For my entire motherhood journey -- almost eight years, to be exact -- I have had a really strong aversion to the kids playroom at Ikea.
You want me to leave my children in the hands of complete strangers so they can get germ-infested, potentially picked up and taken home by a stranger and/or suffer a concussion in a multi-colored plastic ball pit?
I think not.
Every time we would walk into Ikea, my kids would glance longingly at the playroom and I would tell them it was full, or we couldn't go because one of them had a cough or Mama just wasn't into it. And they would begrudgingly drag their little bodies through the entire store, whining through each section louder than the last. We would all be miserable, but my mama instincts stood firm.
My kids were not going into the playroom.
Then this past Saturday, we ventured to Ikea. We didn't have a long list, we just needed to pick up some essentials and, as always, my kids watched in wonder at the playroom windows while we tried to figure out which route of the showroom we would hit up first.
But for some reason, after almost eight years, in that moment, instead of wandering to a place of paranoia and protection and worry, my mind chose to wander back to my own childhood instead.
To launching my little body into that multi-colored plastic ball pit with sheer glee. To taking in television shows under the watchful eye of a complete stranger. To sniffing out other little kids I had never seen before, in awe of their clothes, their mannerisms, how they played with the same toys I played with every day, but in a different way. To running back into the safety of my mom's arms when she picked me up, overjoyed to see her and overjoyed for having gone without her for an hour just the same.
I turned to my husband. "Should we let them do the playroom today?"
His jaw dropped a little.
The kids held their breath.
I walked over and signed them up.
Part of the process is that they check the kids' height to make sure it matches their age/size restrictions. My daughter (almost 8 now) was a good inch or two over the "too tall" limit.
The kind care person pretended to look away as she saw her excitement.
"This may be her first and last time in here," she said sweetly to me under her breath, signing off on her admission form.
Her first and last time to jump in the ball pit.
Her only time to jump in the ball pit.
My kids ran into that playroom and straight for that ball pit. We stood by the window for a moment, watching quietly, a smile on our faces. Then we realized we only had an hour to shop in peace and were wasting it at that window. So we slowly walked away, shopping list in hand.
An hour later, we returned.
The kids were still there, as we had left them. No concussions. No germs from the ball pit. Nothing but kind, thoughtful complete strangers who signed them out, checked our IDs, snipped off the matching security bracelets we were all sporting and handed them back over to us, just as we had left them.
Or maybe not quite as we had left them.
They now had a brand new memory stored firmly in their little minds.
Of that brightly-colored ball pit.
The watchful eye of strangers.
The mannerisms of kids they will never see again.
One that I hope they will pull back up in twenty years when they are standing in that exact same spot.