One of the lowest points in my ability to keep a healthy perspective about parenting (and life) occurred in 2006 when I was pregnant with my second child. Instead of harnessing some wisdom about a child’s true needs that I ought to have gleaned from my first two years as a mom, I became shamefully obsessed with finding the perfect double stroller.
“Perfect” had a precise definition. I wanted a stroller that was smooth and sturdy for long walks, but light enough to carry in and out of the car without Herculean efforts. Ideally it would have a good cup holder, adjustable handles, an easy-to-use basket, quality wheels, and cost less than a week’s vacation in Fiji. I had not succumbed to the pricey Bugaboo with my first child, and I would not fall prey to “needing” the Mercedes of strollers as a second-time mom either. That much perspective I was able to maintain. At least.
The perfect double stroller didn’t exist, of course. I knew that to be true about single strollers, but chose to forget it. Most of my friends (and the people who write on online message boards) had regrets about the brands and models they owned. The basket was too flimsy. The wheels were good for walks, but too big to fit anything else in the trunk. The system for opening and collapsing the thing took a PhD in Engineering. Nevertheless, most people made do with their choices and moved on with their lives.
Despite that bit of logic and knowledge, I spent ungodly amounts of time reading online reviews of double strollers. It was a time-consuming, silly “hobby.” We ended up with two doubles anyway: a heavy, clunky one for walks, which we bought used from friends; and a light, cheap one to keep in the car. Both are fine and far from perfect just like the two single strollers we own for the same variety of purposes. Yes, that means we have four strollers, which would shame me except that we had two more kids after that, and they sufficiently wore out all four models.
Don’t worry. I have nothing left to say about strollers. I’ve long since deduced that this entire period of my life had nothing to do with strollers anyway.
As time passed, I saw that my hyper-focus on finding the right match was really about my desire to control the imminent change in our lives. We were going from one child to two, which was making me anxious.
But if I’m being absolutely honest, there was even more going on than that. I think I allowed myself to lose perspective because I was lonely and bored. I’d stopped teaching when my oldest was born, and I wasn’t writing yet. I didn’t have the full social and spiritual life that I have now, nor the confidence to know that my kids simply needed a good mom engaged in their lives and her own life. They didn’t need a seemingly flawless mom who was wrapped up in finding an equally flawless stroller, winter jacket, pair of rain boots, nursery paint color, big kid duvet cover, and more. I was worrying about all the wrong things as if finding the right stroller or the perfect anything else would affect our lives in a way that truly mattered. I had lost my mind over nonsense and never wanted to be that way again.
I have less of what I call “stroller moments” now, the shorthand my husband and I use for when I’ve crossed the line from reasonable decision-making, planning, and thinking to needless obsessing. (We have a few different code words for when he needs a dose of perspective.) I recommend the code word concept for forced, on the spot self-awareness. It’s a tool that gives me a path for escaping any new pit where my mind has fallen.
These days my stroller moments are more often about friendship and family issues, but the underlying problem is still a false sense of control. Why is so and so mad at me? Do I make more effort in our friendship than person X, Y, Z?
“Is this the double stroller all over again?” I might say to my husband. From the expression on his face I can always see that it is before I’ve even finished asking the question.
One day I’ll probably help my kids find their own code words. However, with their youth, and thank God, their health, they’ve earned their lack of perspective. I’m going to let them enjoy that innocence for now.
Illustration by Christine Juneau
Read Nina Badzin’s essay in This is Childhood, a book and journal on the first ten years of motherhood.