Letter from Robert

A letter of complaint from Robert, aged 4, to the management of the Ikea store in Springvale. He wrote it on Saturday after we were refused entry to their play area. Robert can’t write yet (except for his name, signed at the bottom), so he translated the scribble for me:

“Dear Ikea,

You’re very naughty. You have to let children into playgrounds. It made me sad. Next time you have to let people in. Just don’t do the thing that you always do. I would like to know why they couldn’t let us in and why they were super silly.

Robert.”

We were refused entry because of a catch-22: Store policy is that children must be accompanied by an adult – perfect, as I didn’t intend to let Robert go in without me. But it’s also store policy that children under 3 are not permitted in the play area – and since it was just me, Robert, and his little brother Hamish (aged 2), that presented staff with a problem. Surely I could carry Hamish in with me, so I could supervise Robert? No, they said – children under 3 are not permitted. What if I stood with Hamish on the other side of the gate, and supervised Robert from there? No, they said – I must be inside with Robert. What if I keep Hamish in his stroller? No, they said, indicating the paperwork each parent had to sign. There are no exceptions. Licensing. Insurance. It’s a global policy. There’s nothing we can do. Would the little boy like a colouring book instead?

Robert and Hamish didn’t do anything wrong. They were both on their best behaviour in the store. Robert helped me pick out our new things while Hamish rode in the trolley and smiled at all the lights. Robert carried the store map for me and marked our way with one of those complimentary pencils. He was very excited about the play area. We drove across town to get there. Robert talked about it all the way there, even though he had never seen it.

Robert didn’t complain or throw a tantrum when he was told. He just cried like Christmas had been cancelled. He cried on my shoulder as I wrote a complaint on a store feedback form. He cried as he asked me if he’d done something wrong. He cried in the car, and didn’t stop till we arrived at the nearest playground I knew of. That cheered up both boys for a while. Hamish didn’t understand why Robert was so sad. On the way home, Robert wrote his letter of complaint – his own idea, I didn’t prompt him. He wrote it on the colouring book they gave him as a consolation, using the little grey Ikea pencil. He also drew a sad face beside the map of Sweden.

I understand that it’s a place of business, that the play area is there as a courtesy, and they can set whatever policies they wish. I understand that there are insurance and legal issues to consider. Staff were apologetic as they tried to explain it to me (though they didn’t seem too sure of the reason themselves).

But here’s the thing: I don’t need an explanation. Robert does. He’s only 4, and he’s already had his first encounter with red tape. He doesn’t understand why some children could go in to play but he could not. When you’ve turned a children’s playground into a bureaucracy, I think it’s time to admit that something is wrong. Plenty of other businesses seem to manage it without paperwork. I’m sure I’m not the first solo parent to encounter the same problem.

I hope the staff at Ikea will consider Robert’s advice: just don’t do the thing that you always do. When your store policies conflict and create a problem for a customer, I think it’s sad that you can’t find a way to solve it. I’m thankful I work for a company where, when I know something is wrong, I don’t have to ask someone’s permission to fix it.

I told Robert that writing a letter was a very good way to deal with a rule he thinks is wrong, and promised to deliver it for him. I also told him that it probably won’t change anything, but it’s important to try anyway. He’s ok with that. He’s dealt with it better than a 4 year old should have to.

On Sunday we went to the park to fly a kite. Robert and Hamish ran and laughed and forgot all about Ikea.

Update: Ikea never responded to Robert’s letter, and did not acknowledge my written complaint. We haven’t been to an Ikea store since.

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