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IKEA's Child Play Area Is A Gift From The Pine Gods

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Taking a trip to IKEA is a fantasy. For perhaps an hour, you get to stand in a nicer house/kitchen/office where everything is put away and matching, where cushions are a novelty and the plants never die because they're made of vinyl. Perhaps some felt storage bins will purchase you a better life, and free you from the tyranny of tiny hoofed zoo animals. But the greatest revelation is IKEA's play area: there you can hang up your parental responsibilities like a Fjällräven backpack onto a hook.

To visit IKEA's Småland, your child must be 37 inches tall and potty-trained. That's it. That's how attainable 60 minutes of freedom are. (I have heard parents suggest that you can even buy yourself some extra time if you say you are pondering a Big Purchase.) Then you are free to follow the winding showroom floor with your partner; free to plonk yourself down into matching STRANDMON wing chairs and breathe a carefree breath.

The gift of instore daycare has many faces: IKEA Småland. Giant Eagle Supermarket Eagle’s Nest. Lifetime Fitness Kids' Play Area. Church. (OK that’s technically not a store but there’s a bookstore and a cafe so it’s basically a Barnes and Noble with a baptismal tub). Each face is beautiful to me, like Ryan Gosling playing 500 angel harps.

When my head begins to loll and list from nodding meaningfully for hours to facts about JoJo Siwa, there is that balsa wood counter at the gate of Småland.

How can these corporate conglomerates be so giving, never asking for anything in return but for me to pick up my child within 75 minutes of drop-off, and to come promptly in the case of a needed trip to the potty? Who says late capitalism has failed us?

When school is canceled because there is black ice on the road that totally melts by 8:15 a.m., or it’s teacher inservice day, or it’s Arbor Day or some shit, there they are, rescuing me from taking yet another conference call with clients shattered by the words “MAMA I POOPED BUT NOW I NEED HELP.” When my head begins to loll and list from nodding meaningfully for hours to facts about JoJo Siwa, there is that balsa wood counter at the gate of Småland, the promised land stretching out beyond into infinity.

A young girl plays in the children's furniture area at a Ikea store January 27, 2005 in Paramus, New Jersey. Ikea, a Swedish company, currently has 200 stores worldwide and in the next 10 years is planning to open five stores annually in the U.S., the company's second-biggest market behind Germany. (Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

When mommy needs to wander the aisles and think about how this life is very good, and how much we love our family, but it used to be quiet, wasn’t there a thing called quiet that was very still and good? And mommy stands in the rice and beans aisle, as still and quiet as the surrounding shelf-stable starches.

Just like that, they opened a child-size door, assured me of everyone’s up-to-date background checks and your secure entrances and exits, and offered me something no one could.

These spaces are always there, or at least from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. pending individual store hours and availability.

I still remember the first time I transported myself to the world of free child-minding. In the beginning it was all business — I filled out the paperwork, a staff member helped me set up the bulky pager I’d need in case of emergency. But then, just like that, they opened a child-size door, assured me of everyone’s up-to-date background checks and your secure entrances and exits, and offered me something no one could: the chance to wander the aisles and slowly, thoughtfully consider my yogurt tube options and dry dog food choices without interruption. Ecstasy.

My passion for this service makes me do crazy things, things I’d never done: once, I even skipped shopping entirely and just sat for a full hour at a store’s Starbucks kiosk, reading Game of Thrones episode re-caps. “The girl has no grocery list.” I’m sooooo naughty!

My time has nearly elapsed, and to be honest, I’m missing my kid. But I’ll be back. I can’t quit. At least until my child is 54” in height or in full-day kindergarten, whichever comes first.

For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.