David Russell

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Strange but true-there's a stroller for every situation and terrain
Maclean's Magazine  Aug 16, 2004. Vol. 117, Iss. 33; pg. 54

HE PAUSED, hand poised on the doorknob. "In here," George said, eyes glimmering in anticipation, like a hot rodder ready to show off his Shelby. Creaking the dark-stained door open, he reached in, flipped on the light and revealed his treasures. Lined up end to end in the center of the garage were strollers.

Four of them.

George and his wife, Linda, have two cars, both newer models worth many thousands of dollars, both parked on the tree-lined street in this quiet Vancouver neighbourhood. The garage is exclusively for baby transport.

"Do you have three other children I'm unaware of?" I asked him. His smile masked a slightly smug attitude, as though telling me: "Just wait. You'll see."

I didn't believe I would. I haven't passed a math course since 10th grade, but one child equals one stroller appears a simple enough equation. But George explained each stroller has its own function. One is general, all-purpose. I pointed out that the all-purpose stroller, by definition, negates the necessity of the other three. He shook his head and continued as though I hadn't spoken.

The second stroller is for shopping: smaller and more easily navigable through malls crowded with moms during 30-percent-off sales at Gap Kids. The third is restricted to "off-roading." The fourth and biggest-its wheels appearing only slightly smaller than a dump truck's-is for jogging and rollerblading. George stepped back and examined his infant convoy. "Management," he said with satisfaction, "it's all about stroller management."

My wife, Barbara, and I left our friends' home shaking our heads. What happened to them, we wondered.

But we've wondered that less after we too embarked on the path to parenthood 18 months later. At our first visit to our first baby store we are approached by the sales clerk. "Would you like a tour of the strollers?" she asks. I am about to let loose with a recycled barb when I notice my six-months pregnant wife revolving slowly, head pointed upward to ceiling-high shelves, mouth agape. As far as the eye can see are strollers of different makes, models, colours and sizes.

"I guess that would be a good idea," I tell the clerk. And the tour begins. In the next 45 minutes she leads us through the history, design features, pros and cons of the modern stroller. Collapsibles, we are informed, should have two latching devices to ensure the sturdiness of the upright stroller. Italy makes some of the finest available. "Italy?" I ask her. "Aren't they responsible for the Fiat?" Like George did, she ignores my flippancy. Strollers are no joking matter.

Car seats attach to some strollers, but not all. Strollers designed for car seats will accommodate almost any model of same. The faster the parent walks, the larger the wheels should be. Sidewalks require less shock absorbency than trails; gravel trails less than forest trails. I am about to interrupt with another ignorant question when I notice my wife is nodding in understanding. She's getting this! My head is swirling with the relative merits of the previous three models, and wondering why umbrella strollers don't have an umbrella.

In the end, we find we need more time. "I didn't spend this much time deciding on a car," I tell my wife as we drive home. "How will we ever decide which one to buy?"

"Which one?" she asks.

The issue is settled by doting grandparents, who offer to buy us a stroller, though not the armada our friends have recommended. We pick out a high-end, multi-purpose Italian coupe (having remembered they make Ferraris as well as Fiats) in earth tones that suggest parents at peace in the forest or the urban jungle. As a hedge, we buy the matching infant car seat-mismatching it to a second, third or fourth stroller would be gauche.

Finally, the day arrives when I can proudly put Baby Ainsley into this magnificent chariot. I've been waiting three months for this first stroll, my wife having assured me that, yes, the neighbours would think it weird had I bundled the cat in for a prenatal test drive.

And it's... okay. The ride begins well, though a passerby points out the car seat is on backwards; Ainsley is supposed to face me. Sidewalk grooves seem manageable, though not as smooth as I had imagined. I eye a mother jealously whose stroller has a lid covering the handle compartment-on mine the keys and garage door opener are lying hopelessly exposed. The all-inclusiveness of our model suddenly seems cumbersome as I fumble my way down some stairs. The waterfront wood-planked boardwalk causes such vibrations my newborn daughter is shaken into a prolonged hiccuping fit.

I finally return to the house, handing off baby and heading for the phone. "Where are you going?" my wife asks.

"To call George," I reply in surrender. "I need to see if he can help me get a fleet rate."