IKEA Builds Character

Photo by Alexander Isreb from Pexels

The Swedish store Ikea might be known for its assemble-your-own furniture, but in my house, each project turns into what could only be classified as “Assemble-Your-Own Rollercoaster of Emotions.”

Since our family downsized to a modest 2-bedroom home five years ago, Ikea and its compact line of furniture with a minimalist mindset has been a crucial ingredient in our ongoing quest to live life in a smaller space. I have to admit that I love the way Ikea items come in compact boxes with just a booklet of illustrated instructions, an Allen wrench, and a variety of bolts, brackets, and pegs. Such a vote of confidence! It’s as if to say, We believe in you. We know you can build this!

Until recently, our four children haven’t had the luxury of their own room. But now that our oldest two are adults living in their own apartments, our two youngest, ages 13 and 16, are gleefully spreading out, one claiming a small but sunny bedroom on the main floor, the other setting up an impressive “man cave” down in our partially finished basement.

Reese is 16. His basement man cave consists of a favorite Van Gogh print, a record player for his impressive vinyl collection, a bean bag chair, and a video game system. All it lacked, it seemed, was a bed. He’d graduated from the bunk bed that served him well until a growth spurt catapulted him into the stratosphere. It was time for a real bed, replete with built-in drawers and shelves.

This was a job for IKEA — and Reese, who would have to assemble his own bed.

My son started the task with a certain expression of excitement, hope, and determination on his face. He tore into the boxes, quickly opened the instruction booklet, and set to work.

“Do you need any help?” I asked.

“No Mom, I’ve got this,” said Reese. “This is my challenge for the day.”

Two hours later: “Need any help?”

“Nope! This is going to take longer than I thought, but I’m fine!”

By lunch time, I hadn’t seen him emerge from the man cave. From the top of the stairs, I could hear muffled muttering. I tiptoed down the stairs. Did I just hear a curse word?? I wasn’t going to press the issue. I recognized the flush of frustration in my son’s face as his eyes darted back and forth between the partially assembled bed, the instructions, then back to the bed. His shoulders sagged.

“Why is this side a whole inch lower than the other side?” he asked me. The bed was unmistakably lopsided. We spent a few minutes comparing the structure to the line drawings in the booklet. We located an upside-down piece. Crisis averted. Sighing deeply, my son took up the Allen wrench and set to the task of disassembling a few pieces in order to fix the errant board. I decided to back away slowly. A few minutes later, I brought him some lunch and a cold drink. He was going to need nourishment for the afternoon ahead.

Thirty minutes later: “How’s it going?”

“Better, Mom! Thanks for lunch. I’m not going to let this bed win. I know I can do this!”

The afternoon progressed with occasional scuffling and banging noises coming from the man cave. On a bright note, I didn’t hear any more muttering or cursing.

This is the genius of Ikea. A humble item of furniture becomes so much more — it is transformed into an object of prey: Something that must be chased, wrangled, and dominated. My son went into the arena armed only with an Allen wrench and a firmly set jaw. He came out beaten, battered … but victorious.

Later that evening, I visited Reese in his man cave. He was surrounded by the trappings of his very own kingdom: the vinyl collection, the video games, and the beanbag chair. But there, as he proudly displayed the completely assembled bed, he looked different to me. His eyes were brighter, his shoulders broader. There was a swagger that hadn’t been there before.

He had assembled the rollercoaster of emotions, clung tightly during the twists and turns — and came out triumphant.

Originally published Aug. 20, 2020 on MyHuntleyNews.com

Snow Day

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Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Today’s snow day extends our long, luxurious Thanksgiving weekend another day. Last night, as the snow fell and the power flickered on and off a few too many times for my comfort level, we waited in hushed tones for a call or text from our school district. At 9:30 p.m.–hallelujah! We knew what the call was about before we answered. The lovely, scratchy sound of a pre-recorded message: “Due to weather conditions, school is canceled tomorrow …”

(In case anyone ever wanted to know, I can affirm that a teacher is just as excited about a snow day as students–maybe more!)

A snow day rates way higher in my book than a scheduled day off. I have so many memories of our four children waking up early searching for snow pants and boots, going out before breakfast to scope out which neighbor kids were out already building snow forts. They’d come back once they were good and cold, noses running, cheeks bright pink, eyes sparkling at the sight of me making pancakes or waffles or muffins. We’d hang up the wet snow gear on the shower curtain or throw it in the dryer so it would be ready for round two.

Today’s snow day is a bit different. One teenage son’s plans to go out to have breakfast with his friend was delayed by the reality of clearing snow off the car’s windshield and the driveway, but hopefully the sense of accomplishment he felt afterwards was worth it. Another teenage son is still sleeping soundly in his bed, earbuds in, broadcasting to the rest of us that he is not meant to be disturbed. Our 11 year old daughter is still holding on to precious childhood wonder: searching for snow pants, layering up to go outside and build something in the snow with her friend. I can’t help but wonder to myself if this is the last year she’ll wake up excited to play in the snow.

Even though my kids are spending their snow days differently than they used to, they are learning the exhilarating feeling of having a day stretched out before them, a completely clean slate. They have the choice to spend it the way they like, and every delicious moment they can compare where they would’ve been at that moment if school were in session.

Whether you are in snow or sun today, take a Snow Day or a Snow Moment for yourself: give yourself a fun snapshot of a memory to freeze in your mind for a later date, when you need it. Right now I’m gazing out the window searching for cardinals. I think I’ll be heading for the tea kettle next. What do you like to do when life gives you a snow day?

xoxo,

Carol

Get Out!

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Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

When my kids were toddlers, distraction was my most useful parenting tool. If you’re in a store with a 3 year-old and he suddenly wants a 5-foot stuffed bunny that the store so kindly placed right at eye level of your little darling, you know just saying “No” isn’t going to cut it. If he wants that bunny more than anything, on top of being tired and hungry, things are going to get ugly quick unless you come up with a distraction. There’s going to be a scene.

“Look!” you say with feigned enthusiasm. “Look over there!” (What’s over there? I don’t know. Anything: a picture of a puppy, a balloon, a flashing light … whatever gets the focus off that 5-foot stuffed bunny.) If you use just the right lilt in your voice and swing the cart in the right direction, you might make him forget that he was about to scream bloody murder about that bunny. Take that moment, multiply it by 100 times a day, and there you have the life of a toddler.

But maybe it’s not that different for adults.

Maybe I’m tired and hungry, but I’m feeling frustrated today. Irritable. I’m thinking about events currently in the news, thinking about work and family obligations, and today is a day I just wanted to relax. I wanted things to go my way. But they didn’t. Same goes for my husband. We spent a good amount of time this afternoon complaining to each other about the maddening things that hijacked our plans for a relaxing, stress-free day.

The more we talked, the more we were getting upset: not at each other, really. We were just feeding off each other’s frustrations, and as we counted the ways things had not gone our way, our voices got louder, and tone got sharper, our blood pressure was mounting.

Time to get out

We’ve been here before. Life is stressful. A lot of times it’s just little stuff, but even a tiny pebble in your shoe can be maddening sometimes.

Our little house, only two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and my beloved reading porch, sometimes isn’t enough to contain the mounting frustrations of every day life. Today is one of those days.

So we got out. We walked right out of our house and distracted ourselves, the way we distracted our little toddlers for so many years in the past. Now, as I write, I’m sitting at a table at our local library, in front of a gorgeous window overlooking a park. It’s so quiet here. There’s free wi-fi and a coffee shop downstairs. Bathrooms I don’t have to clean. Looking across the table, I see my husband’s face. He’s happily clacking away on his laptop. The creases in his forehead that were there just a few hours ago are gone.

A change of scenery, a change of pace, is good for all of us. In fact, it’s necessary. And for some reason, living in our small house has amplified that lesson for me. For one, the small house has fewer chores that demand my time. It takes just a few minutes to tidy it up. And because it’s so small, it’s taught me that my whole life can’t take place inside the walls of my house. I have to get out some times. I have to walk out the door and see new views and meet new people.

Sometimes I need quiet. Sometimes I need noise to drown out my worries. But the point is that a change of scenery can be good and give us a much-needed change in perspective. Today, getting out turned I-can’t-believe-that-happened into I-feel-so-lucky-to-be-here-right-now.

Attitude adjustment achieved. Adult temper tantrum thwarted.

 

Sock + Optimism = Socktimism

I consider it a good day when I remove an even number of socks from the dryer. I always put in an even number, that I know. With military-like precision, I unroll each and every sock from the hamper and verify its mate before throwing it in the wash. But somehow, by the end of the drying cycle, something’s gone awry. There’s usually one, lonely sock.

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Photo by Rafael Lodos on Unsplash

I keep the single socks. What else can an optimist do? I once made a cardboard box to go above my wash machine and labeled it “Sock Orphanage.” Soon, it was overflowing with socks, yet when I dumped them all out to sort them, none of them seemed to match.

One day, I realized that my husband, also an optimist, had been stashing lone socks on his side of the bed in a drawer. I gasped with such wonder and awe at this discovery, emotions not typically associated with socks. I ran to my own sock orphanage, and dumped the two collections of socks on the bed. I nearly cried with joy. So many happy reunions!

Other than the isolated instance of the sock stash reunion, I mostly feel as though I lose just as many socks as I keep–it’s a little disheartening. Then came the game changer: crazy socks. My kids’ hampers have banana socks and goat socks; socks with unicorns and hamburgers, flags, avocados, and even bearded lumberjacks. We’ve lost fewer socks since this tiny tweak. Also, crazy socks are funny. And colorful. Also, there are entire stores devoted to crazy socks, and they are stores filled with whimsy and surprise and imagination.

What an unexpected place to find happiness.

I hope you find some unexpected happiness today. And may all your socks have mates.

xoxo,

Carol

P.S. Sign up for my weekly (ish) newsletter, “With Love from the Cozy Cottage”

Related and for your amusement: 37+ Unusual Uses for Lonely Socks

The kid goes to camp

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Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

We dropped off our third child at camp over the weekend. He’s 14, and it’s his first time to be away from home. We left early, drove two hours to the University of Illinois, where he will spend a week playing tuba in band camp. He is matched with a roommate he’s never met before, will sleep in a dorm room, and will likely learn to navigate the campus like a pro by the end of the week.

My life flashed a little before my eyes as we drove towards the camp to drop him off. I couldn’t help but sneak glances into the backseat and see my boy–my baby boy–looking out the window, absorbed in his own thoughts. His face is taking on the elongated angles of a young man. But all I see are his trademark chubby face and sparkling eyes, the mischievous glances he used to give me as a toddler. I can still hear the cute high-pitched voice he used to talk and laugh in, now deepening as he slowly becomes a young man before our eyes.

This is the deal we sign up for as parents. If we are lucky enough to have children, our life is swept away by a torrent of 2 a.m feedings, diaper changing, snotty-nose-wiping-potty-training-temper-tantrum-ing years that seem to chew you up and spit you out. It’s exhausting, hilarious, maddening, heartwarming. Each year brings new challenges, many that weren’t discussed in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Just when you think you’ve handled one problem, another one crops up. You’re batting away obstacles and quietly celebrating each small victory, and if you’re even luckier, you have a partner who can bat away and celebrate alongside you.

Next thing you know, you’re dropping him off at camp, trying to figure out whether he wants you to hug him goodbye, or whether a public show of affection would embarrass him to death.

And yet, this is what I want, isn’t it? I want a young man who is independent and can handle himself when I’m not there. And there he is, smiling at me, waving, then turning on his heel to go into the residence hall, alone. He didn’t even hesitate. He’s ready. I’m ready.

Back at home, I’m wondering about him. I hesitate, then decide to text him.

Did you find out which band you’re in?

40 minutes go by, then a reply:

Symphonic

I answer back immediately: Woo! Congratulations!

Another 30 minutes go by.

Thanks, homeslice

[He calls me that–homeslice. Sometimes I’m dawg. On really good days, I’m Schmom. Or Mom.com.]

I exhale. He’s fine. I’m fine. I’m not going to text him again.

He’s fine.