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Ode to the Buggy

Photo courtesy of Storme Sabine Photography

Call ’em what you will:  buggies, pushchairs, strollers, prams, baby carriages, perambulators or carrycots.   Although we’re aware of the function they serve, some of us seem to be unaware of the imprint these means of transport will leave on our bodies and minds.

I had no idea what was in store for me when at eight months pregnant I smiled blissfully for a photo in which I stood alongside the buggy we just bought for our soon-to-arrive bundle of joy.  A few weeks prior to taking this photo, I was living in a buggy bubble, surrounded by objects referred to as Bugaboos, McLarens, and Gracos.  And once this bubble popped, I was transplanted to an accessories orb and encircled by cup holders, parasols, sun shades, footmuffs, bag clips, insect nets, and buggy boards.

Giving me added pressure when I was trying to decide on a buggy, one friend was intent on informing me that pushchairs are the ultimate accessory.  She says similar to a woman deciding to wear a Kelly bag or Kipling on her shoulder, or Louboutins or Birkenstocks on her feet, the decision to buy and push around a certain type of pram makes a statement.  After she saw the aforementioned photo, she said that my decision to purchase a red buggy meant that there was a lot of passion stirring below my surface.  I told her that it wasn’t passion but rather a very active, 3.5 lb. fetus, and that I actually chose a red buggy for safety reasons – red lights instruct us to stop.  She said I was lying.  I told her to quit with the envy and jealousy.  Her buggy is green, after all.

Two and a half years into pushing our diminutive lorry over cobblestones, through sand and gravel, up and down curbs and stairs, on public transport, in snow and cats-and-dogs rain, and around unforgiving pedestrians, I feel equipped to teach Buggy Etiquette 101, How Playing Twister Is Good Practice for Pram Usage, How to Forgive Your Fellow Sidewalk Hoggers for They Know Not What They Do, and Surviving Life Post-Buggy.

I ask my husband what he imagines when he thinks of prams and he says, “Manic women pushing their way down the street with great impatience, assuming they have the right of way in all situations, even if oncoming traffic is someone in flames running towards them, having just run out of a burning building.”  Yikes.  Is this the picture I and my fellow moms and carers project?  Or is this just a man who assumes he has the right of way or who has tried to cut lanes and jump in front of mini moving vehicles one too many times and has the scars to prove it?

Either way, I feel the need to defend my fellow baby carriage comrades.  Until one has had to operate the machinery known as pushchair, one can never understand the intricacies of the apparatus, the physical and psychological commitment, and men and women of planet Earth – the fortitude.

What used to be a quick jaunt to the local coffee joint to get my caffeine fix has now turned into my own personal Cirque du Soleil routine.  I know, I know, I should be grateful that I even have a buggy, that I have two legs and two arms and that I can afford a latté in this recession, but please hear me out.  Both fresh air and caffeine are necessities when you have little ones.  Thus, for any U- or G-rated readers, it’s like slightly injuring two birds with a teeny, tiny stone.  When leaving the coffee shop with a buggy, I have to use one hand to open the door and then quickly kick my foot to catch it in order to hold it so it frees up the hand to hold the coffee.  Meanwhile, the other hand is pushing the buggy and its 12 kilos of cargo while my 4.5 kilo bag steadily slides down my shoulder.  When I’m being kind enough to grab coffee for a fellow mom as well, having to carry one of those molded fiber coffee carriers with two cups requires use of the outer wrist, forearm or chin, or a combination of the three.  Why didn’t I purchase a coffee cup holder?  I did, and the contraption is relatively useless.  Not only does it add a few unwanted inches to the width of the buggy, but if you are using a paper coffee cup with a plastic, domed, sippy lid, your coffee will come spewing out the first bump you hit.

I told my husband that I was going to start charging spectators for the entertainment I provide during this routine.  He jokingly threw some coins at me and said, “For the time I watched you take ten minutes to put the raincover on.”  It baffles me when onlookers see me struggling and smile, waiting to see how I will manage such a feat.

In one instance on the high street pavement, a young man and I had a showdown of sorts.  I do not believe I automatically have the right of way simply because I am with pram.  But I also do not believe that if I’m carrying my ridiculously heavy bag along with three bags from the grocery store and pushing my son in the buggy, I should have to swerve in order to move out of the way of an approaching roadblock, a.k.a. a young man with nothing but chewing gum in his mouth.  If I could’ve magically disappeared from his path so as to not interrupt his strut, I would’ve gladly done it, but alas last time I spoke to Cinderella, she wasn’t too keen on lending me her fairy godmother for any proposed stretch of time.

My fellow moms have told me similar stories – the face-off in the cereal aisle at the market, the confrontation on the bus, and the war of a few words at an airport.  One mom tells of the time she was ready to put her dukes up when contending with a “swommer” who almost caused a head-on collision.  “You know, a swommer,” she says, “one who is steering while on mobile.”

In my mind, whether it is pedestrian vs. buggy or buggy vs. buggy, the following should have the right of way:

  • Parents behind the wheel of a double/twin buggy
  • Parents who look severely sleep-deprived and are behind the wheel of a buggy
  • Parents who are pushing a child who is having a tantrum
  • Parents who are simultaneously pushing a buggy and carrying several bags
  • Parents pushing a buggy without a raincover in the pouring rain
  • Parents who are trying to simultaneously push a buggy and hold an umbrella
  • Parents who are behind the wheel of a buggy at the same time that they have lost one shoe, have a foot in plaster or are using a crutch
  • Parents who have one child in a buggy and another one or two running in a different direction to that in which the buggy is being pushed

With regard to right of way’s cousin, priority on the lift, the run-up to Christmas seems to be the worst.   In one department store, a week before the jolly man with the white beard in the red suit was to arrive, I waited for nearly 25 minutes and 11 instances of doors opening only to reveal a jam-packed lift with no space for a buggy, let alone me, the required chauffeur.  As I gave the dirtiest looks I could muster during this merry season to all who appeared perfectly capable of riding the two sets of escalators on offer, I started looking around for a sign which asked lift-riders to give priority to wheelchair users, the elderly and those with prams. 

Now I know there is a constituency who believes that prams and their accompanying manoeuvrers should not be given priority and that they somehow feel that they are entitled, but ladies and gentlemen of the who-should-be given-priority-when-riding-lifts jury, please keep in mind that prams are not allowed on escalators, and the last time I tried to drag my son’s pram up five flights of concrete stairs, in addition to risking both our lives, I had to visit a physiotherapist for a couple months afterward.

After physiotherapy sessions, I perfected my buggy up the stairs method, only to have it fail when we added the buggy board.  It’s nearly impossible to roll the buggy up with such accoutrement.  But, my success on the high curb front remains.  I can now secure my son with one hand while holding on to the pram handlebar with the other in a pseudo rendition of the Heisman Trophy. 

I’ve also managed to compromise with my son in an attempt to get him in the pram.  The only way he’ll readily get into the pram is if he gets to ride what my husband dubbed “shotgun style”.   He kneels or lies on his belly, looking out his observation deck.  After scores of attempts at distraction, bribery and recruitment of other moms’ help in getting him in his buggy, this seems a suitable settlement. 

All this after I was living in fleeting buggy and parenting harmony when I read that I may have been doing the right thing for the first year of my son’s life by choosing to have him face me in his pram rather than face forward and watch the world go by.  I read the report in late 2008 which suggested front-facing strollers could deprive babies of their first lessons in life by discouraging their parents from talking to them.  This research into the psychological effects of buggies revealed that children who grow up in forward-facing buggies can be emotionally isolated.  In essence, by choosing to ride shotgun style, my son is conveying to me that he wants to be emotionally isolated.  Oh boy.

As many times as I’ve whinged about adjusting to pushing a pram around after about three decades of standing upright with nothing in front of me but the ground, I have missed it on those occasions when we decided not to use it.  For our buggy has served as a makeshift bag and suitcase, a grocery cart, and a bed.  In fact, I have grown so used to it that as I was leaving our flat on my own to go to the market as my husband and son played in his room, I started pushing the buggy out the front door with me, only to look down and see that it was sans child.

Soon enough, I will be left with the nostalgia of recognising my son’s little friends’ buggies, for when we walk into a library, class or playground, I already know who is there by perusing the pushchair parking area.  There will be an end to the era of buggy brigades, and I will be left with a different photo – a photo of me standing next to the threadbare and empty buggy, only this time with a tear in my eye.

Category: Baby and Toddler Accoutrement, General, This Parenting Stuff

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