off to the soft play centre.
Oh yes, we braved a soft play centre. It was a wet bank holiday Monday (aren’t they all?) and we couldn’t think of anything else to keep the boys entertained. In theory they are the sort of place I should hate. We didn’t go to one of the popular ones of a particular chain that are attached to pubs, so there was no pint of Guinness (I still haven’t had that elusive elixir) to soften the blow of the soft play. Based in a large industrial unit in the next town from ours, the noise of screaming children is amplified several-fold by the echoing of it in the empty roof void above. Just walking about 5 metres across the room to some available sofas, we were nearly tripped up by rampaging toddlers at a rate of about once per metre. We carried the boys in without taking them out of their car seats and it was a miracle that not one of the trip hazards managed to brain themselves on the hard protective plastic of the seats. It was pandemonium.
The space was divided up with a café on one side of the room, party rooms the other, an over 5s area at one end with all the really big slides, an under 5s area at the other end with smaller sides and just in front of that a small fenced off baby area. We gave that a try but the toys looked like they hadn’t been cleaned since, well, ever. I’m not one of these clean freaks and I fully accept that Henry and Arthur are going to eat far more than their fair share of dirt as they grow up, but I was worried we would all catch Ebola or something even more fatal from these toys. Anything that required batteries may have contained them, but they were long dead. It wasn’t a good start and then Mrs Aitchworld stubbed her toe on something hard (not ideal in a soft play area) to such a degree that she thought she had broken it, so while she recovered me and the boys moved onto the bigger stuff.
The reason I can’t hate these places is because we didn’t have all this stuff when I was a child. I vaguely remember Alton Towers having some sort of fun dome of a similar nature but even back then the cost of a family ticket was about the same cost as a monthly mortgage payment, so we didn’t go all that often. In fact, I think my parents only took me once – they lucked out and every other time I went was with school or scouts or some other organisation and they didn’t have to trouble themselves going again – they were never really rollercoaster people. Me, on the other hand…
The sign on the front of the slightly bigger play area may have said “Under 5s”, but the other one next to it said that all children had to be supervised by a responsible adult. As I was the next best thing, I grabbed Arthur and headed straight for the slide. To get to it there was a fair bit of climbing up padded frames and ledges as well as a ball pit to negotiate, but we got there in the end, through the spinning padded posts and over the cargo net, up to the top of the climbing frame and down the slide we went. And then I had to do it all over again with Henry. I don’t know which of us enjoyed it most. If I’m being picky, the slide could have done with a bit of Mr Sheen on it, but I suppose if it was too fast the kids would slide right off the end and through the protective netting, emerging the other side like McCain Oven Chips. It wouldn’t be the best advert for the place.
Naturally, having twins the cost of all this fun adventure and soft play was twice as much to us. We had to fork out the princely sum of £2. That’s in total – the cost was £1 per child and adults travel for free. It’s the best £2 I’ve ever spent. Even the food in the café was reasonably priced and, although basic, very tasty. The whole place is wasted on kids; I had a whale of a time and ate well. The only thing stopping me having more fun is that the adults can’t go on the big stuff unless accompanied by a responsible child.
Aitchworld Towers is a bit of a sprawling old place, spread over four floors. The cellar downstairs was a bathroom until we filled it with baby stuff we aren’t using yet, or are no longer using and haven’t got rid of yet. My man cave in the converted loft is currently a dumping ground for any other displaced furniture or anything else that hasn’t currently got any cupboard space. Rather than gate off the stair cases to each of these areas, we decided that it might be an idea to just section off an entire room with a baby gate. With this in mind we had resigned ourselves to losing our far living room as a functional lounge and instead devote it to a baby/toddler friendly room and contain them within once they are mobile. We started to make changes to this effect within the last couple of weeks.
It has hit me hard, despite planning this for a while. When the reality hit, I’ve decided I’m not altogether happy about the loss of what was a very comfortable place to crash and a nice adult space. I’m trying to make it a dual function room, but without investing heavily in a new sofa to replace the two that are currently in there and free up some space, I suspect I am fighting a losing battle. What has actually happened is that the entire room has been given over to toys and play mats and the sofas have been pushed to the edges of the room, barely accessible without falling over some bit of brightly-coloured plastic detritus.
Fortunately I am not stuck in the house all day with the boys and their toys, otherwise I think the monotony of them would drive me mad. I do have to wonder though what goes through the mind of the designers of them. And why do they all seem to feature animals that you would only find on safari? Pretty much all of the toys we have for the boys, which we have garnered as a result of various generous friends donating them, feature lions, elephants, giraffes, monkeys and parrots. One does have an octopus on it as well, which I’m not sure how it fits into the whole safari scenario.
All of them are garishly coloured and make noises. Our most recent purchase, and one of the reasons it was so cheap, is an inflatable cow. He is bright blue and we have named him Colin. He is big enough for the boys to sit on his back and bounce. They are a bit young to do this unsupported at the moment as I found out when Arthur fell off (don’t worry; I caught him before he hit the ground). The sound this one makes is of a horse trotting and neighing. It is a bit surreal seeing a cow make horse noises. The ones that talk to me and the children are the most worrying. Nothing has ever nothing surprised me as much as the animal spinning top that all of a sudden, in the middle of a spin, invited me to “touch the elephant”. I nearly choked up a lung!
The crowning glory in our new play room, buoyed by the success of our afternoon out at the soft play centre, and being suckered in by special offers at Tesco and the Early Learning Centre, is a ball pit. We don’t really have room for it, but it’s in there! The minute it was all set up we tried the boys in it. Arthur wasn’t all that bothered by it, but Henry screamed the house down, which isn’t what we expected. Of course, as soon as daddy led by example and threw himself into the ball pit, they both thought it was hilarious and they couldn’t get enough of it. At least I didn’t get stuck this time.