“It’s going to be so much fun” I say. “Fun like the park, fun like the farm, fun like that one time we wore cereal boxes on our heads. It’s going to be crazy fun.”

My daughter is sold. We hop in the car and I continue to make promises.

“It’s just one giant playroom,” I say.

“There are little kitchens and bedrooms and bathrooms. And you can pretend you live there. Oh and also there are wooden slides and these little tiny rocking chairs and desks for kids just your size. And there are cups in every color of the rainbow and toys and coffee tables with tops that tip up to reveal secret hiding places.”

By the time we finally pull up to IKEA my daughter is practically gnawing at the straps of her car seat. She can’t wait to get a glimpse at this promised wonderland.

“We’re going to the big playroom!” she explodes like she’s been holding a mouthful of water for forty-five minutes and has finally arrived at a place where she can spit.

I begin trotting to the door and making little trumpet sounds to signify our grand arrival.

“It’s IKEA” I shout.

“IKEA” echoes my daughter with even more enthusiasm.

“Look” I say as the doors slide open to reveal the grand lobby- “There’s a lady giving out coupons! There’s a mini pencil to scrawl the vin numbers of all the things we want! Check out the giant blue and yellow bags! We get to carry one of those!”

My daughter shows a vague hint of skepticism.

“But where’s the playroom?” She asks.

“Well…” I say, dangling the word like it’s precious and succulent.

“Right up that escalator.”

And I really do believe that she will be amazed, just as soon as we reach the next floor and she sees the mini rooms and the bunk beds and swivel chairs. I really do believe that this will be like a trip to the zoo or the museum. She’ll frolic in delight. I’ll take pictures. Well talk about it longingly for the next week, “Remember that time…” we’ll say.

But when the escalator spits us out in a display living room full of under-stuffed furniture and vases she will not be allowed to touch my daughter looks at me as if I’ve just poked a hole in her inflatable pool on a day when the temperature is at a record high.

“This is not a playroom,” she states with utter contempt.

I spend a few solid minutes trying to get her back on board. But as I attempt to spin the great myth of IKEA it starts dawning on me that I hate this place. It’s been so long since I’ve made the trip to this giant furniture factory that I actually re-imagined it in my head. I remembered it as a playroom, complete with candy colored slides and kites and balloons. But now, standing there, feeling slightly nauseous and dizzy, gazing down at the epic map detailing the many places I will have to travel in order to find the few things I need, it all comes rushing back to me.

What was I thinking? IKEA is not like a playroom at all. It’s not like a museum, or a zoo, or a traveling circus, or a gymnasium, or even the kid’s corner at the local library.

IKEA is like a bad, bad relationship that just won’t end.

You enter and feel so excited by all the possibilities. Everything looks shiny and new. Flawless. You start re-imagining your life. You think of all the great adventures you will have with that storage unit or that loft bed. You imagine the award winning novels you will write on that pale birch desk. It all feels so inspired. But then after mulling around a bit it begins to strike you that everything looks sort of generic and none of it really seems that stable. And it’s all unfinished. And you’re going to have to put it together yourself with that shitty little hardware and those barely legible instructions. And it’s going to be a lot of work and it will end in you feeling terribly incompetent and taken advantage of.

And you start thinking maybe it’s time to cut your losses and just go. You feel determined to up your standards.

You deserve something better than this.

And just as you are firm in your resolve to leave you notice that they’ve got a cafeteria with really cheap food. It’s practically free. You might as well try it. So you go in and you eat and you eat more. And it’s good. And you start thinking, “Maybe I’ll give this another shot.” You kind of feel like you owe them a second chance. After all, they fed you like eating was going out of style. So despite your better judgment you take another lap around the store.

But the buzz doesn’t last.

And now you really want out. Really, really! But you can’t find your way out. Aisle after aisle you pass through all this shit, and you start thinking maybe you do need it, or maybe you don’t or maybe you just don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s the best you are ever going to find SO you start grabbing things, little things, just in case… after all, you’ve lost sight of your taste and your standards and so who’s to say if you weren’t meant to own that wicker napkin holder or set of plastic cups. And you feel frenetic and you want to cry but you don’t want to be that girl; that girl who cries at IKEA. So you pull it together, just… long… enough… to get out. And you make some witty remark to the cashier, “No, no…thank you.” And you go to your car and you drive like a bat out of hell and you run into your house and you take a shower and you wash it all away. And…if you have a kid you hold her tight.

“I love you sweetie,” you say as you sob into her shoulder.

“I’m sorry… I forgot myself….I lost sight of what’s really important. Everything will be all right…it will go back to the way it was before it all went wrong…. Before IKEA…

Tomorrow we will go to a real playroom.

I promise. “

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