We are driving on the péripherique (translation: ring road of death) in a borrowed car and I am talking too much, as usual. Mr Frog rudely interrupts to enquire whether we needed to take the direction Charles de Gaulle exit which I can now see receding in the wing mirror. Clearly it was a mistake to assume that as we have already made this journey several times, my navigation skills would not be required. Never underestimate Mr Frog’s lack of a sense of direction. I remember one of our first dates, where he pointed at Notre Dame and asked me which church it was. He had been living in Paris for four months at the time, and lived nearby, a stone’s throw from the Jardins de Luxembourg. I hastily pull out the Ikea (French pronunciation: “ee kay ya”) catalogue and improvise. We’ll try to the one at Paris Est instead. For a change. Anything is better than having to retrace our steps.
Leaving the A4 at Champigny, as instructed, we drive around the roundabout four times before spotting a helpful Ikea advert on a bus shelter. I am very thankful for this, because even with my superior navigation skills I cannot make any sense of the relationship between Ikea’s map and the actual lay of the land in front of me. We find the right road, and sail past the carpark entrance, taking an impromptu tour of Villiers sur Marne. Finally, at 11.30 am, we pull into the carpark. Not at 10 am, as I had hoped.
The layout of Ikea Paris Est is cunning. Arriving at the top of the stairs, a delectable food smell greets your nostrils as you pass the restaurant. After visiting the vast showroom level, flagging somewhat and thirsty from the dry, air-conditioned atmosphere, there it is again, as welcome as an oasis in the desert. I resolve to stop there for a Tadpole lunch break before the lunchtime rush starts. We only need to buy a Tadpole bed, a Tadpole-sized bookcase and a mini table and chairs (also for Tadpole), but somehow we end up looking at everything, as usual. I release Tadpole from the confines of her pushchair in the children’s section, so that she can test her new bed for size. At first it is fun, watching her try out rocking chairs, a small wooden tractor and a wendy house, all the while clutching a large plastic piggy bank. I give other, equally powerless, parents a conspiratorial wink when Tadpole finally puts the pig down, attention caught by a wooden train set, and spirit piggy away, hiding him in a bin full of plastic plates. It soon becomes clear that there will be no way of getting her out of there which doesn’t involve kicking, wailing and a runny nose wiped on my clothing. Her flaming cheeks have teething pain written all over them, and when she starts crying on red-cheek days, she sometimes forgets to stop.
We arrive at the café. There are approximately fifty people in each queue. Tadpole is incapable of standing still, so this is a Very Big Problem. Mr Frog storms off back to the children’s section with her, leaving me to queue and make important lunch decisions alone. He motions to me that I should phone him, but when I do, I get his voicemail. I look around me and realise with a sinking feeling that I have missed my chance to grab a special tray-carrying trolley, resigning myself to either not eating very much, or pioneering precarious new methods of plate stacking. I pray that my credit card payment will be accepted at the till (in France there is often a minimum amount, usually € 15 – approx £ 10.00), as I have precisely 24 centimes in my purse. Some time later, I make my way unsteadily towards a table carrying a couple of salads, some bread rolls, a plate of heart shaped chocolate covered biscuits and some D’aim bars (Dime bars in every other language). Luckily Mr Frog chooses this moment to haul the still protesting Tadpole over. I ease her chubby thighs into the snugly fitting high chair, which has the advantage of immobilising her legs altogether, then stuff a piece of bread in her mouth, for some temporary respite from the howling. I sit back with my cup of tea, priding myself on my parenting skills, but wishing that this could all be over.
Lunchtime in Ikea is odd. I suspect some people must make the journey just to eat there. I see a suspiciously large number of unaccompanied adults carrying 2 euro kiddie meals off to remote corners of the dining area. Someone (who probably doesn’t have to spend the whole day in there) has had the bright idea of placing a piano in the middle of the dining area. I dread to think how much decomposing food is trapped between the keys. Lunch is eaten to a soundtrack of ‘chopsticks’ and random plinkety plonking as every greasy-fingered youngster takes their turn. Mr Frog and I snap at each other, toddler-stress getting the better of us. Tadpole, on fine form, refuses to eat everything but a breadroll and two chocolate biscuits.
After queuing for the (one) baby changing area, we descend wearily to the lower level, bracing ourselves for the moment of truth. Will they actually have Tadople’s lit évolutif and table and chairs in stock? I fear that if they do not, I may have to be dragged out of Ikea kicking and screaming. And foaming at the mouth. Luckily all is where it should be, and we unload our bounty at the checkout. Somehow along the way we have also amassed one wooden train set, two flower cushions for Tadpole’s chairs, plastic beakers, plastic plates, a throw for the sofa and a picture frame for my vitriolica thumbnail poster. It could have been worse: to our credit we have resisted both the scented candles and the ‘fun’ ice cube trays for the first time.
I giggle at a family struggling to stuff a king-size matress into the back of their small hatchback car. I feel a little less smug when we attempt to load the Tadpole bed into our borrowed Yaris verso. The front of the box arrives at gearstick level. I secure some rope around the seat headrests and across the front of the carton in a pathetic attempt to make the car less of a potential deathtrap.
FOUR WHOLE HOURS from door to door. I give thanks to the Lord that this bed can be extended to a maximum length of two metres, and may even see Tadpole into adulthood.
I don’t plan to repeat that experience again in a hurry.