Picking up Maisie from her Irish dancing class I ran into my sister Paulette with her six year-old son Max. As Paulette had just dropped her daughter Charlie at dance class, and she and Max now had a few hours to kill, I asked what she intended to do with the rest of her Saturday. “I thought we’d head to Ikea” was Paulette’s oh-too-casual reply. I took a deep breath. “You’re going to Ikea?” I stammered. “With a child?”
In an instant a nightmare world unfolded itself in my mind. A cruel, evil blue-and-yellow maze had me trapped and no matter which way I turned I couldn’t find the exit. My loving daughters, serene and kind, had inexplicably transformed into evil screaming banshees, tearing apart model kitchens, jumping on soft furnishings and demanding Swedish meatballs. Susie, so often called upon as the sensible one in the family, had turned into a mindless zombie, picking up items we have never needed and will never use, croaking out in a ghostly monotone: “144 tea candles for $9.95. We should get those”. I was suddenly snapped out of this torturous world by the sound of Paulette’s voice.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with Ikea?” Paulette wanted to know.
“Well have you at least got a list of the EXACT items you are going to buy?” I demanded, “A plan of attack? Have you studied the floor-plan on-line?” There are many ways to survive Ikea, but you must be prepared. DEAR GOD, YOU MUST BE PREPARED...
Sensing my unease, Paulette moved to comfort me. “I have a budget. I don’t think we can go too far astray if we stick to the budget” she reasoned. Oh you poor, poor novice. Sweet, innocent, wide-eyed Paulette. Would we ever see Paulette or Max again?
Later that night Paulette called me. She had invented some pretext for the call and we danced around a few periphery issues, but it was clear in her voice that something had changed. What was it? Whatever it was, it was something slight but unmistakable, only noticeable to a loving brother – inside Paulette’s soul something, somewhere, had hardened. Finally I mustered the courage to confront the Elephant in the room. “How was Ikea?” I asked in a measured and even tone. Instantly, the line went dead. After what seemed like an age, I heard a shallow intake of breath. I steeled myself for her response. “The budget didn’t work” was the only answer she could give. The pain in her answer was palpable.
Suddenly it all came out in a gush. Gut wrenching stories about light fittings she didn’t even know she needed demanding to be purchased at the laughingly low price of $34.95. Tales of fights with Max over impossibly cute storage options brilliantly disguised as building blocks. The shocking confession that both Paulette and Max, driven crazed and hungry from their wild shopping spree, had greedily enjoyed their meal from the Ikea cafeteria. “At least it’s better than McDonalds” Paulette had sobbed. “I felt as though I was only one purchase away from the perfect item, the one item that would transform my life and change the way I lived forever. I felt such . . . such . . . Power . . .”
As I patiently listened to Paulette’s story of being seduced by the siren’s song of Swedish furnishings, I could only repeat the same phrase over and over again: “You MUST have a plan. You MUST have a plan . . .”
Have you visited Ikea and lived to tell the tale? Do you know of anyone who has taken a child into the store and walked out unscathed? Please share you tales of hope...
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You MUST have a plan.