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The IKEA Milestone

Ottawa, September 18, 2016
Ottawa, September 18, 2016

We started to go to IKEA when Mark was a baby. The Swedish furniture brand had just revamped its Ottawa store, making it bigger than six football fields and more than 18 times the size of the arena floor at Scotiabank Place. We had a brand new human being at home, the perfect excuse to buy stuff with unpronounceable labels it would take hours and an argument to assemble.

We weren’t serious shopper—a Toyota Corolla with a newborn in a giant pod-like seat at the back can only hold so many flat-pack boxes—but we used to stroll around the “showroom” and the “marketplace”, picking up pillows, blankets, a few toys and other small items. In the dead of the winter, it was as good as the shopping mall to get out of the house with a cranky baby. Besides, I found the furniture room displays soothing—unlike at home, everything was perfectly and effortlessly color-coordinated, organized, comfortable. I didn’t want an IKEA home—I wanted IKEA to be my home. Unfortunately, after an hour or so, Mark would usually start crying out of frustration, hunger or overstimulation and I had to say goodbye to my fantasy and find my way out of the maze (ask me about shortcuts!)

When Mark was a toddler, IKEA became a giant playground. I had even started to organize playdates with some of my friends on maternity leave at IKEA. It was perfect: we could grab a coffee and the kids would eat meatballs, pasta, and tomato sauce or even an ice cream cone if they hadn’t touched their kid’s meals. Eh, don’t judge, there are only so many kid-friendly places at 9 a.m. on Monday mornings…

One day, Feng and I noticed ” Småland”, the playground at the entrance of the store. Naive like new parents can be, we asked if Mark could play for a while. We learned that it was actually a one-hour “babysitting service” and that parents weren’t allowed to enter, only IKEA staff could supervise. Besides, there were strict requirements to meet: kids had to be fully toilet-trained and  at least 37″ (95 cm) tall.

We sighed. Back then, Mark was crying non-stop if either Feng or I was out of sight. Potty training was on my long-term to-do list but we weren’t there yet and he wasn’t meeting the height requirements either.

One day, maybe…

We went to IKEA when we came back from France, earlier this month. I looked at Mark, his pants, now three inches too short, the LEGO truck he had just built with his sticky fingers, the way he was slouching in the chair like Feng does.

“Do you want to go to IKEA’s playground?”

“Oh, YEAH!”

Mark doesn’t wear diapers anymore and he is about a meter tall. He meets the requirements. Amazing. That distant future actually happened. Dragging him out of the playground when we came back with my brand new duvet was the tough part—apparently, we were too quick to shop and he wanted to stay longer.

Ladies and gentlemen, it was true. Kids do grow up.

During the trip to France, for the first time, we weren’t carrying milk bottles. No diapers either—but I had to beg him to pee before boarding the plane, I strongly suspect he was holding it, hoping to use the aircraft lavatory. He still has to be reminded to leave the pacifier where it belongs, on his bed (he can have it to fall asleep) but he won’t protest too much. He can get dress alone if I put the clothes on his bed. Sometimes, he talks like an adult. It’s weird.

Yes, I’m fully aware that all kids reach these milestones, but it feels amazing to me because I witnessed the progress, step by step, from the moment he was a helpless little thing to the way he negotiates with me now—“Okay, I’ll eat your piece of carrot tomorrow, mommy, how about that?”

My milestones as a parent are less obvious, but I think I reached a few as well. The past five years, I discovered strengths I didn’t suspect I had and weaknesses I wish I didn’t. Pregnancy was a unique rollercoaster of feelings, physical and psychological. The first few months with a newborn was the survival stage, and the motto for the first year was “fake it till you make it”. I never actually “made it” as a proper Canadian parent, since most educational precepts here feel very counterintuitive to me. It took me a while to accept it, but then I stopped “faking it”, I embarked on a new quest—finding my own voice. Then I worked on cutting the metaphorical cord, teaching Mark basic life skills while finding my own purpose since I was no longer needed to lend a breast, hold a milk bottle, carry in my arms and spoon feed.

Mark will turn four next month. I don’t know what the next stage will be, but I’m hoping he can eventually become his own person with his likes and dislikes, passions and quirks, natural talent and work-in-progress skills. I’d like him to be a good person.

I’ll always be there. That’s my line, “mommy always comes back“. But I have my own milestones to reach, my own purpose to find.

I feel feelings. Must be good, then.

Ottawa, September 18, 2016
Ottawa, September 18, 2016

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