Shopping at IKEA, toddler in tow and baby on board, puts parenting into perspective

A few Saturdays ago, I got extra motivated after a morning hike with my daughter and my dog. We needed supplies for a few projects to spruce up our newly bought home — and, more importantly, some gear for our family’s newest addition, due this summer. I figured I’d get a jump on a productive weekend by hitting up IKEA, just me and my toddler.

You can see where this is going.

BabySteps-IKEA_PDX_Solar_(131)The trip started out just fine: My daughter stood in the shelving section, directing traffic. Other shoppers smiled as she pointed them toward media centers and swivel chairs. She happily checked out wooden toys while I picked out a present for her upcoming second birthday.

Many showroom twists and turns later, I was getting nowhere weighing the merits of unpronounceable versions of curtain rods. We’d long-passed the toy section, and I was afraid of a complete meltdown if I tried dropping her off at the in-store childcare. It’s no wonder my toddler was getting bored. Too wriggly to be contained in the shopping cart, every few seconds she would dart away, much more interested in playing peek-a-boo behind window coverings than in listening to me. I was terrified I’d lose her among the crush of people and plywood furnishings.

I couldn’t just cut my losses and escape with a few shelves, though; I knew I’d never manage a return trip before the bambino arrived. It was now or never.

We finally made it to the self-service maze. When I tried to maneuver a box into the cart, though, she ran into the hidey-holes between the aisles. I ducked in to grab her before an unassembled kitchen table pancaked her — and hit my head on the way out.

I ended up consoling her, singing “Hush Little Baby” in her ear. It wasn’t her fault, of course: She was nearing the end of her IKEA rope and frankly, so was I.

We still had to pay, pack our purchases into the cart, then push $200 of umlauted goods back to the car — which, by the way, I lost. That’s the true picture of “desperate”: a heavily pregnant woman wandering an enormous parking lot, carrying a tired toddler, pushing a cart that veers right and furiously hitting her keys’ “unlock” button in the hopes her car will beep loud enough to find it.

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Deep breath.

By the time I found the car, loaded the trunk, handed a squeezie to Peeper and eased out of my parking space, I was at my breaking point. When the third driver cut me off, I flipped her the bird.

And that was when my rage suddenly flipped to laughter. Seriously? I thought. When was the last time I’d actually given someone the finger? I had let that big blue box off Airport Way get the best of me.

As harrowing as that IKEA trip was, it underscored the fact that there are some lessons I apparently need to learn over and over again. I should not take on enormous projects by myself, even if I’m in hyperspeed nesting mode. I should not expect my toddler to be on her best behavior in a place crammed full of such tantalizing distractions as shower curtain displays and 5,000 lamps. And especially when my daughter is around, I should approach these kinds of frustrations with a little humor. After all, she is a little sponge, and how can I expect her to calmly handle a block tower that keeps tipping over if I lose my patience at inconsiderate drivers?

That Saturday, I left the parking lot vowing, “Never again.” If I’m being honest, though, I’ll probably head back soon enough for more frames to display photos of our littlest smooshface and a crib once Baby outgrows the cosleeper.

But live and learn: Next time, I won’t go it alone. I’m bringing backup.

Catherine Ryan Gregory
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