Saturday, October 20, 2007

I Don't Want to Cheer Up, I Want To Cheer Down

That's what Emma said when she was an indignant 2 year and I told her to cheer up. Tonight was a cheer down sort of night.

We dropped Adam off at the airport. He’s off to London and we needed cheering. We went to IKEA. I didn’t get lost on the way there (which almost never happens). That was the last thing that went well.

IKEA was very crowded. Maybe as crowded as I’ve seen it. I checked Emma and Mark into Smalland, the play place for kids 3-9. Braeden’s too old. That took some time and then Braeden and I picked our way through the crowded store. Braeden wanted to push the cart and he drives like, well, a 10-year-old boy. About the second or third time he ran into me I took away his car keys. Then Braeden started to complain. He’s as much fun to shop with as a 10-year-old boy too. It was Boring and Not Interesting and when were we going to eat? I kept reminding him that it was in the 3:00 hour and dinner was not soon. He said, “That’s OK. We can eat now and have dinner later too.” Not really the point I was getting at.

I was almost to the end of the clogged IKEA maze, to the place where they have the candles and vases and plants. My beeper went off. The beeper that means 1) you are a horrible mother and lost track of time and it’s been over an hour and you haven’t picked up your kids or 2) you are a horrible mother and your child is being kicked out of Smalland because he’s been hitting other children. I have found myself in both scenarios on previous IKEA visits. So I sheepishly swam upstream. We went back through the textiles and rugs, taking the shortcut to avoid the lamps. We pushed past annoyed people who wondered why we were going the wrong way through the store. We pushed past knowing mothers who knew the only two reasons why the beeper was going off. Some of them looked rueful. They’ve been there too. Some of them just stepped out of my way and I looked them in the face, daring them to sneer.

We’d been only gone 30 minutes so I thought Mark was probably hitting. Again. I thought we were past that. Turned out Mark was playing with some other boys and Emma was standing there looking mournful. She had been bored. I tried to explain the whole walking against traffic with the Here Goes The Bad Mother siren going off but she looked miserable enough and started to cry so I gave up. I put my arm around her.

“You can always call for me and I’ll come for you.” She’d seen the look on my face though. I’m not sure she believed me. She cheered up enough later to start acting goofy with her brothers. Kind of a good news/bad news sort of thing.

We fought our way through the store and got to the end where there were displays of Christmas decorations. I know we’re not to Halloween yet but you can hardly expect me (or IKEA) to get excited about Halloween decorations. I was pushing along through the displays, trying to keep Mark’s arms and legs inside the ride until we came to a complete stop. A woman with a look in her eyes I’ve only seen at ward dinners when the serving line is open or at Costco when there’s a good sample, shoved a cart directly in my path so I couldn’t go further. She then cut around in front of that cart, darting to a shorter checkout line. I wasn’t even intending to go to the checkout line yet. By this time I’m sure all my frustration was evident on my (otherwise always pleasant and cheerful) face. Her daughter, who was following behind, looked ashamed and moved the obstacle out of my path. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. I smiled. Maybe the entire world wasn’t bad after all.

I eventually joined one of the long checkout lines. Mark, of course, had to go to the bathroom. Emma volunteered to take him. Why did I think that was going to end well? Soon I looked over and saw them fighting. (Actually coming to blows.) They were done with the bathroom and Mark had decided he was going to wait for me out in the old parking lot on one of the display couches (it’s hard to explain unless you’ve been to IKEA in Seattle maybe). Emma was trying to prevent this action. Without me even asking (and I appreciate that, Braeden!) Braeden ran over and separated the two and I tried to pretend like I was neither responsible nor related to the group. Emma came back as Braeden’s messenger to see if they could all go out and sit on the couches. It took me less than 2 seconds to agree. I finished my purchase and loaded the van and we were off. We were going to eat at IKEA but by the time we were done, I was done with IKEA. There was no way I was going to fight through any more crowds. We would go to the Old Spaghetti Factory. We would dine like kings on spaghetti with mizithra cheese. We would be happy.

Foolish, foolish Thelma. We got to the Old Spaghetti Factory about 5:00. That’s early for dinner. We’d be seated right away. Then we could go home. Relax.


The entire lobby was full. Incredible. Because I had been sure every single person in Washington and perhaps Oregon too was at IKEA today. So we waited outside. It was chilly but not too bad. As the minutes ticked by, it got increasingly chillier. I kept telling Mark and Braeden to stop climbing on the outside of the building. I kept settling fights between who got to hold the beeper to tell us when our table was ready.

I kept listening to the couple next to me. They seemed to be on a date. The man was telling the woman that the polar ice cap had decreased 85% this year. “Wow,” she said, impressively.

He said, “Yeah, and that’s the earth’s air conditioning so we’re in trouble.”

She looked really concerned. He added, “My mom wondered why I bought an SUV if I’m worried about Global Warming. Like one SUV is going to make a difference! It’s not about the cars individuals drive. It’s about all the cars. It’s about a major financial commitment.”

He started to say that he would be happy to buy a hybrid SUV if they could come up with one he could afford when their beeper went off and they got a table.

So then I was back to telling Braeden and Mark to stop climbing.

We finally gave up and went inside. It was freezing. We’d already committed 45 minutes to our dinner and I wasn’t about to leave. Braeden went up to ask how much longer. 15 minutes. We talked about cutting our losses and going to McDonald’s across the street but we were already in pretty deep. We decided to see it through. Mark got on the floor and curled up in a ball with another little boy under a couch. Braeden and Emma and I huddled together against the jostling crowd and finally! We got the call! After an hour we were being seated.

We sat unattended for a long time at our table. Hey! We weren’t standing in the crowded lobby! We’ll happily just sit here. Then we were hungry. A guy came with water. We drank it. Nothing else happened.

Then the single most entertaining waiter in America burst on the scene. He literally jogged to our table and was panting from the exertion. Between serious gasps for air he said, “My… name… is… Michael… I’m… so… so… sorry… that… I… have…made…you…wait.” I think we were all just staring at him with our mouths wide open. He was extremely winded…and sweaty. He went on to explain in his breathless way that they were having trouble keeping up in the kitchen and our order would take about 35 minutes and he was trying to help in the kitchen. He looked at me expectantly.

I said, “Well, OK. But keep the bread coming.” He assured me he would and he came darting out with some bread. He took our orders and occasionally came running over to bring us something. Braeden and Emma decided that there was no problem in the kitchen he was helping with but that he was watching a TV show and trying to be a waiter during the ads.

Whenever Mark gets bored he has to go to the bathroom so we were soon making a trip. I left Braeden and Emma at the helm. When I got back they had a new theory about Michael. He was running on a treadmill that was powering the ovens in the kitchen. That was why he was so tired. Emma said she was afraid he wasn’t going to make it. She pantomimed for us Michael running on a treadmill then collapsing with his tongue lolling to the side. On cue, Michael showed up and threw our salads and soups on the table. He said, “I’m… going… to… go… help… in… the… kitchen… to… see… if… I… can… get… your… orders… done… faster…” Then he dashed away. It was all we could do to keep from laughing until he was back into the kitchen.

Michael was either watching his show or running on the treadmill because another waiter delivered our dinners. He was calm and moved at a normal pace and it seemed like slow motion.

Michael came tearing out later and I asked him for a to go box, the check, and some spumoni ice cream all around. I really should have stuck to one direction at a time. He brought us the ice cream. HEAPING scoops of ice cream. He said he’d printed the wrong check so he’d have to come back with that and he’d forgotten the to go box and that seemed like the end of the world. I was worried about his blood pressure. I told him it was OK. After he left, Emma indicated the big scoop of ice cream and said, “Another good thing about Michael.”

He came back and threw down several to go boxes. Came again later with the check. I pulled out my credit card immediately and sent him on his way, not sure when I’d see him again. He came back, with my copy to sign. He had charged my credit card $55 when our dinner had only come to $20 something. Of course he had already darted away so I had to go after him. I felt bad. Michael was really growing on me and like I said, I was worried about him. He promised me he’d fix it and we never saw him again but the manager came out and told us she’d voided the bill and only charged the correct amount and gave me her card in case there was any further problem.

We left.

It was 7:20.

Two exasperating experiences at two of my favorite go to, sure-to-make-me-happy places. I’ll give them another chance. Maybe. But not on the same night again. And not on the night Adam goes to London and I need cheering up. I can’t take the disappointment.

I’d better stick to baths. Sylvia Plath said, “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

I agree Sylvia. And that’s where I’m headed now.


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