Many objects have become symbols of parenthood. The baby bottle. The crib. The carseat. The mystical hammer, Mjolnir.
(Whoops, that’s a symbol of Norse mythology, not parenthood – my bad.)
But lately, the word that’s most often standing in for procreative-ness (while begetting many new words) is “stroller.” From Babble’s own Strollerderby to the sweaty joys of strollerobics and the bitter wrath of stroller rage, “stroller” is a word that seems capable of rolling into any area of the culture where parents and children roam.
Rather than attempt an exhaustive stroller-word roundup, which would only lead to missed naps and hard feelings, I’ve trained my beady eyes – er, penetrating gaze – on stroller’s use as an adjective in terms that are symptoms of many emotions and experiences. Annoyance about cramped sidewalks, demented disapproval for the continuance of the human race, and new parents’ wonder at their new place among the strollerati are just a few of the feelings that have stuck to this word like an IHOP breakfast to a toddler.
The New York Times gave a serious boost to this term in May when Lynn Harris wrote of NYC’s Park Slope neighborhood: “Its glorious brownstone blocks and jaunty cafes are awash in carpetbagger entitlement, ruled by snarling ‘Stroller Nazis.’” In a world full of grammar Nazis, soup Nazis, and even some bagel Nazis, it’s safe to say “Nazi” has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness. But even some ‘rents are compelled to use the term for their own purposes, like one mom who lived through a mega-aggressive sales-creature’s toxic storeside manner: “I don’t think I’ll shop there again. Scary Stroller Nazi.” Softer synonyms include “stroller mafia” and “stroller mob” – and someday, perhaps – “stroller-stapo.”
Though “people” seems like it should be a neutral word that’s about as inflammatory as plain toast – and light years from “Nazi” – even a people person can’t help notice the word is used in many disparaging ways. Think how toxic “you people” and “those people” taste on the tongue. Likewise, “stroller people” evokes general distaste (“I appreciated not having to deal with the stroller people”) or alludes to “pod people” (“Invasion of the stroller people”).
This sometimes carries the disparaging baggage of “stroller people,” but some parents use it to describe themselves too: “Ever since joining the stroller crowd, we have become more aware of elevator access, etc.” This term also seems to lend itself to hyphenated adjectives, such as “bib-and-stroller crowd,” “camcorder-and-stroller crowd,” “cell phone-and-stroller-crowd” and “overalls-and-stroller crowd.”
Most of these labels equate strollers with their pushers, not their passengers, but here’s an exception. As used in headlines such as “High style for the stroller set” and “Sex Ed for the Stroller Set,” “stroller set” signals that grown-up subjects are encroaching on childhood like a puddle of juice on a laptop.
Even if you don’t feel like a member of the stroller mafia, chances are a non-stroller-haver somewhere is going to judge you by your wheels – and you may wish you had the power to whack them, like a nurturing Tony Soprano.
Instead, I suggest that frustrated strolleristas embrace variations of their own. Many parents already have, calling themselves “stroller fanatics,” “stroller addicts,” “stroller nuts,” “stroller junkies,” “stroller whores,” “stroller snobs” and “stroller geeks.”
Repeat after me: “My name is your-name-here, and I am a stroller-holic.”
Where have you seen stroller used as shorthand for parents or kids? Was it used in an insulting, complimentary, or neutral way? Let us know in comments.