Parenting

IKEA With a Toddler: Not as Awful as You Might Think

Crowds of activists are arrested after they rushed past barriers and protested from the steps of the Capitol before the confirmation vote on President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Our couch is broken. I sat on it the other day and the whole thing caved in at the center. I’m glad it was me. If it had been my husband I would have blamed him for breaking our couch. This way I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. So now we need a new couch. And, since we can’t actually afford the chaise lounge from the library at Downton Abbey, we took a trip to IKEA. With our two-year-old son.

Everybody loves IKEA until they’re actually there. In fact, a few years ago an article in The Atlantic proved what everyone knows to be true: IKEA kills relationships. Go to IKEA with your significant other and you’re bound to have an argument. Go there enough and you might even get divorced. According to one clinical psychologist quoted in the article, the IKEA showroom “literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare.”

And it’s true, I suppose. My husband and I do have an argument (or at least a tense exchange) pretty much every time we’re there. But I don’t think it has anything to do with what the article in The Atlantic says it does. We’re not arguing because the kitchen area makes me resentful that I do all the cooking (I’m happy to cook), or because the office section reminds him that I don’t deal with our finances (he wouldn’t want me to deal with our finances). We’re not even arguing over what furniture to get (he knows to just let me decide). No. We’re arguing because I like it there and he doesn’t.

I want to wander slowly through the showroom, sitting down in each expertly curated room, pretending I live there, and saying things like, “Oh, do come sit on my EKTORP, darling! Doesn’t it look lovely here next to my POANG?” and fall over laughing. He wants to make a beeline for whatever it is we came to get and get the heck out of there (crowds make him nervous). I want to inspect every item in the marketplace, holding things up and musing about whether we need a little potted bamboo plant, or maybe a framed picture of a raindrop. The marketplace just seems so full of possibilities somehow. There are so many things! And they’re all so cheap! Surely we must need something. He wants to skip the marketplace entirely. I want to eat as many $2 slices of pizza and $1 hotdogs as I can before leaving. He . . . well, actually he wants to do that too.

So, if going to IKEA with your significant other is hard, what about going there with your significant other and your toddler? It turns out the same rules apply. Everyone is excited to go (even your toddler who, for some reason, remembers the last trip there four months ago as the best day of his life) and everyone is cranky when we’re actually there. And it also turns out, at least for us, that we’re cranky for the same reasons we always are: I want to be there and my husband does not. And my son wants to be there and also he does not.

In the kids’ section, my son climbs up onto a big-boy bed and lies down like he’s taking a nap. My husband collects a bunch of weird-looking stuffed animals and piles them up on the bed next to him. They laugh. I look longingly at all the things it suddenly feels like we need: easels, paintbrush pens, tents. We’re all having a good time. So, for this part of the trip, at least, it’s better to have a toddler than not.

In the couch section, my son wanders around aimlessly looking for toys. There are none. He settles for anything breakable and cries loudly when he’s told he can’t touch anything here. My husband wants to buy the same couch we had before. Except not broken. I want to look at all the other couches and fantasize about them and then buy the couch we had before except not broken. My son is cranky because the couches aren’t toys. My husband is cranky because he wants to get out of here. I’m cranky because everyone else is cranky and it’s giving me a headache and making it less fun to pretend that I own something called a NOCKEBY. We buy the same couch we had before. Except not broken. For this part of the trip, it’s better to not have a toddler.

Then we go downstairs and my son eats a cinnamon roll the size of his head. Which is enjoyable to him and hilarious to my husband and me. We also eat some cinnamon rolls the size of our son’s head. Which is enjoyable in its own right. So, we’re back to having fun, and it’s largely because of our son since he looks so funny eating that cinnamon roll.

And then we leave. My husband is glad to get out of there. My son is staring ahead glassily in some sort of food coma. And I’m sad we didn’t get to visit the marketplace. But, honestly, all things considered, not a terrible trip to IKEA. And my husband and I are still married which, given the dire predictions in that Atlantic article, always makes me feel superior and smug, which I enjoy.

So, there’s hope! If your relationship survives its initial trips to IKEA long enough for you and your significant other to reproduce, you might actually have a better time when you come back with your offspring. Or not. Nothing’s certain with toddlers.