I hate going to IKEA. The omnipresent image of a happy and perfect family screaming at me in blue and yellow has a tendency of draining me out. I usually avoid going there, however sometimes it’s the only affordable place to buy stuff for work. So the other day, on my Saturday off I took my two sons there to buy some things we urgently need at work. Saturdays at the worlds number one equaliser for tasteful home outfitting are even more claustrophobic. My two sons are devoid of such worries. They are much more like a pack of miniature pirates, wild explorers that know no right or wrong and duly feel loved beyond doubt. It’s not so much that they are spoiled. There is strict rules at home and their mum and me have effective agreements what is allowed and what isn’t.
It is more the feeling of being absolutely invincible. The certainty of being loved no matter what. It is this feeling that gives them wings. At IKEA they transform to desk jumping daredevils, mattress rascals, kitchen cabinet shenanigans. The well known advertising spot displaying how products are tested here quickly becomes a lively and colourful reality.
I have a hard time deciding how to react. There is a lot going on. I need to buy the correct things needed for work otherwise I’ll be back here again next week. I am uneasy spending serious money on things my sons break. It’s so crowded and they keep running to ‘Lighting’ when I’m still in ‘Kitchen appliances’. I don’t want to lose them – and I definitely don’t want to have to explain to their mum that I lost them! I feel anxious about what other people might think. I am disappointed to know that I worry about what other people might think.
But most of all: I just love seeing them like this. In Peter Pan, J.M.Berrie described tinker bell as so small that only ever one feeling fits inside. When she is happy, she is ecstatic! When she is sad, she is devastated. The whole world becomes so simple and clear. It sucks me in. It’s addictive to watch. It’s something I like to embrace – even if I can’t truly encourage it. At least not without being scolded for poor parenting by some nosy parent of one of the model families around me. There are very few things that make me as furious as unwanted parenting advice.
At last, we managed the shopping in due time. To keep the little monsters somewhat focused while we have to queue at the check out counter, I promise them ice cream. They sell these soft serve cones here. They are super cheap, a little too sweet and really satisfyingly cold and creamy.
So we line up again, this time at the bistro, to buy the little treats. I give my five year old some money to pay. He loves to be the grown up making the calls. The lady at the cashier hands him two black plastic chips and two empty ice cream cones. He diligently hands one chip and one cone to his little brother.
In the designated area, well branded in outdoor look, there are three soft serve vending machines. Once the chip is inserted in the coin slot, pull a lever and fill the cone.
I just stand by and watch my ice cream outlaws do their thing. Not so much because I don’t want to help them but more so because they raced to the machines full of excitement while I still had to wait for change and push the shopping trolley over. By the time I get there, my three year old is thoroughly enjoying his soft serve. The five year old is crying. I have hardly ever heard him cry like that.
He seems filled with existential angst, a heartfelt weep, sobbing as if all good reasons to keep living had been taken away. He is standing at the vending machine with his empty cone in hand, an abundance of tears running down his cheeks wailing wordless prayers at his very own Western Wall. I take him in my arms. I ask him what had happened. He has trouble finding words to explain. He is all worked up.
Eventually I figure that he had put his coin in the bottom slot for rejected coins, not into the top coin slot. For him, the coin seemed forever lost. The soft serve had never appeared. He had been cheated. He had been robbed of his rightful due. His naive trust in a world that only means well had been breached. He hit rock bottom.
In my arms he slowly recovered.
With his ice cream in hand, he immediately rejuvenated and all seemed forgotten. Life can be simple. There is only room for one feeling. We wail. We cry. Then we laugh. The only thing that remains is that we feel unconditionally loved.
It is that simple.
It is almost that simple.
Almost. Until it isn’t.
A story about furniture fascism, ice cream vending machines and existential angst triggered by Almost