How IKEA Turned a Boy Into a Man, And a Sap Out of Two Dads

“Dada, I dropped your toothbrush in the potty.”


With only one eyelid open, I gaze at my alarm clock. 5:32am. I realize it was going to be one of those Saturdays.

I look at the clock again.

8:43am.

Now this seems like a much more civilized time to start our day. Sadly, we’re not very civilized. Because we already ran around the backyard in our fireman helmets and PJs, read “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie” fourteen times, rode the choo-choo train at the Farmer’s Market…thrice, gone grocery shopping (both Trader Joe's and Ralphs, you know, for a new toothbrush) and made it home in time to watch three consecutive episodes of Peppa Pig. Yes, all before the nine o’clock hour. So here we are at 8:43am with roughly eleven more hours to fill before Max’s bedtime.

This could only mean one thing — IKEA road trip.

I know what you’re thinking. IKEA? Really? On a Saturday? Just go with me here.

It’s the perfect place to kill a few hours. A 500,000 square foot respite from all the annoying “Are you giving your wife the day off?” questions we get at our local park. (You’d think after almost four years they’d get it!) Where else can you frugally shop for stuff you can’t pronounce (RIKTIG ÖGLA shower rings anyone?). Plus, what other big box store serves meatballs and lingonberry juice at 10:14 in the morning?

IKEA’s an indoor playground that doubles as a cheap Swedish furniture oasis. A place where kids laugh, learn, explore, play, climb, fight, cry, complain, scream, poop…? Wait, why are we going there again? I told you — because we’ve already done everything else. Keep up!

The store opens at 10:00am. We arrive at 10:02, which naturally means we have to park four miles away. I ask Maxwell, “How about I push you in your plastic red car?”  “I want to walk,” he says. Who am I to stand in the way of a boy and his exercise? Four steps later, “Carry me Dada!”

We finally make it to the front entrance where two hipster twinks fight over what color FLÅRDFULL candle to buy. Pink wins out (shocker). Then, in the distance, something catches Max’s eye. A long line of runny-nosed minors are impatiently waiting to enter the glorious SMÅLAND, a free play center where children who meet the height requirement (36 to 50 inches) can frolic around in a pit full of plastic balls, watch movies, read books, do arts and crafts and play with puppets — sold at IKEA of course. All this happens under the supervision of IKEA babysitters for up to an hour and a half while parents are free to bask in the afterglow of child-free bliss i.e. distract children for long enough to let parents spend more than they would if their children were around climbing all over display bedrooms.

Max runs up to the You-Have-To-Be-This-High sign and shouts with authority and wonderment “I want to go in, Dada!” I look at Papa. He is tall enough. Papa shrugs “why not?”I explain to Max, “Daddies aren’t allowed in. It’s just for kids. Do you still want to go in there?” He nods yes. I look around. None of the other parents seem anxious. But I still worry.

What if Max gets pelted with plastic balls, gets scared by the forest creatures (they’re made of synthetic fabric after all) or catches chickenpox from the spotted kid standing behind us? Despite the nearby cherubs picking noses, scratching scabs and licking each other, we acquiesce and agree to let Max enter the human petri dish Ikea play center. Gotta cut the cord at some point, right?

They only let a few kids in at a time, so we wait…and wait… and wait. And with every step we get towards the front of the line, the pungent “no shoes allowed” scent begins to permeate its way through the hall. I hold my nose and then my heart as it begins to race. I’m overthinking everything. How is this going to play out? What if he needs us? What if he has to poop?

We finally arrive at the front of the line.

“Does he wear diapers?” a seemingly annoyed — who can blame her — IKEA worker asks without looking up. “Nope,” we proudly proclaim. “And he’s totally potty trained?” she adds. I look at Papa. It’s a look that only in-tune parents can give. The one that says without actually saying, “Well he poops in the toilet but he still needs help wiping so is that really considered potty trained… but we’ve waited in line for almost an hour and she’s waiting for our response so what do we do cause we gotta say something… anything…”

“Yep, totally potty trained,” Papa declares.

Oy.

She opens the gate for Max to enter. He puts his Toms in the shoe cubby. She hands us a pager. “When an hour’s up, this will buzz. That’s when you need to come back and get him.”  “What if he needs us sooner?” I ask. “We’ll buzz you…” she rudely says with an eye roll.

Max excitedly runs inside without so much as a wave goodbye. I don’t move. I can’t move. What’s happening to me? The annoyed worker senses my helicopter-ness taking over, and points towards a small window where parents can watch their kids playing inside. There is a God. I run over to the window. Grinning from ear to ear, Max belly flops into the plastic ball pit. “See, he’ll be fine. Let’s go. We need to pick up a third SKÄNKA piece for our bedroom.” I love it when Alex talks dirty.

So off we go meandering our way — like cattle — through four square miles of furniture. We find a comfy bed — the FJELLSE, a bargain at just $89.99 — to rest on. Then, all of the sudden, the bed begins to vibrate. And not in the good way. We hear the sounds of vibrating buzzers all around us. The mom to our right. The dad to our left. Why is everyone being buzzed but me? Did something happen in SMÅLAND? I frantically follow the big yellow arrows as fast as I can back downstairs to check on Max. I finally arrive at the little window, out of breath, finding Max laughing and jumping inside the ball pit. Whew. He’s fine. But then, just as we’re about to head back upstairs, we notice Max climbing out of the ball pit, with his hand covering his junk, doing his “I have to potty” dance. Kill me now.

He walks up to an IKEA babysitter and says, “Potty.” She points him towards the bathroom a few feet away. He opens the world's heaviest door by himself, goes inside and what happens next… we’ll never know. Alex and I just sit there, behind the window, shaking, hearts beating out of our chest, sweating profusely, hoping, wishing, praying, that it was just number one. He’s really good at number one. It seemed like thirty minutes had passed, but in reality it was probably ninety seconds. The door opens, out walks our little man, proudly giving the babysitter an “all is good” hand gesture before jumping back into the ball pit.

Holy BILLY Bookcase, Batman. Our baby is no longer a baby!

Sure, his shorts were on backwards. His belt was flipped upside down. And we’re pretty sure he didn’t wash his hands — but none of that matters. Because today was a landmark day for Max. He went into that IKEA SMÅLAND bathroom a little boy, and came out an independent man. A little guy… who no longer needed his Dada and Papa.

We were devastated. I’m talking last-ten-minutes-of -"Beaches"-devastated.

This was no ordinary Saturday. This would be a Saturday for the history books. The day we realized our boy’s growing up. And for some odd reason, this momentous IKEA bathroom experience had more of an impact than when he spoke his first word, took his first step and his first day of pre-school. Through our tears we wondered if he’d ever need us again.

Just then, the buzzer goes off. He came running out, laughing, smiling, sweating and reeking of feet. We needed to hydrate... and fast. We stopped at the cafeteria, got him a lingonberry juice box and chicken fingers, doused him in hand sanitizer and watched adoringly as he told us all about his SMÅLAND adventure.

On our way out, Max sees other kids in line for frozen yogurt. He turns to us, “Please Papa and Dada. I’m a good boy.” Who can argue with that logic? When we go to pay, the cashier asks, “Cup or cone?” Max says cone. I know it’s gonna be messy, but he is — as we learned earlier — a big boy now.

He starts licking the super high swirl. But not quickly enough, as it starts melting all over his fingers. He gives us his you’ve-got-three-seconds-to-fix-this-before-I-have-a-full-on-meltdown face. I run back inside, and ask for a cup. I put half of the swirl in a cup so the cone will be more manageable for his little hand. He smiles, “Thanks Dada. That’s perfect.”Maybe he still needs us after all.

As we leave, we watch college kids try to stuff oversized boxes into their dumb smart cars. Then Max grabs both of our hands before crossing the street and asks, “Can we come back tomorrow?” We both look at each other and instinctually say in unison, “They’re closed tomorrow. They’re not, but well, you get the idea...

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