Back to the Future: shopping for the modern infant

I watched an Amish couple try to push a stroller through a revolving door a couple months ago. A yuppie couple with a stroller of its own watched from a few paces back. The mother pushed, the father carried the child, both laughed, neither helped.

It was the first time in history–since the 18th century anyway–the Mennonites looked less ridiculous than the contemporaries beside them. Jebediah may have been wearing 100 percent wool suspenders…with a belt; Ruth’s headware may have belonged in Soviet Bulgaria; they may have gotten their haircuts from someone brushing up for his Barber GED to get into Barber Community College. But at least they were pushing a sensible plastic stroller, rather than the hybrid, rear suspension, four-foot-high, dual airbag monstrosity belonging to the Yuppies.

The gas mileage is terrible, but at least it's IED resistant

I wasn’t laughing in December when I sat in a boutique baby store with my own wife looking at strollers as I would a car, which is just what the stroller racket is mimicking. We stepped onto the boutique’s showroom floor — really, they called it that — and were soon accosted with price tags fit for, analogy fails me…who spends $700 on a stroller?

My wife browsed; I grumbled about how things were a lot more simple back when I was growing up, then contemplated suicide for the first time. She picked out a “reasonably-priced” $300 stroller. It had a brightly colored tray on which the child could eat or momma could balance a book, a Moses basket padded with 3-inch-thick 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton, three rubber wheels about knee high. A boutique employee with a nose ring and jet black hair advised us that stroller height is a big trend in Europe, a fact which genuinely impressed her. Evidently, the French and Norwegians believe high strollers allow babies to see the world around them and inhale more secondhand smoke.

I began to come around to the price tag; the thread count was pretty impressive; the design allowed the parent to imbibe or jog, depending on his fancy. Then I turned the tag over and saw “Model as shown…” written in bold sans-serif letters, not even the fine print you see on car commercials. The price more than doubled. The Moses basket wasn’t included; the cupholder made up of four paperclip chains and a thin plastic base cost $25; wheels were sold separately, but the chirpy one with nose ring said she could get us a good deal for some cinder blocks on which to prop the stroller.

$25 cupholder, doubles as gag.

The market is flooded with thousands of similar products, little of which have anything to do with a stroller’s main mission: to transport infants from Point A to Point B. Marketers know this, which is why “safety” has now become the industry’s most oft-used jargon. It is effective. Sample dialogue between Expectant Father (EF) and Expectant Mother, who’s-going-through-a-very-rough-time-emotionally-and-could-really-really-use-some-support-right-now (EMWGTAVRTEACRRUSSRN).

EMWGTAVRTEACRRUSSRN: “It says here Egyptian cotton can prevent autism. Tests show it is just as effective as embryonic stem cells at fighting disease”

EF: “That last part may be true, but I just don’t see why a baby needs 1200 threads.”

EMWGTAVRTEACRRUSSRN: “Oh so you’d rather see our child die” (cries)

EMWGTAVRTEACRRUSSRN exits showroom floor to call mother and falls over because pregnant women fall over a lot when their center of gravity changes. EF realizes he has lost the argument when she lands on a 1200 thread count blanket, preventing harm to baby. He is now out a night in the bed and $180.

Things will get little better for him when he gets home. The wonderful world of internet shopping, which so often provides search engine distractions, does not apply to shopping for your infant. God has reserved a special circle in Hell for he who clicks on “stroller fail.”

Not to mention the person looking for baby paraphernalia on Craigslist

What we have in the baby market today is hyperbole. The modern drive to make everything convenient and cuddly in the stroller world floods the market with ill-conceived luxuries like soft-pillows, which literally smother the baby to death, cupholders with chainlinks just small enough to catch children’s fingers in them or friction resistant wheels, allowing for minimal resistance when walking Junior up a hill and terminal velocity when walking down it.

At the same time, each stroller company is racing to develop the most futuristic-looking and unique model possible. That quest has led to alterations to the basic frame–3-wheel strollers, one handle strollers, Flash Gordon strollers, anything so long as it avoids looking common. Who knows where this race will take us?

Oh that's right

Hyperbole also defines the alternative baby carrier market, albeit in a different direction. The desire to roll the clock back is there, just not the wisdom to know when to stop it.

Yuppies tend to mock tradition, but only if it is familiar (think quad-wheeled stroller). If it comes from foreign lands like India, Kenya or 18th-century Idaho, it will be perceived as chic, tony and fashionable, which is why this Yuppie father could howl at the Amish, while keeping a straight face as he carried his doubtlessly pretentious progeny in one of those Sacagawea body wraps.

An argument can be made that we westerners owe it to Native Americans to honor their culture. We did maneuver their land out from under them without the decency of leaving them a few gold plated $1 coins in exchange. There are, however, better ways of doing it than bringing back inefficient and ridiculous looking modes of transportation…like developing gold-plated $1 dollar coins that are easier to drop into slot machines.

If Sacagawea were alive today, I’m sure she would prefer making the trip to the Pacific pushing young Pomp in a modern stroller, rather than carrying him on her back or against her bosom. Strike that. Sacagawea would have little use for the All-Terrain-Vehicles masquerading as strollers these days, what with the lack of wilderness and all. I bet she would opt for something more akin to the Amish stroller.

What you thought I forgot about them?

What is needed to address the Great Infant Transport Tackiness Crisis is the simplicity that is bred only through scarcity or discipline–two things Americans of the non-Shoshone Indian guide persuasion have not known for half a century.

The Amish couple at the door could explain simplicity to you, if you were kind enough to ask.

Mennonite doors swing to and fro as all doors did before revolving doors were invented in the late 19th century. We Americans, tend to trust the new, the progressive, the untested – sometimes to a fault. When we heard about these doors, which not only looked futuristic, but kept the building toasty too, we jumped at the chance. In fact, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston was so fond of the new technology, it replaced all of its exits with revolving doors. This can be a problem when 500 people are burning to death inside. The Amish spared themselves the trouble by shunning entertainment. They also didn’t need revolving doors to cut down on their heating or electric bill — they have plenty of money to spare after selling you that Authentic Amish Fireplace for $69.99.

You wily Amish con artists

I overcame my hatred for that QVC junk and helped maneuver the barely bearded teen and his pale, innocent bride through a side entrance.

The guy with the baby sling went through another door with ease and shot one last glance over the shoulder to satisfy his hysterics. I hope for the sake of his kid somebody tells him the price of chic progress. Sacagawea slings have been linked to more than a dozen deaths.

He'd probably replace it with this, leading to an increase in stroller fail videos


1 Comment

Filed under BillHaurton

One response to “Back to the Future: shopping for the modern infant

  1. Phil

    As always excellent work Billy!

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