It seemed like the stroller-hating articles started right after my first baby was born, or maybe I just started noticing them then. Now, in the apparent twilight of my stroller years, I view the diatribes from a slightly different angle. No longer wholly dependent on the stroller to get from point A to B, I still use it for expedience, for my kid’s comfort, and for my own schlepping convenience. Yes, I use my stroller as a sometime shopping cart. If you had a kid in New York City, you probably would, too. And if you don’t have a kid in New York City, you probably think I’m a jerk.
The stroller has become a symbol of the things people without kids hate about people with them: They take up too much space, they expect others to conform to their needs—literally, to get out of their way, they “coddle” children, parading them around town like Pashas with nary a thought to the way their rolling thrones interfere with others.
But who’s being self-centered here?
In an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times, Tom Scocca waxes poetic from the stroller side of the great divide, and recalls life before: “..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. “
It’s not hard to see where the stroller hate comes from. Cities are dependent on efficiency. A stroller on the sidewalk can slow down foot traffic by a mile an hour, raising the heart rates of the obstructed in inverse proportion. There’s even a name for this now: Sidewalk Rage. But what is hard for me to see is why people don’t consider the needs of infants and children, which includes their transportation from place to place, as part of the workings of an urban environment. Parents, just by virtue of having children and moving through the world with them, are taking more than their fair share. Children are seen as part of the parents’s baggage, not as members of society who don’t happen to be able to operate at peak efficiency.
As Scocca puts it: “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.”
Children are, by definition, inefficient. But they have as much right to street space as I do when I’m trying to squeeze in a workout by walking fast to the grocery store or running to a meeting and aggravated by the double-wide Macclaren in my path. It’s reasonable to expect a little consideration: pulling over instead of stopping mid-traffic flow, breaking up a phalanx of strollers so wide it doesn’t even leave a passing lane. But beyond that, hating on strollers is, in my eyes, not all that different than hating on wheelchairs. Strollers are assistive technology for people who can’t move at the pace of adult life. Kids can’t get around as fast as you. But they still have to get around. Deal with it. And while you’re at it, stop complaining about kids being “too old” for a stroller, a complaint, by the way, you rarely hear from a parent (unless that parent has a particular interest in youth emancipation, or has never raised children in a city). I was guilty of this myself before I had kids. Before you’ve been there, it just looks…wrong. But when you’re dealing with the competing pressures of a miserable, exhausted kid and a time crunch, you honestly don’t give a rat’s ass what anything looks like. You’ve just gotta get there.
Parents use strollers for their children not just because it’s easier for them, though it usually is. (When our plane landed late last night, I was kicking myself for traveling stroller free…boy would it have been nice to put that sleeping kid somewhere instead of hauling a 35 lb sack of potatoes along with my carry-on.) They also use strollers because it’s easier for YOU. If you think navigating around a stroller is annoying, imagine a sidewalk clogged with kids on foot, wandering, whining, tantruming, racing and chasing. With that reality in mind, using a stroller could be seen as the more considerate choice. But I’m not so sure it matters. I don’t actually think stroller hating is about strollers at all. I think it might just be a socially acceptable way for people to vent about what they really hate: children.
photo: Erin! Neverkis/ flickr