I'm the mom who happily takes hand-me-downs and doesn't hesitate to buy things for my kids from Value Village. In other words; I'm not exactly the target market for high-tech, high-end strollers. But neither am I immune to bells, whistles and designer things. Everything at Pottery Barn Kids is appealing.
I dragged my pre-loved, vintage 1990s Peg Perego stroller backward through too much snow, but looked longingly at mothers pushing the latest, greatest thing. I understand the value of the new-fangled buggy; I'm just not willing to fork out the $1,000 or so it costs to buy fully loaded.
Just when I thought the stroller landscape could get no brighter-coloured, bigger-wheeled, better-equipped, along comes the Origami that collapses at the touch of a safety-latched button. This stroller makes the thing I coveted a mere six years ago look positively vintage. To think those models I lusted after had only one cup holder. The high-tech, state-of-the art Origami has four. I assume it's so you can serve cocktails while you're out on a walk.
The marketing-savvy company behind the Origami, 4moms, is pitching the product for every kind of parent. For the overly anxious, the safety features -- two kinds of headlights -- let you breathe easy. For the health fanatic, it tracks how far and fast you're walking. For the environmentalist, it recharges as you push. For the fashionista, it's sleek and stylish. For the attached-to-your-iPhone-at-the-hip, it has a charger. And for Dad, forget the Beamer and Lexus, pimp your ride with the Origami.
Do any of these feats of design and engineering make a baby happier, healthier or safer? Was that ever the point? Were my babies at risk in the paltry three-point harness? Anyone who has had a kid or three knows they can fall asleep in a $15 umbrella stroller or lie awake screaming on a $2,000 mattress. They can be entertained with a toilet paper roll. They can climb out of the deepest crib. What this is about is parental convenience and one-upmanship in the competitive world of raising well-equipped, perfect (looking) kids. Are safety features really that important or are they merely a justification for our stylish extravagances?
The Origami comes complete with a LCD screen to let you know there's a kid on board. We might forget -- we're so busy sipping lattes and sending texts. Why waste the second it takes to peek around the front? And lest we don't recall the sex of that baby or fear the wee one doesn't look girlish or boyish enough, the cartoon image can be gendered with a hair bow for the girls. And no, the stroller is not yet smart enough to make the sex determination itself; you have to set it.
While women control the bulk of household spending, decisions about vehicles remain dominated by men. The sales woman at an upscale Toronto baby shop said it's the dads who are "very into it." He may have a mini-van in the garage but he has the sports car of strollers -- little storage, lots of chrome and gadgets. With four-wheel suspension and touch-of-a-button commands, Dad may even sneak out for a spin without the kid. Is this the beginning of a love affair between men and strollers?
How much further can stroller bling go? As far as we can imagine. The baby industrial complex is expert at convincing us that their future-ready products will ease our lives, improve our offspring, and draw the best kind of attention. Soon strollers will make coffee, offer built-in laptops for all, and push themselves with parents on board. Is anyone else thinking Wall-E?
My days of stroller hauling are now behind me, but I fondly remember my no-frills, partially functional hand-me-down. When I pass on my stories of hardship and sacrifice to my drive-me-to-the-corner teenagers, the memory of that clunker will shine in a way that something belled and whistled never could. It would sadden me to be part of the generation that lost the right to say: "When I was a new parent I dragged that stroller to daycare two miles in a snowstorm, holding my own coffee."