Renee and I and our friend, Jilly, made our virgin pilgrimage to the Swedish particleboard empire this morning, with kidlets in tow. The plan: deposit youngsters in Smaland, IKEA's child care center, and meander the store. The line to Smaland moves very slowly. We were about 5th in line and it took about 20 minutes to get to the front. Kids have to be between 37 and 54 inches tall, no more, no less (Renee's youngest didn't make the cut, but man, she was a great shopping companion). You fill out an information ticket, get your hands stamped with corresponding numbers and take the stub of your ticket as your child-redemption pass. They give you this monitor to carry around which alerts you if you need to return to Smaland (child is having a fit; child has disappeared in the ball pit; etc.) You get one hour. There is no charge.
The place seemed well-staffed with lots of teenagers overseeing the kids (no chance of getting lost in the ball pit). There are climbing structures, the ball pit and a television that was playing Toy Story. The kids had a blast. However, one hour is not even close to the amount of time you really need to shop IKEA. Four hours maybe, but not one. For our first visit it was fine, because we just wanted to get a few things and see the lay of the land. But next time, I'm hiring a sitter. Also, if you go with a couple of girlfriends, don't even expect to stick together. It's impossible. Someone sees something shiny and pretty over there, another spies the lamp of her dreams over here, it just doesn't work. Do, however, reconvene at the cafe for meatballs. Mmmm, meatballs.