Yesterday I persuaded my husband to go with me to Ikea.
Yes, Saturday afternoon in Ikea - he must love me, right? (Though, to be honest, I'm kind of persona non grata right now. He has yet to forgive me for making him go.)
I saw a photo of a beautiful bedroom - a real bedroom, lived in by a real person and not a magazine still. When I saw this, I looked around at our living room, with its campsite ambience - a hint of student residence with a soupçon of jumble sale - and wailed, "We need to put up those blasted cupboards!" (we are cupboardy people: we favour things with doors and drawers, behind which one stows immeasurable amounts of clutter.) Mr Gingerbread saw my wild-eyed look and realised that resistance was futile. He brushed his teeth and what's left of his hair, and off we went to our local Swedish superstore, brave and foolhardy souls that we are.
See, Ikea on Saturday afternoon is like giving birth. And please note, I have never actually given birth, but I have heard that similar levels of agony are involved (and the fact that I have never given birth will be a pivotal element to this story. Bear with me ... if you can excuse the pun.) In any case, you do your Ikea trip and leave the store, exhausted, sweaty and near tears.
"Never again!" you shriek. "Whose idea was that? Who decided to go to Ikea at 4 p.m. on Saturday?" (it was you, of course, but you blame your significant other. They nod and pat your hand and feed you the Daim bars and pickled herring you bought in the food shop.) You go home and spend three days cursing at your Sven kitchen or your Larsko bookshelves, which lie around your feet in innumerable pieces as you face the insurmountable challenge of deciphering the cartoon pictures on the instruction leaflet, armed only with that weird little screwdriver-thingy that comes in a plastic bag, for goodness' sake.
Then something strange happens: once your furnitures stands in its appointed place, memories of the horror fade and by the time the newest Ikea catalogue lands on your doormat, your recollection of your last trip has been bludgeoned to insignificance by the promise of new scented candles and the cute little stripy rug on page 54. And the whole cycle of madness begins again.
So yesterday afternoon found us looking at fake kitchens (we don't need a kitchen) and testing sofas (we have a sofa) and poking lights (we are adequately lit, thank you very much) amidst hordes of unsupervised children. One of the reasons why I haven't sprung off offspring is a fear of parenting and what it does to you. Frankly, I am made uncommonly nervous by people who refer to their children using the words "precious", "beautiful", "blessed" and/or "miracle" (unless, of course, the kiddos really were miracles, i.e. "I gave birth while bungee jumping and both of us survived!" "It's a miracle!"). People who double their adjectives and/or adverbs whilst referring to their children make me extremely nervous, e.g. "I am so utterly, utterly blessed to be mother to the precious, precious miracle that is my beautiful, beautiful child!"
The reason why this makes me nervous is that for many people, this adjectival enthusiasm goes hand in hand with the ability - nay, the desire, - to tune their children out. Thus, Ikea was full of little kids shouting: "Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama, look-look-look-look, Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama!"
While the Mama in question blithely ignored them, entranced by the thread count in Ikea's finest bedwear.
"Can I have this? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?"
"Mmmmm?" (uninterested mumble)
"Are you listening? Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama!"
Like most childless people, I find it very stressful. I want to push the mother into the bargain bin of slightly shop-soiled sheets and fling the kid in after her, shouting "Communicate, damn it! Communicate!" Also, the pitch at which children shriek is nerve-numbing - and, interestingly, parents of small children apparently do not turn a hair when their youngsters scream so loudly that the wine glasses in the fake Ikea kitchen start humming like tuning forks. While I take my hat off to the parents that remove their little ones to a discreet area in which the kiddies can finish their tantrum without bursting by-standers' eardrums, I think Very Bad Things of the parents that see a tantrum as a form of childcare: at least you know where the little blighter is when he's screaming, right? All the better to wander off and have a look at the glass-fronted Pax wardrobes while little Johannes is rolling around on the floor, wiping his temper-induced snot-stream into the Almsted rug.
Oh, dear. It reminds me of what my friend Margot used to say. "Children? Love them! But I couldn't possibly manage a full one!" If I ever foist a Gingerbread sprog upon the world, I hope the accompanying rush of hormones comes with selective deafness.
Now I'm off to admire my Billy bookcases, light my scented candles and enjoy the peace and quiet ...