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  • The IKEA and The Odyssey

    Nick's nirvana or the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark? You decide...

    The things you do for your first-born child…

    After four years at Elon University, my oldest son, Nicholas, recently moved into his first post-college apartment. He started work just after graduation at his alma mater in the admissions office, and found a place only a few miles from campus.

    I got my first apartment, too, when I was 21, starting an itinerant stretch of life that saw me move 13 times in 12 years. I became so proficient at finding the best deal (a necessity, given the starving journalist’s pay grade) that I started looking at new places almost as soon as I moved into the new one.

    It’s doubtful that Nicholas will follow my path, at least in this case, and yet I recall vividly what he’s going through as he makes this transition into adulthood, budgeting and planning for the first round of the never-ending monthly bills and trying to get everything in place. He won’t feel settled until he’s literally settled in.

    When he was in Northern Virginia for Kate’s graduation, my mom and Jill took him to IKEA to get him set up in his first home. They both were very generous in making sure he has the basics necessary, but left with him wanting a couch that he saw on the showroom floor.

    We agreed to split the cost of the couch between us and my mom, and tried to figure out how to get it to him. That would prove to be no easy task, as the closest IKEAs are 120 and 250 miles away, respectively.

    In the middle of a crazy — even by our standards — two-week stretch that saw me driving from Virginia to New York to Boston to Burlington, N.C., I agreed in a moment of temporary insanity to take Nicholas to the location just outside Charlotte to see what we could do. Charlotte, of course, is almost two hours from Nicholas’ new apartment, in the opposite direction of where we would be heading later in the day.

    I'm not sure which is worse: I-95 South traffic that takes 3 hours to go 30 miles, or an 8 a.m., drive with my caffeinated 22-year-old and an IKEA catalogue. And I experienced both within 24 hours of each other.

    Grumpy and butt-lagged from the drive from Boston to Virginia two days earlier, and the seven-hour journey to Burlington that should have taken no more than five hours the day before, we left for Charlotte in the middle of a seemingly never-ending rainstorm that has saturated the Mid-Atlantic. Nicholas, catalogue in hand, was excited about the opportunities to accessorize his new place, but I never thought I’d hear him say, “I really wish I could get curtains..." at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday.

    Still, we marched on, and had a nice conversation about life stuff that you rarely have with your children during their teen years. (Added bonus: Given that I was doing him a favor, I had control over the radio for once.)

    We made it to Charlotte, and after determining that there was no way the couch would fit in the CR-V, decided to have the three gigantic boxes it came in delivered. Nicholas kept the accessory purchases to a minimum, given that he’s now on a budget, and we soon were on our way back to Burlington and then to Northern Virginia.

    In the meantime, I jotted down a few observations that I think are worth sharing. Here are six from the day:

    • All IKEA furniture has to be built at home, giving credence to my theory that the three dirtiest words in the English language are “Some Assembly Required.”

    • We had brunch in the IKEA cafeteria because the store takes off your food/drink purchase if you spend more than $100. That, I have to admit, is a nice perk.

    • Given the way people zip around the store, the Charlotte location apparently doubles as a NASCAR training facility.

    • IKEA really stands for “I Know Every Accessory” available to man.

    • I heard more Abba music in an hour than I did during all of “Mamma Mia.” I get the connection, but do they really have to be so obvious?

    • The chain really should bill itself as the "thinking man's Home Depot." And anyone who knows me knows what I think of Home Depot.

    Nicholas was happy to get the couch, even though it won’t be delivered until next week, and I was happy to finally be heading home after the never-ending road trip. Despite some heavy rain, we made it back to Virginia successfully, and Nicholas stayed for two nights to celebrate the Fourth of July with us before heading back to work and his new place.

    Ultimately, when it comes down to it, his decision to voluntarily come see us was the nicest perk of all. Because, even as they move out on their own, it’s nice to know your place still feels like home.