Last year, my family and I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace for a year. In my series Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our 4-year-old daughter, and my newborn. Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, nappys to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.
The guilt of planning a party for my daughter’s fourth birthday gnawed at me like moths on cashmere. With a 6-week-old brother, I thought she’d be feeling insecure, and I wanted her to know she was still our #1 baby. Besides, from an anthropological viewpoint, it seemed like an interesting assignment.
Except, I kind of half-assed it. As mentioned, I was 6-weeks postnatal and hardly oozing with spare time or brain cells. Several people suggested hiring a princess to perform, and although I have listened to the Frozen soundtrack 641 times, my husband and I couldn’t bring ourselves to bring in a fake Elsa. Trixie had also asked for a clown at one point, but have you been on a clown-hire website lately? It’s one aging, slightly creepy Punky Brewster after another.
With time and creativity running out, we opted for soft play. Friends in New York had done indoor-gym birthday parties and they were always great. As the host, all you have to do is show up and leave the rest to a perky staff member who jingles a bell when it’s time for flips, time for pizza, time to sing, and time to leave. Done and done.
Or so I thought. But it’s a bit different in England. At least, in Wiltshire.
The concept remains the same — play, eat, sing, leave — but I overlooked one thing: real estate. This ain’t cramped Brooklyn where you rent the whole facility and pack 10 toddlers in like sardines. No, this place was a gigantic warehouse. A 747 could have fit inside Boomerang Family Play Centre, and our little group barely made up a twentieth of the three-story jungle gym (emphasis on jungle).
I wanted to run screaming but there wasn’t time. Trixie’s friends were streaming in (god bless ‘em, I know many of them were missing another party to be there), and without pause they kicked off their shoes and vanished into the battle zone. It was hard to spot our group amid the 200 or so strangers, and pretty soon we’d lost a few to the maze of cushioned tunnels and mind-boggling ball pits.
Succumbing to the pressures of party hostess, I waded in, wriggling under bean bags and up net-ladders. Every time I found one kid, I lost another, often finding teary-eyed strays along the way. One 5-year-old girl begged me to help her find her mummy, and when I escorted her down a very long, very pitch black covered slide I nearly had a full blown panic attack because it was terrifying.
We did have a perky staff member to help us, but apparently rescuing children was outside of her purview. What she did do was take our food order, and I couldn’t have been happier when it was finally time to escape into our pirate-themed private room and nosh on mini pizzas, fish fingers, and sausages.
I got a few gray hairs that day, but all in all it was a lot of fun. Trixie’s auntie baked an amazing Olaf cake, I mastered party favour bags (always fill with pound-shop crap and a slice of birthday cake), and I learned that the Melksham soft play boasts a very popular and very necessary Starbucks. Sure, I wish it had been a tequila bar instead, but someone told me there might be a nightclub and sports bar opening up next door. That should make looking after 200 kids much easier.