Today I took the three kids to IKEA. Are you already laughing?
After lunch, I put three crying kids in the car, trying to sound cheery, hoping my manic and misplaced frivolity will rub off on them, “we’re going to IKEA! Hey, we’ll check out the toys, and then we’ll eat some of their famous apple pie and chocolate cake. It’ll be great…!” Geneva was crying because I made her brush her hair. Truman was crying because I forgot to let HIM open the garage door. And Jukie was crying because his brother and sister were crying. They’ll feel better when we get to IKEA, I reassured myself.
Things started off pretty well. Jukie tolerated riding in the shopping cart for a while. Truman had no patience for the cart, and he usually does less damage to the stores we visit, so I sprung him immediately after we got off the elevator. Soon he was running like a junior sprinter through the housewares, the Swedish offices, and amid all the flimsy colorful furniture, with Geneva chasing after him like a handler making sure a Soviet athlete has no chance to defect. Speaking of Soviet rituals, soon I found the long line I had to wait in to order our new desk while Geneva occupied Truman by spinning him in the office chairs. This isn’t too bad, I’m thinking. I’m such a seasoned Mother. I have the experience necessary to lead this expedition. I can handle this trip.
Then it started. Jukie became less patient with the ride in the cart and started chucking his set of keys at passersby while sharing his signature Jukie shriek (a cross between a howler monkey and a hyena). Truman began venturing further and further away, trying to lose his personal security guard. Then Jukie started with the shoes. You might not know this, but Jukie has a thing about shoes. He hates ‘em, feels that they are unfairly restrictive. So, to show his displeasure with the slow-moving line and with his mobile Ikea cage, Jukie reverted to a practice favored by many Iraqi journalists: throwing his shoes at human targets. I pretended that I understood what he meant with all this sandal shot-put, and let him out of the cart. Holding Jukie’s shoes and my tongue, I stepped away from the cart for a moment to watch the boys run amok in different directions, happy not to hear anything breaking. How do the fates repay me for this maternal diligence? Someone stole our cart – the cart with the information about the desk I ordered (and the purpose of our waiting in that 20 minute line). So I reassign Geneva to watch Truman while I drag Jukie all over looking for the malefactor who took our precious cart.
Jukie didn’t like the cart, but he really didn’t like this new journey or the feeling of my Kung-Fu grip on his wrist, so he starts taking bites out of my hand while trying to keep up with me. Soon the other shoppers were wondering why this woman with a screaming banshee in tow was examining their carts, looking for something suspicious (or stolen). I let Jukie go for just a moment (you probably expected me to use that phrase sooner or later) in order to insinuate myself, again, into the line to order the desk, when he takes off like a shot looking for the only person at Ikea with more sensitive ears than Jukie’s. You guessed it – Jukie ran headlong into a blind man. At least I got there to apologize before Jukie stole the man’s cane. I look around to see if anyone else is noticing the tragicomedy unfolding (the blind man’s unfolding white cane) when I catch a glimpse of Truman standing on top of a train table. Emulating his big brother (and our cart thief), he had stolen someone’s roll of wrapping paper and was bashing light fixtures with it. In a stroke of genius, I stow Jukie in a crib – another cage for our wild child – while I collect Truman.
So I try to reassert the manic cheeriness that we started with in the minivan. “It’s time for a treat break, everyone! Let’s go find that pie and cake I promised you!” Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that the dessert shelves were empty. I ask myself “How am I gonna get out of this one?” The woman behind the counter tells me that all of the cakes and pies are frozen. Of course they are. Whatever. I tell her that I’ll take one of each. The kids are such a handful in line that a nice woman behind me takes pity and tells me that she is a mother of four, three of them boys, and that she knows what it’s like to deal with unruly children. Of course, I’m thinking, unless you have a Jukie, you have absolutely no idea, but she’s sweet and empathic, and I enjoy a momentary reprieve from my stress with a nice conversation. In response to this mom’s comment about Jukie’s beautiful red hair, I look down and see that Jukie has taken his shoes and socks off. Again. So while I am bending down to put them back on, the woman arrives with our frozen pie and cake. She didn’t see me so she takes our frozen confections back to some huge freezer in the back of the kitchen. As I stand up, Geneva fills me in on what happened, so I start waving my arms wildly saying, “I’m over here! I’m the woman who wants the frozen dessert!” Oh. My. God. Is this really my life? It’s like I’m Lucille Ball.
While we were waiting to pay for our frozen treats, Truman starts screaming with sudden outrage that HE was not the one to put the food on the tray: “I wanted to do it. I wanted to put dat on dere… .” Jukie’s shoes are off again. We head over to the closest table where Boonie boxes Jukie into the booth so I can gather our requisite ton of napkins and silverware. I arrive back to the table in time to witness Truman attempting to carry the frozen chocolate cake to his spot at the table. Thanks to lightening quick reflexes (developed over the last seven years of Jukie’s life), Geneva and I each catch a section of the cake, thus preventing it from landing in Truman’s lap as his plate tipped vertically. As I’m searching for my Excedrin Migraine in my purse, I watch Truman forget that we don’t tip cups while drinking through straws. Juice fills his lap. More crying.
Too bad I chose to wear a yellow shirt to Ikea, for as we were checking out every shopper in the Sacramento Valley was asking me for directions, advice, and translations of the capitalized Swedish words on their potential purchases. With a boy under each arm I want to scream “Do I LOOK like I work here?!!!” Then I start wondering if my Lexapro is a placebo - as if there had been a crazy mix-up at the pharmacy. On our way out, Truman insists on riding one of those huge flat carts, with Geneva as driver. What do I care? Go ahead and push him, I tell her. So, she does, only the wheels move in every direction for maneuverability. Like most of us with those unwieldy IKEA vehicles, she ends up crashing it into everything and everyone in their path. Luckily the boys’ screaming helped people realize that they should step aside, kinda like we do when we hear sirens behind us.
And at the self-service checkout, nothing scans at all. At that point, I KNEW I had to come home and write this story, if only for therapeutic reasons. Happy new year!