Part and parcel of our frequent relocations seems to be a pilgrimage to IKEA, the prospect of which wrings my stomach into a cold knot. Nothing induces an existential crisis in me more than a trip to IKEA. The catalogue can make me nauseous, because it is filled with happy-looking, multi-ethnic families that look so…settled, so…organized. They do not look like the kind of people who move by plane with eleven bags, pulled from the triage center (storage, donation, ship, pack in bags) of one’s parents’ garage just the night before.
Once, IKEA was a novelty. When I was in college, it was a trek to get to the one store, an EVENT. The first time, I was dazzled by the seemingly affordable furniture that I thought might make me look more like a grownup that the plastic milk crates I was using as a nightstand/bookcase. The Swedish meatballs and the Glögg! It was all so tongue-in-cheek, with those umlauts. I’m pretty sure we served the Glögg at a party. It may or may not have been the party where a homeless man wandered in, whom I had to confront and manhandle out the door, and kick out the last guest at 4am. We had invited the entire film school at UCLA, and they all came. This was also during the era that Val & I covered our sofa (free from a grad student) with a fuzzy, green fabric (my friend was dating the son of a fashion designer and he would bring me bolts of fabric) that gave the appearance of grass after Jasco-ing off the ugly orange finish on the wood frame. IKEA, then, seemed a huge step-up from these other modes of furnishing our college and post-college apartments, i.e., free from friends, found on the street, or Goodwill purchases.
But then somehow, IKEA stores began following me where I moved and IKEA became the go-to place to fill-in the gaps of whatever temporary situation I was in. It appeared oppositional to growing up and settling down. The logic is insidious: here we are for example, living in a fully-furnished house in Dublin. But yet, it is not really our house, so we do not have our mixing bowls or desk chairs or the plates we received as a wedding gift. So we must re-buy these things, but we shouldn’t spend much because they will not go on with us. At this stage in life, I see IKEA for what it is: landfill crap. I would much rather have sturdy, well-made, thought-out purchases that will be in our home forever, like my great Aunt’s writing desk. Only we don’t have a home, in the traditional sense. So upon entering IKEA, I find myself having to face up to the reality of our lives, which is: we have no real plan about the future, I have no idea where my children will go to school and if I should be on the waiting lists in a few states and countries as a back-up, and I don’t know if I will ever have a home that has space for my beloved books that have been in boxes for years now. I know this is a freedom some envy, and I try to focus on that, especially because now home ownership has become a trap for so many, including some of our friends, who are underwater and left owning homes that are worth far less than what they paid so that they cannot leave them even if they wanted to. But still on bad days, I am jealous you are HOME.
Factor all of this into my tired brain and more tired body on the day we decide we must get to IKEA. (The day after Sascha’s memorable grocery shopping experience.) It takes two buses to get us there, and we fold up the stroller and the boys stand up on the seats to check out everything. They are double-decker buses, and the boys are finally able to contextualize “The Wheels on the Bus.” I see the realization crawl across their tiny faces (hey, our mama wasn’t just making this up like a crazy lady, the people on the bus are going up and down, up and down.) Each time the bus slows down, G demands “More! More!”
C watching the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish
The blue-and-yellow big box comes into view on the horizon like we are getting off at the end of the world. It is the last stop on the bus, in any case. It is 4:30pm, and the website says the store closed at 6pm. I am extremely agitated that we will not be able to get through the Skinner’s box-like set-up of two levels plus have dinner there, since it will be the boys’ dinnertime soon. The plan (oh the plans, why do I even bother?) was to have one of us stay with the boys in the play area, while two others zoomed through to get the shopping done, then meet in the café for dinner. Unfortunately, the Smäland (I think there’s an umlaut in there) is fully booked for the evening. That means the boys and the double-stroller are coming with us. Oh yeah, and there are returns to be made as well.
Now in the States, a late Sunday afternoon/early evening would have been a slow time, because most people are home with their families, making sauce for Sunday dinners. So we thought, silly Americans we, that it would be fairly low-key. Sascha peeled away to handle returns, and my mom and I took the boys up into the lift to set off on the path to Oz. The narrow, winding path through the showroom is like a crowded conveyor belt and I quickly understand that we are not going to get to the see the Wizard, no, but we are actually in Dante’s Inferno. It is growing hotter by the minute, and I must pull off the track where we are just getting herded along like cattle to get my coat off and shove it in the bottom of the stroller. If we stop, we cause an angry back-up of families from all over (eastern European languages are what I hear predominantly). I dash off into the 85m2 apartment and wonder, “Am I home yet? Could this be home? Could I just take off my coat and put on the kettle in the kitchen?” I am becoming increasingly disoriented and overwhelmed. Sascha texts to say we have until 7pm, the website was wrong. When he locates me in the store, I am nonresponsive. I have started thinking we should buy everything, or nothing. The list is balled in my sweaty palm, and I seem to be unable to make any kind of decision. I am baffled as to why the things I want aren’t really for sale here and why oh why did we go to the showroom when we just needed the market-place? We decide to take a break and eat and do our best to keep the boys out of the play area in the café, which seemed malevolent–a violent mosh pit, too close to The Hunger Games. The clock is ticking and we haven’t bought a single item and I never, ever want to come back here again.
The dark underbelly of IKEA: the self-serve warehouse where our dolley will remain empty.
Brave Sascha stays with the boys and my mom and I dash down to the marketplace to quickly look for glasses, cutlery, storage items, lamps. S reports back from the self-serve warehouse that the extra chairs we need are not in stock, oh and guess what, you can’t just order them and have them delivered. You’d have to come back and see if they were in stock. The boys are starting to lose it. We get to the checkout area and I am the last person allowed in the line to buy a token for the ice cream machine. This alone can save us, I know.
"Happy!" as they call ice cream, in a very appropriate conflation. We had run out of wipes at this point.
We call a taxi for the journey home, the boys now drooping over us with exhaustion, dark gathering outside. On my way out, I see this in disbelief:
A little hard to make out, but the late afternoon-close Sunday hours are marked with the red man. The code is as follows: green man=peaceful, yellow man=room to move, red man=mingle/busy. "Mingle" I think is a euphemism for "so packed that others' breathing will create a micro-greenhouse effect." I'm surprised there's no umlaut.