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The Art of Dumping Your Child at Ikea

No sitter? No problem. Find romance among the Oumbärligs while the tyke’s in Småland.

Illustration by Jean-Manuel Duvivier

I hate Ikea. The last time I set foot inside one was two years ago with my wife to pick out furniture for our then 1-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Before walking into the maze-like social experiment that some refer to as a store, I posted a photo of Ikea’s exterior with the caption “Welcome to Hell.”

But two years is a long time, and we needed more ready-to-assemble furniture. I wanted to order everything online, but then I heard an interesting fact: Every Ikea has free childcare. Could my version of hell actually be the site of an easy, practical date night?

Ikea’s daycare is called Småland, which I think is Swedish for “leave your kids with strangers.” When we walked in, I noticed Småland had height restrictions. Please, no, I thought, terrified that our petite 3-year-old wouldn’t meet the 37-inch minimum. Fortunately, she did — and she also met the “must be potty trained” rule. And they’re not playing: “If you need to use the restroom, it’s the second door on the right,” the caregiver soberly told our daughter, as if that would mean anything to a toddler.

Then we noticed Småland’s one-hour time limit, which meant we couldn’t leave and go to a bar. Not that the thought crossed our minds (it totally did). Twenty-five-cent meatballs and Flysta modular bookshelves would have to do.

We thought our daughter might have a problem being left on her own, but she flew to the ball pit. My wife and I were free! We could do anything for one whole hour! And by “anything,” I mean buy things from Ikea!

And so we did. We filled our cart with frames, lamps, and rugs before stopping by the restaurant for lunch. Our conversation always returned to one of two questions: “What else should we buy?” and “Is our daughter OK?”

The answers: bookcases, and she hadn’t even realized we were gone. Was it romantic? No. It’s Ikea. But we did hold hands, which was nice. And spent $100 more than I’ll make for writing this story.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go build all this crap I just bought.

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