This week I have learnt a valuable lesson in life thanks to my two and a half year old niece. My niece and nephew often teach me lessons in life which a plethora of self help books, or mindful classes could not.
This latest lesson occurred at a soft play centre. For those of you not in the know a soft play centre is a kind of indoor play park, full of children and overpriced snacks, for which you must pay a small fortune and avoid the naughty kid that always goes round biting the other ones. Soft play centres often strike fear into the hearts of parents across the nation, but for an enthusiastic aunty on a Thursday morning before half term is actually a lot of fun and just full of a handful of toddlers negotiating their way in the world.
My niece is particularly lovely, although I would say that. She’s just coming into her own now, talking, and developing a funny little personality, but she is quite scared of things that most little people would be. Like climbing. And slides. She isn’t able to expand on why it’s scary to climb things, but I suspect it’s the fear of falling, which is a pretty reasonable expectation when your motor skills are still in full development.
I will try and paint a picture of this soft play centre for you; three big slides in the middle, a small toddlers section in bright colours, and bouncy materials to the left, where little ones can sit in a mini ball pool and play house to their hearts content in the wendy house.
The slides are the main deal though and can be reached by climbing a network of big steps, climby things, ropes etc. I’m not keen. So someone who only just reaches my knee and isn’t the most adventurous little one isn’t going to be either. To her it must seem like an insurmountable difficulty to get to the top. And we were not going ‘up there’ according to my niece. We would play football on the ground floor. We would sit in the ball pool (which to be fair she wouldn’t do on the last visit so I was just chuffed at this) , we would go on the little tractors, play with the toddlers stuff, but we weren’t climbing big steps, shiny, bumpy steps, or sliding down any slides, oh no.
Until her best friend from nursery appeared. Let’s call her Maisie, although it’s not her name but it is pretty close. Although they’re about 5 miles from their nursery, her little friend appeared, who was to be fair pretty brave but I think was nearly three which apparently a big different, and took off to the top of the slide in about three seconds before I could even blink ‘Where’s Maisie?’ said my niece on about 100 occasions whilst she played on the ground floor. ‘She’s on the slide’ seemed to get no response. We managed to brave the big climb to the first floor by teaching her to put her hands out, and not hold on to mine, and I was THE proudest aunty. Then Maisie appeared, and off they went to play on the tractors, and then the ball pool, and then Maisie wanted to go up the slide. And my niece wanted to go where Maisie was going, so this also meant up the slide. However it meant facing a pretty big fear, because she was not going on this slide until five minutes before.
So we climb up the three levels of stairs to the top (this by the way for anyone not experienced in soft play is like the equivalent of a hardcore aerobics class when done on repeated occasions after ‘Again, Again!’ At this point my niece realises what’s at the top and exactly what Maisie intends to do. Oh no not the slide. Cue tears, a big hug and ‘No Mummy’ – completely forgotten what’s what and who’s who at this point, fair enough. By now Maisie is up on the slide and about to go down, and something changes. My niece is willing to look at this big fear, this scary slide that seems to be just too much of a risk for her little self to deal with. ‘Shall we go on it together?’ I ask, there’s a little wobble of the lip alongside a simultaneous nod, and she sits on my lap and we slide down.
Now here’s the bit I learnt. I have not been on a kids slide since I was a kid (with the one exception of sliding down in a park with my 65 year old mum and niece and nephew a few months ago but that was a pretty wide slide and hell grandma was doing it so I was going to have to) As a fat woman it’s a massive fear, what I get stuck? What are people going to think of me sliding down? What a sight I will look! But what do you do when a little girl is desperate to follow her friend into the realms of toddlerhood via a plastic slide? You man up, plonk her on your lap and you go for it. That’s what. She loved it, her little face was a picture, and at the bottom? ‘Again, again’. Next time she sat next to me on the next slide, and we held hands. Next time she sat next to me and we said 1,2, 3 and slid together. Next time (oh yes it went on for at least 15 goes, but I won’t bore you), she decided we were having a race and shot off before me. I felt so proud of her for being scared but for rocking it anyway and having a go, and she taught me actually it’s not that scary to go down the big slide. You just feel the fear and do it anyway