There are two ways to approach the IKEA experience, especially when you’re trying to do it with a child or two in tow. One is to treat it like a fun day out – forget about buying anything specific, just follow your toddler around and indulge their every whim. Every toy can be cuddled, every rug stroked and every bed jumped on. Then you all go for meatballs. Winner!
And then there’s the approach we took – the Trying To Buy Something approach. Not so easy and not such a winner with Toddles here. It’s long been established that IKEA is less of a shop and more of an experiment by evil Swedish scientists, who are presumably watching the whole thing from a sterile control room somewhere. The rat-in-a-cage feeling starts right from the entrance, where ambiguous signs send you around in circles until you eventually bag a parking spot somewhere under the store. At that point, you begin to wonder whether your boot is big enough to fit a flat-pack wardrobe into. So you employ the human tape measure:
It’s not as cruel as it looks, honestly. He was totally up for the idea. And he’s around 108cm if you ever need to use him too. So, the boot was measured and we were ready to subject ourselves to some psychological torture.
But first, some meatballs. You have to get these things out of the way early, don’t you? The kids had already had lunch, but it was a Bank Holiday Monday and BigTesco had closed for a day on the Sunday, leaving us without enough bread for me and Nathan to lunch. So, I left Nathan and the kids in the “unsupervised play area” in the cafe and queued up for the first maze of the day – the canteen. I instantly regretted not getting one of those wheely tray things that everyone else had. It made balancing a tray look so easy! Instead, I juggled two lots of meatballs and chips, as well as jelly for the kids (a bargain 60p!). The condiments section had something called ligonberry jam, which I now realise is a perfectly legitimate thing to have on meatballs. Regret #2 – being suspicious of anything that called itself “jam” in conjunction with dinner. I might not have liked it, but I wish I’d given it a try.
Roo liked his jelly though. Eva had a few spoons of hers then ran off back to the play area:
It was going to be tough getting her out of there. In fact, it would be a wrestling her into the buggy thing. If only we weren’t actually planning to buy anything, it would be fine. But I had a whole list of things we needed, including that wardrobe so she would just have to get with the program. The evil-scientist-controlled program. Roo, meanwhile, would be going to play. We had long heard tell of the free Ikea creche and it was time to try it out. But first we had to find it. A set of steps down from the cafe area seemed to lead to the gates of Smaland, but instead it got us to the pick-up point, which was curiously divorced from the front desk. A door that could link the two was marked “Staff Only”. It was the first test and we failed. A trip up in the lift got us back to where we started and from there we located another lift, which finally got us within sight of the Promised Smaland and its enticing ball pool. Roo was booked in for the next session, which gave him just enough time to rampage around Children’s IKEA (defying the one-way system) and demand at least half a dozen different things, including a cuddly elk and a rabbit in a hat. We eventually placated him with a £4 rug for his room, with a dinosaur on it. It was actually Eva’s room that was meant to be getting a new rug, but never mind.
With Roo safely deposited in the creche, we decided to use the free hour to attack our wishlist, mission-style. First, though, Eva needed some time out of the buggy. Nathan returned from dropping Roo off to find me charging through the bedrooms section, in hot pursuit of a very cheeky and surprisingly fast toddler. She liked the freedom. She liked the tactile fabrics everywhere and she liked the play tent:
Sadly, all these things would be soon taken away from her, as we deemed her erractic behaviour a hazard to efficiency and she was back in the buggy. Which left us free to inefficiently wander around the Showroom for the next 15 minutes or so in search of more rugs, before descending to the Market Place to wander round there inefficiently instead. We never did buy Eva a rug, but we did acquire a rolling pin, a toilet brush, a dish scrubber and some pegs in the shape of dogs’ backsides. That’s the magic of IKEA – they lure you in with bright colours and low prices and you leave with a whole pile of things you never meant to buy. To be fair to me, they were all things we actually needed, which I consider a result.
Time was rapidly running out, so we found our way to the Warehouse to find the wardrobe we’d seen online. Of course we could have ordered it online but that would cost us £30 in delivery and we were keen to save that. Or, alternatively, spend that money on petrol/cake/jelly/meatballs/rolling pins/a nice family day out instead. To that end, Nathan measured the bits of flat-pack furniture we needed to see if they’d fit in the car. Apparently, he had a real tape measure in his pocket all this time.
With five minutes to go, we needed to find a way back to the Smaland pick up point to get Roo but it wasn’t easy. Why did all these different bits look the same? Why do the shortcuts pop you out somewhere entirely different to where you were expecting? Why was I so disorientated? I usually have a mental satnav, to go alongside my mental tube map, but something about IKEA had caused it to short circuit. I was entirely dependent on Nathan, a man unable to negotiate his way of the simplest of subways. For the last 16 years, his motto has been “follow Kate” and here, in a Scandanavian rat-trap, it was his turn to lead. I have no idea how we got back to the creche in time, but there we were, collecting our red-faced and over-excited boy who had apparently had “lots and lots of fun”. The free creche is worth a visit to the rat trap on its own.
Nathan headed back to the car, to use his tape measure again to see whether the furniture bits would fit in the car. I needed an energy boost after all the panic, so I hung our yellow bag up in the coffee shop and bought an icy fruit drink for myself and cake all round. The blueberry cheesecake was awesome. Eva licked the icing off her cake then made another bid for freedom so she was confined to buggy, yet again. Meanwhile, Nathan had come back full of confidence about the furniture-car-fitting ability…and with little to no confidence about the furniture-plus-children-car-fitting-ability. We devised a plan – he would take the furniture home and come back for me and the kids. Hooray for only living a few minutes down the North Circular nowadays!
Flat-pack wardrobe was purchased. Roo started whining that he was tired. We went to the car. The games began.
How do you imagine it went? With three boxes of furniture that had to measured to see if they fit in? In a dark carpark with a tantrumming toddler struggling to get out of her buggy and a boy who’s suddenly regained his lively mojo? It was interesting. Roo ended up in the driver’s seat, which he loved. Nathan and I ended up with backache, which we didn’t love. Eventually, though, he drove off very cautiously, with little in the way of peripheral vision, and we wandered off to kill some time. Starting with the outdoor play area. Play time Eva!
As ever, Reuben had an ill-timed announcement stored up for us, so we went back into the store, visited the bright red toilets and then headed to the neighbouring Tesco to buy pizza for tea (it was one of those “can’t be bothered” kind of nights). Eva fell asleep, after much protest, so me and Roo hung out just outside Tesco, using the last few gasps of battery on my phone to try and contact Nathan in the hope that a) he had made it home b) he had managed to unpack the car again without me and that c) he was coming back for us. It didn’t look promising. Roo was fine though – he’d found a Noddy ride, which played an advert on loop so he cuddled up with Noddy and watched the telly:
Did we ever get rescued or are we now living inside one of the IKEA showrooms? I’ll let you decide, because I’m apparently in a reader-empowering mood tonight. I will say this though- if you want to buy a piece of furniture, pay the delivery charge. If you want to have a romp around the showrooms, try out all the yellow play stations and buy an assortment of cuddly arctic animals, go to IKEA. Mind you, once Eva hits 3 and is eligible for the free creche, I can see us going there a lot more often…