I almost had a baby at Ikea. That sounds like it could be a metaphor so let me clarify that I am speaking literally. I almost went into labor and delivery while waiting to pay for stylish Swedish lighting fixtures in Red Hook. And it’s not because I didn’t know I was having labor pains.
It’s because I am such an Ikea junky I could not pull myself away. Also, it’s my third baby. These sorts of things tend to happen with your third.
How does a person transform from a savvy shopper with self-restraint to a conspicuous consumer panting through contractions behind a cart filled with faux bear-skin rugs? Well, when you think about it, how does one not?
It started when Ikea opened in Brooklyn. There was a time New Yorkers had to schlep over to Elizabeth, New Jersey to obtain aesthetically-pleasing yet affordable furniture and enjoy the best meatballs outside of Stockholm for under $4. With the nearest Ikea in New Jersey, the world retained a semblance of order and balance. And then, one fateful day, the furniture wonder-shop opened its doors in Red Hook, oh-so-tantalizingly close. Not only was there plentiful parking, there was a free shuttle bus from the Slope, a cafe with views serving kids’ meals for just $2.49, and even free child-care, so my children could frolic in the ball pit while I compared kitchen cabinet knobs. And then there were the cinnamon buns. Yes, the smell of those cinnamon buns was the final nail in the coffin of my willpower. Or, I should say, the penultimate one. What truly killed my willpower was getting pregnant again.
At the end of my third pregnancy, two things happened at exactly the same time. First, a relentless nesting craze took hold of me, compelling me to organize the “Hoarders” level clutter in our apartment. Secondly, with my due date approaching, I began to consider where I’d put the baby. And the stark realization dawned on me that there was, in fact, nowhere to put the baby. We would be a family of five living in a one-bedroom apartment: there wasn’t enough room for my son’s Lego collection, much less a whole new human being and her baby gear.
Moving to a bigger place would have been great but we didn’t have the money. There was, however, a cheap way to get more livable space, and guzzle Lingonberry juice in the process.
“You know I hate going to Ikea,” David said, when I announced the plan for our Extreme Home Makeover, a plan that relied heavily on the phrase “maximize vertical space!”
“It’s like Vegas in there,” David went on, “No clocks so you can’t tell how long you’ve been inside and no cellphone reception so you’re cut off from the outside world — from your loved ones who’d tell you to stop buying crap you don’t need.”
“But we do need this crap,” I persuaded him, “This crap is the lynchpin between us and a happy life!”
“See?” he countered, “You’re already going overboard. Which proves my point that Ikea turns you into a crazy person.”
“Daddy’s right,” piped up my seven year-old Primo, “You start grabbing everything and throwing it in the cart, even if we don’t need it. Like the foot pillow with holes in it to keep your feet warm. That was really unnecessary.”
“So I guess you don’t want to play in the ball pit and eat cinnamon buns,” I said casually.
Even the kids can’t resist that Swedish siren song. And that’s how we ended up at Ikea – the first time.
Though it was still before noon, Smaland was completely filled up. Let me assure you that Hell hath no fury like two children who’ve been turned away from Smaland and forced to shop for closet shelving units instead. Yes, our first Ikea trip could have been made into a piece of scared-straight propaganda to get young people to use birth control.
“This is the worst day of my life!” whined Primo as we tried to find someone – anyone- to answer a pressing question about Pax wardrobes, “Just buy something and get this awful ordeal over with!”
“You LIED TO ME!” shrieked five year-old Seconda, “You told me we could watch a MOVIE and play in the BIG SHOE! And now I have to GO SHOPPING which I HATE more than ANYTHING in the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD!”
“Oh come on, this will be so fun!” I chirped, buzzed on the smell of unfinished wood, “We can pretend that we live in these beautiful model rooms! We can play family!”
“We already ARE a family,” Primo lamented, “And it is no fun at all.”
By the time we made it into the warehouse, the children were beating each other senseless, both of them crammed into one shopping cart. This public humiliation tipped the balance on my chronic morning sickness, which really pissed me off.
“You people are RUINING this trip to Ikea!” I shrieked, understanding, but not caring, that I’d become one of those archetypal screaming mothers found in Ikeas the world over, “Now I’m gonna vomit and I won’t even be able to enjoy the freaking meatballs!”
By the time we lugged the furniture into our house (well, David lugged the furniture. I watched, clutching my barf bag), my nerves were so frazzled, I resolved never to enter Ikea again. Of course, without a twelve-step program, I didn’t stand a chance. Because as soon as we erected the first two Trofast units and separated the kids’ toy collections into the red and green buckets, I felt such a flood of satisfaction, I could hardly contain myself.
“We need more of these,” I said breathlessly.
The next month, and the next, and the next, I was back trolling the aisles for home furnishings, searching for the magic piece that would somehow metamorphose my one bedroom into a townhouse (or at least a one-plus) and thus solve all our problems, eliminate sibling rivalry, and quite possibly end war and world hunger, too. The fact that I never found it didn’t deter me from continuing to look; in fact it only made me look harder, and buy lots of crap in the process. Buyer beware: if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself trapped in a nasty Ikea cycle wherein you go to buy furniture to store your crap and by the time you leave, you’ve bought more crap to store and you’re right back where you started. Only poorer. And with less livable space.
“Well, that should do it,” I told David as I slammed the trunk down, having loaded just one more Trofast unit into the car. It was gestational week number 34 and Ikea trip number 10.
“You know how I know you’re lying?” David asked, “We’re at Ikea and your lips are moving.”
Like any great work of art, an apartment’s design is never finished, merely abandoned. And it became clear that I wouldn’t abandon this one until I was on my way to the hospital. Just three days shy of my due date, I somehow managed to convince David to go back to Ikea to solve the lighting deficiency in our living room. I don’t know why I say “somehow.” I know precisely how I did it; by promising him a conjugal visit in exchange for his labors, which offered the added benefit of jump-starting my labor.
“We can leave the kids with my grandmother so it will be almost like a date,” I persuaded him, “You know Ikea makes me amorous.”
Half an hour later, we were gliding into nesting nirvana on the escalator.
“What do you think about the name Stuva?” I asked David, “Am I crazy or is that kind of beautiful?”
“I think the fumes of this place are getting to you,” he replied, “To the extent that I’m worried about their effect on the fetus.”
By the time we reached the lighting area, I noticed something unusual was going on. The elated, out-of-body feeling I usually had while cruising through the model rooms was absent. I walked straight through the marketplace without so much as picking up a colander or box of votive candles. And there was also the fact that I was having contractions — big ones — every few minutes.
“Are you OK?” asked David when I bent over in the middle of the halogen lamps and started huffing and puffing.
“Just a little –“ I panted, “Con – trac – tion.”
He furrowed his brows: “Are you in labor?”
“Possibly,” I replied.
“Then maybe we should leave,” he suggested.
“No, no its OK,” I persuaded him, “The contraction’s over now. And I really want to get this lamp. We’re here already.”
A half hour later, David was dragging a large box to the register while I moaned behind the shopping cart.
“Are you trying to have the baby at Ikea?” David asked, “They don’t have epidurals here, you know.”
“Keep — going,” I panted, “We’re – almost – done.”
There were only three people ahead of us on line. And my water hadn’t even broken yet.
“Are you all right?” asked the cashier as she was ringing us up.
“Yeah,” I said, as a contraction subsided, “But if I do end up having a baby here, is there a deal where I win a free nursery or something like that?”
There is not, for the record.
I guess the baby knew that because she wasn’t born that day. The hot-and-heavy contractions subsided, then started up a day later, and kept on waxing and waning until the day after my due date when I finally managed to coax the little tadpole out.
She’s known in these parts as Terza but you can call her Stuva. And her tiny corner of our apartment is impeccably organized.
To read more of Nicole’s adventures in Mommyland (in and out of Ikea), visit her blog A Mom Amok at amomamok.blogspot.com.