"Whatever you do with your child, it’s appalling to someone."

Great article about the stroller...and, well, parenting...

April 2, 2011
Why Walk When You Can Stroll?
THE stroller is up on the shelf. When we moved to New York from Silver Spring, Md., not quite a year ago, I thought it would stay there. New York is a walking city and we had found an apartment four blocks from our son’s preschool. He was turning 3. The stroller — infernal, clunky, annoying thing — would go into semi-retirement in the coat closet.

Actually, that was an earlier stroller. The brakes wore out and the foot strap ripped apart under constant use. Now there is a new red hundred-and-something-dollar stroller on the shelf, which replaced that $69.99 stroller, which had replaced the $18 stroller we bought two cities ago, when the kid truly was incapable of walking.

Time to go to school. I pull the stroller down, pop it open and strap on the clear plastic rain cover. Out the window, down on the street, there’s wet pavement and open umbrellas. I’ve attached one side of the rain cover to the wrong piece of the stroller, and have to redo it.

The only thing worse than the stroller is not having the stroller. It’s close. This stroller, bless it, hates itself, and wants to vanish — it’s an umbrella stroller, collapsible, less than 10 pounds. Like a real umbrella, it’s an irritant or a menace when it’s in someone else’s hands, clogging the sidewalks, a tragedy of the commons. Other people’s umbrellas are awful. But what are you going to do, get rained on?

(Actually, yes, if you are pushing a stroller, you are going to get rained on, because you don’t have a free hand.)

I roll the kid down the hallway, into the elevator, and out through the lobby. We roll west toward the river and head uptown. Children in strollers “have no idea how demeaned they are,” the psychologist and columnist John Rosemond wrote last year. He was writing in defense of parents who put their children on leashes and let them run. Whatever you do with your child, it’s appalling to someone.

Last time I lived in New York, when I was childless, I had to dodge the grim-faced parents rampaging down the sidewalks with their double-wide, all-terrain strollers. Where did their rageful sense of entitlement come from? They devoured every inch of space under scaffolds, obstructed store aisles — and did it righteously, as if the world owed them an unimpeded runway for their child-furniture. I couldn’t imagine what sort of yuppie lunatic would spend a hundred bucks on a stroller. (Answer: a yuppie lunatic who wants the warranty. Yet all around are ultrayuppie ultralunatics who spent $500 or $700.)

But the stroller-haters are self-centered, too, or unthinking. There’s a fallacy among childless people that there are simple ways for parents to make their children less annoying, and the parents just choose not to do them.

Would pedestrians infuriated by stroller traffic really be happier if the sidewalks were full of 2- and 3-year-olds toddling along at their natural pace, clutching their guardians’ hands? I know it’s hard on others when I’m going up the subway steps with a giant bundle of child and stroller in my arms. But you would prefer a 3-year-old climbing ... step ... by ... step?

I wouldn’t. I like to go fast, too. Ahead of us is one of the kid’s older schoolmates, walking hand in hand with his father. The boy wears rubber boots and a warm hat. It is an adorable scene. Our son would pitch a fit at the sight of the boots, and would peel off the hat and throw it in the gutter. Ice pellets are falling, bouncing off the stroller’s canopy. I give the classmate and his father a nod and a smile as I swing the stroller wide and speed ahead of them.

Why do we turn our children into rolling luggage? Parents are sacrificing their children’s opportunity to develop self-reliance, a childless stroller-foe told me, for the sake of their convenience. Well, heck, yes, we are. I do that all the time. I fork-feed my kid in restaurants to keep him quiet and tidy. I delayed his switch from diapers to underwear for two weeks because we had a vacation with a long plane ride coming up.

We can see the corrupting effects of the stroller. He goes to spend a week or two with his grandparents in the Midwestern suburbs, that sprawling American landscape of car addiction and epidemic obesity, and he comes back with his legs sun-browned and rippling with muscles, a little frontiersman, conqueror of empty lawns and parking lots. His grandparents don’t even keep a stroller around.

But time is money in New York: if I get him to preschool briskly and punctually, which is not how a small child moves under his own power, I get 2 hours and 55 minutes at my desk, uninterrupted. Wheels are faster than little feet. So he takes the stroller to school, rather than walking four blocks. He prefers it. Why? I asked him the other night. “Because I like to sit in it.” Why is that? “Because it’s nice in there, O.K.?” Why not walk? “Walking does not make any sense.”

We reach the school door just behind the twins in his class, their nanny doing an angled backing maneuver with their immense tandem stroller, like a U-Haul trying to get into an undersized driveway. How else would you get them anywhere? I pop the kid out of his seatbelt, collapse the stroller and hook it over a railing that I believe the school has installed for exactly that purpose. Down the hall to the restroom now, for mandatory hand-washing. This is the part where he starts bouncing on his feet, all the way back to the classroom door.

Raising children is about setting limits. The sales clerk told us that the new red stroller was good up to 55 pounds. The kid’s weight is holding steady, a shade under 30. If he stays on his current, normal growth curve, the stroller will be able to carry him until he’s about 9 years old. That is ridiculous, but those are the specs. Even a 3 ½-year-old knows it’s ridiculous. How old does he think he’ll be before he gives up the stroller? “I think just like one more year old.”

Tom Scocca is the author of the blog Scocca on Slate and the forthcoming “Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.”


Brent said...

Why not walk? “Walking does not make any sense.”

Erin said...

I loved this.

BTW, guess who let us walk all the way to Savage Mill yesterday? I think she walked at least a mile of the 2.4 mile trip there and back. I was very impressed, at least until she completely crashed on Montana's shoulder on the way back.

Erica said...

I agree with the kid and Brent. Walking does not make ANY sense. (From the rural living sister, who drives everywhere)