Secret Life of an Expat: Best Playground Ever


a blogumn by Gudrun Cram-Drach

Many indoor playgrounds in France, like the kind you find in MacDo (MacDonald’s) or Quick (a Belgian fast food place), are multi-leveled structures that are netted in, and everything inside and out is covered with soft padding. In the bottom there is often a ball bin, then there are holes in the floors to get to the second and third levels. There are firemen’s poles and ropes to slide down. The kids crawl around, crash into each other, scream at their parents to watch them, and never finish their Happy Meals.


The best part was when there were traffic jams, and an employee had to crawl in and untangle the mess.

But someone invented something even better. We recently went to a 5-year-old’s birthday party at a place called Planète Filou. It was nothing but indoor playgrounds just like the ones in the fast food places, but enormous. One long wall, floor to 20 foot ceiling, was covered with a maze of padded recreation that included a small football area, inflatable houses, trampolines, and slides, and the biggest multi-level crawling around structure we had ever seen.

In the center of the room there was a collection of round tables and metal chairs full of grumpy looking French parents wearing blue cloth booties over their shoes. If we hadn’t been surrounded by screaming children and primary colors, I would have said we were in a Parisian café. Everyone wore their usual somber tones, read  books with no pictures on the covers, and drank espresso out of tiny paper cups. Smoking was of course forbidden, but I’m sure many of them could have really used a cigarette.

I know places like this exist in the U.S., but I don’t remember them being this great when I was little. I found the best thing about it (and perhaps the biggest difference) was that it wasn’t full of video games. There were a few, in the area beneath the padded football field, but they were the innocent ones like pinball and air hockey. The other great thing was that the people who worked there, who orchestrated the birthday parties and surveyed the scene, seemed to enjoy what they were doing. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new to being in a parental role, but I’m always so pleased when other people seem to appreciate and want to cater to our kids, even if they are being paid for it. The twins completely wore themselves out that day, M and I decided we would definitely bring them back, the next time they had too much energy.

And here’s a quick update on the Bechamel battle:

If I can believe the initial reaction of “yum” before they only ate five bites of it, the kids did like the lasagna I made with the complicated bechamel. I haven’t worked up the courage to serve them straight cauliflower and bechamel sauce again, even though I keep buying cauliflower at the market.

ng34cBut I have been saved! This week, our dear ETC sent me an American-style care package full of the classics, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Chef Boyardee, and Ortega, all wrapped up in a Snuggie box. I cooked up the tiny noodles (making sure M saw the unnaturally bright orange cheese powder before I mixed it — I wanted to shock him but all he said was “yum!” — love that man) and we feasted.

The kids liked it. One liked it a lot, the other liked it un petit peu. A little bit. I asked if I could serve it again, and they said yes. Luckily ETC sent two boxes!

But I hesitate. Mac-n-cheese doesn’t make a very well balanced meal. When I was little, my mom always ruined my mac-n-cheese by mixing in green beans and chunks of hot dog. Bleuch. Now I’m considering doing the same thing.