Maneuvering This Baby Isn't Child's Play

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before I got one, so many of them seemed unnecessarily large. Big and blousy, they occupied too much space, got in everyone's way, took up the whole road, slowed traffic, made parking a nightmare. The people who navigated them seemed to think they were exempt from obeying the rules of the road. Oblivious, often chatting mindlessly, they plowed relentlessly ahead, heedless of any poor soul who might be in their path.

Before I got one, I swore I would never have one, or at least not one of the big ones. I preferred my methods of transportation to be unobtrusive, tasteful and sleek.

But sleek is not the operative word in baby stroller design.

Whether blocking the aisles and knocking over merchandise at Macy's, clogging the sidewalk three deep at playgrounds and amusement parks or just blocking pedestrians' right of way on neighborhood thoroughfares, strollers appear to be taking over Los Angeles, if not the world. Strollers that convert to carriages; strollers with two seats or three; strollers with a place for older kids to stand, or sit, or dance the Hootchie Koo; and off-road strollers equipped with car seats and cup holders, play centers and diaper bag hooks; strollers the size of Sputnik, with underside baskets as big as the Ritz.

My own stroller converts into a carriage and a bassinet and has a basket beneath large enough for my 3-year-old to sit in, when he's in the mood. So much for sleek. So much for tasteful.

We might be able to blame these leviathans on the running craze, which created a market for thick-tired, titanium-rodded jogging strollers, or trace their lineage, perhaps, to the first car-seat/carriage combo or even the pricey wistfulness of pram-nostalgia--even the most tricked out, low-rideresque modern stroller is Lilliputian compared with the nanny-powered buggies of yore. And there are so many of them.

In 1999, 518,073 children were born in Los Angeles County, 3,959,417 in the United States. Most of those newly minted humans, and all the ones that followed, received a stroller of his or her own. At a minimum of four wheels per stroller, there's a lot more tire on the road than there used to be. Especially because there is no instruction, much less a test, required to drive one of these things.

So I'm afraid it's up to those of us on the business end of the strollers to handle this traffic problem.

God knows I do not want to add to the many burdens of parenthood. So, when a friend complained that her weekend walks around the Rose Bowl were ruined by trios and quartets of four-wheel-pushing mamas who seemed oblivious to her attempts to pass, I gently broke it to her that these women really didn't give a flying Fudgsicle about her needs because this was probably the one hour a week not spent in direct service to their jobs and/or kids; the one hour when they got to see and talk to--at the same time! imagine!--their girlfriends; the one non-driving, non-errand-running hour when their beloved children were legally strapped down. Justifiable or not, she was just going to have to lump it. "Oh," said my friend. "Oh, I see."

Still, she has a point. And so do other people I know who complain that strollers have become a nuisance and a hazard in close quarters, which in a city as dense as Los Angeles is just about everywhere. So here are a couple of suggestions to keep the peace.

What Is a Stroller?

1. A stroller is a conveyance of children, not to be confused with a snowplow, armored car, riot gear or any other means of street-clearing or crowd control. Regrettably, it does not entitle you to displace those who are in your path or to cross the street against the light.

2. In their sleep-deprived state, many parents believe that because the stroller feels like an extension of their bodies it is an extension of their bodies, and thus does not occupy any additional space. Not so. A stroller has its own mass, plus a buffer zone equal to the distance a wet pacifier or dripping bottle can be heaved.

3. In an amazing display of the properties of matter, the more bags, parcels, dogs and ambient children one attaches to a stroller the larger it becomes. So if it no longer fits on an elevator or through the aisle of a store, the problem is probably not with the design of the elevator or the store.

4. A stroller does not dematerialize when stopped. Many people do not feel comfortable moving a stroller, even if it is blocking a doorway or an aisle. They feel less uncomfortable giving you and your child the evil eye and sighing loud enough to dislodge an entire pyramid of kiwis.

5. A stroller is an excellent device for shoplifting--I recently made it to the car before discovering two pairs of unpurchased pajamas and a starfish floaty candle, courtesy of my 1-year-old. Salespeople know this too, so if they ask you not to take the stroller into the dressing room, don't get huffy.

6. If you can't collapse a collapsible stroller by yourself, it isn't collapsible.

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Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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