Ah, the joy, elation, and shock that zinged through our brains when upon entering the giant maze, Stella demanded to go to the play area at IKEA. Smaland. We’d never even tried or considered it before. But finally she was ready, independent, proactive, long since potty-trained, and wanted to have fun without us, while we embarked on the sojourn that is an IKEA shopping trip. It was truly glorious.
As we signed her in, we were told in a dead serious tone that there is no jumping into the ball pit. No jumping. Into. The ball pit. A small pang in my gut. A spark of doubt that I instantly mostly extinguished in anticipation of kitchen shopping without herding and wrangling. Stella could hardly wait to get in there, and we had a kitchen to plan! It’s the heart of the home you, know, and duct tape currently holds our decrepit failing one together. We are on the verge of kitchen failure and no bypass will help. Only a transplant from IKEA. This procedure is urgent.
Ominously, the rule was repeated a couple more times as we checked in. Perhaps they noted Stella’s high energy level, they way she could barely stand still to get the prison sticker slapped on her back. Perhaps they knew that the rule was inhumane, and everyone needed to hear it ten times for the grim reality to sink in. Oh, also, sort of an addendum to the main “no jumping” rule: There is no going under the balls. The gist: Sit in the ball pit like you’re an 80-year-old enjoying a warm sitz bath, and you’re golden.
Stella was escorted into Smaland, and we turned the corner to catch a glimpse of her behind the glass. She was already in the ball pit by the time we turned the corner. I saw her get out, look around surreptitiously, and execute a very timid jump. Trouble. But also, not my problem. I noted a small foot peeking up through the balls next to Stella. In that corner of Smaland, she’d find her people. They would likely band together and stage a coup, which is a character-building, free-range activity. So, off we went to look at eco-friendly and eco-unfriendly countertops and high-gloss cabinets and to discuss the merits of single- versus double-basin sinks of different gauges.
In the meantime, we chatted with a couple people. A countertop guy and a kitchen expert. Like, we really conversed with them instead of pretending to listen while fake-nodding and monitoring Stella the climber. Before we could even decide on anything–perhaps we were too giddy to focus–the buzzer was going off and it was the first time in my life I could identify with Cinderella. Our cart was about to turn into a pumpkin! Oh the relentlessness of the clock! We must run, run, run to Smaland before our child turned into a mouse, or something!
The matronly gatekeeper solemnly informed us that Stella had jumped into the ball pit, and been temporarily removed, TWICE. Later, I asked Stella what they said to her, in an attempt to glean some indication of how the staff handles rule-breakers. Are they angry and mean? Are they calm but firm? In response to my simply stated question, Stella dropped her shoulders, head, and voice, looking at the floor and saying slowly and in a resigned tone, “No jumping in the balls.” Fair enough, IKEA. Fair enough.
Some quick googling will reveal that the “no jumping” rule is either new, or not universal. Here is an image, from IKEA’s Swedish site (the home site!), showing a girl at the tail end of what is clearly a jump into the ball pit! Apparently in the U.S. as recently as 2006, as one blog post I found revealed, it was not only okay to jump into the ball pit, but encouraged by design! Other more recent blogs share tales of woe, stories of reprimand, lamenting jumping ban. For example, see the extremely aptly named post, “No Jumping In the Pit?!?!”
It’s obvious and business as usual, isn’t it? Someone got hurt in the past few years. Hopefully not maimed. Their family sued IKEA, and now no child in our entire country can jump into Smaland’s ball pits ever again. Apparently, a waiver is not enough. Only total censorship of enjoyable activity will do. But does it really make kids safer? Doubtful. Kids are actually not walking bags of rocks. They are smart, and can figure things out. They can learn to watch out for other kids. They can communicate with each other and work out ways of jumping in without landing on each other. The Smaland staff probably have to invest a lot more time and energy monitoring the ball pit, and scolding kids for jumping from what is literally a one-inch height into the ball pit. Oh yeah, I forgot–you’re supposed to “slide in.” Oh wait–there’s no slide. All around, it’s a slap in the face of fun and, frankly, a dumbing down of childhood.
Yes, I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But perhaps I wouldn’t care so much if this rule wasn’t part of a really lame epidemic of risk phobia that results in kids’ independence and activity being severely limited. It’s sad. They are receiving terrible messages over and over again, along the lines of: ‘You can’t handle basic responsibility. You can’t figure this out on your own. The entire world is dangerous–stop moving so much.’ You could say it’s my pet peave, along with packaging. Equally oppressive.
Stella now refuses to go to Smaland. I don’t care how glossy my cabinets will be. Like a flimsy birth veneer, IKEA has lost some of its sheen.