Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In defense of strollers

In defense of strollers?  Who's attacking them, you might ask.  What's so horrible about a little baby carriage that makes it in need of an advocate?

Well, maybe 'attacking' is pretty strong.  But the attachment parenting camp, you know the one that prefers you literally attach yourself to your baby, not place it in a "container" (their word) on wheels, has convinced us that baby wearing is the natural and most beneficial way to transport your offspring.  Overusing "containers" can actually cause physical, mental and emotional harm.  Wear that baby!

No big argument here.  Both my husband and I wore both of our babies, on walks, hikes and around the house. I loved being so close to the babies and having my hands free, and it worked like a charm to soothe them. Seemed like a win-win.

And here in Kenya, baby wearing is just how it's done.  I've yet to see a Kenyan here in Kisumu push a stroller.  Always being one to try and fit in, I tucked the stroller away in the closet for Caleb (it would have been useless on Busia roads in any event) and have abandoned using a stroller when our second born arrived.

I wore Emmet since they day he was born, in a moby wrap.
Cozy like a womb.  Or so I liked to think...
But despite feeling "down with the locals," it instead unexpectedly made me the constant object of hilarity.  I walked in to a clinic appointment and the nurses, NURSES, burst out laughing at this get up.  When people weren't laughing, they were busy stopping me on the street to express concern that I might be somehow suffocating or smushing my young babe.  "But his head..."  "Will he be OK?"  or "He's...  um.... certainly all closed up in there" (disapproving shake of the head)

Hmmm.... I thought baby wearing was di rigour in most of the non-Western world?  Not so. You see, In Kenya, for the first 3 months, babies are wrapped in copious amounts of blankets and carried in the arms, often shaded by an umbrella.  No baby wearing yet at this tender age. Baby wearing happens later. And on the back, not the front.

But I'm used to being the object of curiosity, laughter and derision. I'm no longer fazed by being the butt of a joke or object of disapproving head shaking.  I kept baby wearing Emmet and as he got older people dropped their concern that I might somehow be causing him harm.

But as he got older he also got heavier.  And baby wearing felt uncomfortably like using a personal heating system that was completely overkill in the equatorial heat.  We'd both be sticky with sweat after a walk and my lower back, already in shambles, was taking a beating.  I yearned to take long walks, something I normally enjoy for leisure, exercise and just clearing my head, but they had become an impossibility. As much as I enjoyed baby wearing, I started to pine for at least the option of having a stroller.

So, on a recent trip to South Africa we bought one - a turbo, industrial, off-road sucker, an SUV of the stroller world.  The roads here would not have handled any other kind.

We got the red one.  You know, because black is too subtle.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I feel liberated.  I can take walks now.  Comfortably.  There's a cup holder and basket underneath fergoodnesssakes. Genius! After all this baby wearing, it all feels like a revelation to me.

But it's increased the spotlight on us as we make our way through our Kenyan neighborhood. No matter what time I take a walk -- 1 PM, 4 PM 5:30 PM -- some area school is letting out, flooding the street with groups of kids, emboldened by their liberation from school and unafraid to approach, question and tease us.  School children literally trip over themselves to take a look at what's in the little cart I'm pushing and them murmur excitedly to each other when they find out it's a human.
Hard to capture this dynamic, but can you see that group of school girls in the distance? They are already conspiring to approach us. 

Even adults are astounded by us, asking me, when the sun shade is covering Emmet, if it's true that there's a baby in my sporty, high-tech wheel barrow, and then shaking their head and smiling, their thoughts unreadable.  

Really, that's they only thing people push here - wheelbarrows or carts.  Nothing else. Certainly not youngsters.  And, true story here: when I did pass a man pushing an actual wheel barrow, we both reflexively did that little acknowledging head nod that people with the same model car do when passing each other on the road.

People are surprised, astounded and maybe a little confused by our little stroller, and not shy about expressing this.  But I'm hoping that pretty soon my kids and our red contraption will become just another feature of our neighborhood and we'll simply fall back into the backdrop instead of being a roadside conversation piece.  It could happen...


  1. Kim you crack me up - especially the head nod with the man pushing the wheelbarrow.

    1. I swear that happened! We kind of looked at each other's loads (I looked at his rubble and he looked at my baby) and did a lift of the eyebrow headnod before I could help myself. ; )

  2. For a real hoot on the stroller/attachment parenting divide watch the movie "Away We Go", a good send-up on academia, too. It came out a few years ago, may be on Netfix streaming.

    1. Oooh.... I'm totally going to find that. Thanks for the tip!

  3. wow, who would of thought a stroller would be so interesting and liberating. what we take for granted over here... so glad you're walking proud and standing tall with your new cruiser. :)

    1. I know! I definitely took it for granted back in the US, but it is liberating.

  4. Ah, the classic connection between the mother pushing a stroller and the man pushing a wheelbarrow. Classic.

    Great look at going against the grain. I'm sure your back appreciates the stroller, too.

    1. Oh, my back is still effed. ; ) But it would be even worse without this godsend of a stroller. I wonder sometimes if Kenyan moms aren't just loads stronger.