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When the boys were younger, I took them out shopping with me at least a couple of times a week, whether they wanted to come or not.

We would pile into the car and head out to Wal-Mart, the commissary and wherever else I needed to go that day. My mission was to get everything on my list, and theirs was to talk me into buying even more.

I gave in to them just often enough to make it fun for all of us; sometimes, we lucked out and stumbled into an adventure.

Now that the three of them are older, they are usually scattered around in too many places to tag along with me on errands. This saves both money and time, but can get boring after a while.

I decided to spice things up last week by talking all three of them into going shopping with me. My plan was to squeeze some back-to-school shopping into the day after luring them to the mall with the promise of lunch at the food court.

It worked, and soon we were heading out to look for some not-so-exciting items for the house. When I struck out at our first stop, Jimmy somehow convinced me to go to IKEA.

I hadn’t dared to shop there since we lived in San Diego six years ago … and for a very good reason. The last time I darkened the doors of an IKEA store, I managed to get lost in there and couldn’t find my way out for half an hour.

It was embarrassing, time-consuming and even a little bit scary to wander around three huge levels of Swedish furniture until I finally stumbled upon an exit. I felt so out of synch with the young, happy couples who knew the ins and outs of the store.

"Where was the irritating salesperson who should be following me around and offering to get swatches of fabric?" I inwardly fumed.

In any other furniture store, I could ask him the way out. But then again, in any other furniture store, I wouldn’t have been lost in the first place!

When I finally emerged from that nightmare, I decided IKEA just wasn’t the store for me. It’s a decision I haven’t given much thought to since.

Then, Jimmy started to tease me about how silly I was being. He reminded me that I would have the three of them with me to help me face my fear and find my way through the store.

Like so many times before, I gave in to my oldest son’s wishes and dared to try my luck at IKEA again. Within minutes of our arrival, I was even brave enough to leave the boys in the living room section while I wandered over to the beds.

We used our cell phones to find one another when it was time to head down to another level. We kept running into dead ends, just as I had in California, but it was funny this time because we could laugh about it together.

I even managed to find some curtains I liked and decided to try my luck at hemming them myself, using the plastic strip provided by IKEA.

Only Ron and the boys have seen what they look like hanging in the windows, so I honestly cannot report whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that I finally got over my fear of the iconic Swedish furniture store.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or visit her Web site at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.


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