It was raining. It really wasn’t an ideal day to schlep all four kids into the van, drive through the mud and muck, over the bridge into Philly. But when is it ever an ideal day to take all your kids anywhere? Even if it is the mecca of Swedish-made products for every inch of the house.
“Everybody in,” we said, “we’re going to IKEA.”
Rewind a couple years back to the first time desperation trumped my anal resistance to IKEA’s childcare, Smaland. I mean, who dumps their kids at an IKEA childcare? Only weirdos, I thought. But when you need a fold-out sofa for the basement and the older ones see the ball pit, sometimes you break.
Two years ago I found myself checking my kids into Smaland, trying to ignore the internal resistance. Once they were safely in with identification tags on, flying into the ball pit (also known as the flu pit), my husband and I looked at one another, smiled, grabbed hands and skipped to the snack line. Nothing like a cheap cup of coffee and no kids around (okay, maybe one strapped to my husband’s chest, but still, we don’t count him) to savor the taste of freedom.
But that was almost two years ago. Now, the kids expect Smaland. They look forward to it and are willing to put in the time it takes to wait for the three open spots needed to fit all three of my big kids into this hour-long holding tank.
So, back to the rainy, dreary day last week. My husband and I were on a mission: get cabinets. “If there is a wait,” we said, “there will be no Smaland.” And because there is always a wait, there was a wait. So the kids set off with us to look at cabinets. Quickly realizing that studying finishes, hardware, and precise measurements is next to impossible with kids, I relented. I left my husband to the calculating and took my crew down to Smaland. Regardless of the length of time we would have to wait, it was going to be worth it.
For the most part, I wish the story stopped here. Where I walked them down and we had a pleasant exchange with the Smaland attendant and my children ran in ready to dive into that colorful flu pit.
But, no. Unfortunately, the plot of our IKEA cabinets story quickly thickens.
Code Red: Drama at Smaland
I think the Smaland capacity is twelve. So if your child is lucky enough to be let into one of those precious twelve spots, you feel you’re something special. The parents signing in are always smiling like they’re signing the dotted line to accept their child’s full-ride scholarship to college. They’re sheepishly proud and a little giddy knowing that, though every parent wants that full ride—I mean, spot—at Smaland, not everyone gets it. The parents about to embark freely into the aisles of IKEA always hug their child like it’s going to be hard to see them go. While deep down they are plotting their every move to grab some new serving trays, napkins, outdoor seating, and a cinnamon bun with this newfound kid-free time. But, again, the lucky parent remains calm, listening intently to the IKEA Smaland staff person about the rules, the return time, and that if you don’t return at the expected time they will put your child in a SKӒGӦRTT chokehold until you do. (Just kidding.)
We’ve never had a problem at Smaland, other than our aversion to the long wait to get in. Well, I should say we’ve never had a problem at Smaland until this day.
Once my kids and I arrived at the line, I quickly sized up the situation. About nine kids inside Smaland, a woman actively checking in three daughters, and a gentleman sitting on the waiting bench with his son.
“There’s a wait,” he said.
I smiled, “I know, thank you,” I said as we took our place in line.
Within a few minutes, the Smaland attendant looked up from her clipboard. “Next.”
The seated gentleman stepped up to the desk just as another woman coming from left field also stepped up. “Nope,” she said, “I’m next.”
Pause. If I’ve learned anything from the years of Smaland waiting, it’s that she hadn’t been there so she wasn’t next. Okay, back to the story.
I couldn’t help myself. “Actually, he was next,” I said.
You don’t know me, but justice is important to me whether I’m involved in it or not. Though I knew nothing about this man, never learned his name, how old his son was, where he lived, or if he was also hoping to grab some cute napkins today, I still felt he was owed some justice. I probably should have kept my mouth shut.
As we all stood there stunned by this woman’s bold move of acting like she was next, no one could have been prepared for her next move. She looked right at me and said four words that stopped my entire world from moving.
“Did we ask you?”
Perhaps she thought I hadn’t heard her. She repeated herself.
“Did we ask you?”
I stood there, frozen. My children at my feet. My words escaped me but my face must have been crumbling. I grabbed my children and nudged them to walk away.
“Good,” she said. “Go.”
That wasn’t enough for her. “You and your ugly face.”
I stopped moving.
“Yeah, that’s right. I can see it in your ugly face.”
To say I was speechless would be a lie. I had plenty of words to say and fists I wanted to throw. But I figured any word that came out unfiltered would be something I’d regret for the rest of my life. Mostly, because my kids were there and they were eyewitnesses to what is known in their world as bullying.
I chose my words carefully and they came out slowly. Like using a single pointer finger to type a sentence on a keyboard.
“I teach my kids every day. . .” I started.
“Good for you. Wow. You want a cookie? You teach your kids every day? Wow!”
I glared at her. “I teach my kids every single day never to speak to anyone the way you are speaking to me now.”
She kept on.
“Good for you. You want a sticker?” She clapped three times. “You want a cookie?”
We were getting nowhere fast. But I still had this weird desire to humanize her. I asked her for her name.
“Why do you want to know my name?”
“Well, I’m Karen. And these are my children.”
And since she was right, I stopped. So what? I didn’t know why I was trying to make sense of this situation. My palms sweating, heart pounding, I reached for my phone to call my husband telling him to abort the plan. It was time to go.
The kids and I walked away.
I’m certain this angry woman checked her son into Smaland without having pause or regret over what had just gone down. (Or maybe she did, and maybe she had terrible things going on in her life that made her lash out and I’ll never know about them. But at this point, I wasn’t ready to explore forgiveness or empathy. I mean, the woman sarcastic-clapped in my face. Come on.) To say I felt sorry for her isn’t exactly accurate, but I did feel sorry for her son who likely gets caught in her miserable drama more often than not.
Earning Your Sticker
Maybe you’ve had something similar happen to you. Maybe you’ve been angered by mean people and have wondered why they can get away with it. It’s easy to walk away from this situation and chalk people like her up to the bullies of the earth. But that’s too easy.
I’ve concluded drama is in all of us. It’s our choice to be (or to remain) the victim but it’s also our responsibility not to be the antagonizer.
Sure, our Christian faith supports that drama started at the beginning of time as a result of Eve chomping into the fruit. Her dramatic bite caused a lasting disconnection from God until Jesus arrived. Yes, we can blame Adam and Eve for the drama around us.
But I’m tired of blaming Eve, or the lady at Smaland, or the issues in my past, or the things that didn’t work out or the obstacles I see ahead.
Because we all have Adam and Eve in us, we all have drama in us. Your drama might be sitting at bay, or actively presenting, or maybe somewhere in between. Regardless, when your Smaland moment comes or in whatever form it does, it’s your choice to give into it or cast your eyes, mind, heart, headaches—all of it—onto the one who can produce the only true, lasting peace.
Drama Has No End
I could have punched her. Really. That’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to knock her out. I’ve never punched anyone, but anyone who had the audacity to speak to me like that in front of my children deserves some kind of spanking. But instead, I opted not to. Which was better, of course. It kept me out of jail and showed my kids it’s okay to not let mean people get the best of you.
Drama is an ever-present opportunity to put James 1:19 into practice—the verse that could change every single relationship we are in, if we let it. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
As far as I know, the man I defended never missed a beat. As this woman and I stood enmeshed in our drama, he got to experience the freedom that I did not. Good for him.
I used my final moments at IKEA to speak with the manager. I suggested to him that they add a number system at Smaland. “It’s too much to assume angry parents can manage an honor system on their own.”
As we were leaving the store I looked to my children and felt so sad they had to see that ugly exchange. I knelt down to give them hugs. And as you may expect they all looked up at me with tears and horror in their eyes, revealing how this travesty had impacted their little souls.
“So, Mommy,” they sniffed. “Does this mean we can’t go to Smaland?”
Drama. It’s everywhere, folks.
Cover photo by Alexander Isreb.
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