My Philosophical Thoughts on Baby Strollers

Lately I’ve been thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. The fact that humans still exist is pretty astonishing, given that parents in the caveman era had to lug babies through the woods without dropping them, all while getting chased by velociraptors. 

I’ve never been chased by a velociraptor while transporting Thomas, but last weekend it was actually sunny for once, and we decided to put Thomas in the stroller for a walk. He stayed in the stroller until he started to recite his favorite mournful wail for the entire countryside to hear. My wife calls it the “Please Hold Me Now Wail.” We tried to continue onward, hoping he would settle down, but eventually a siren fired up in the distance, likely that of the Social Services rapid response team. Natalie then unstrapped Thomas, heaved him upward, and handed him off to me to carry half a mile back to the house, which is when I started thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. 

Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought deeply about strollers. The first time was years ago, pre-parenthood, when my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to baby stroller Mecca, a.k.a. Disney World. At the time, I  had a general disdain for the strollers swarming all around me, specifically the one that mowed my foot off at the ankle. “Weakling dads,” I thought, “man up and heft your child so the rest of us can have a few square-inches to walk at the happiest place on Earth.” And I swore to myself I would not be a stroller dad if we ever had a kid. 

Well, turns out we did have a kid and he happens to be a giant. At seven months, he’s already outgrown his nine month clothes and hefting him any distance is like carrying a bag of cement with little arms and legs. Hence, I normally let Natalie push the stroller, that way I’m not seen as a stroller dad and my macho reputation is still intact. But occasionally I do have to heft him around, and I find myself thinking deeply about abandoning my pledge and using the stroller instead. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But, Stephen, your macho manly reputation will be in tatters if someone spots you pushing a baby stroller.” 

Likely you’d be right, if it wasn’t for the fact that my macho manly reputation was already in tatters because somebody at the sale barn let the dark secret slip that I’m a nerd and like Star Wars. Thus, I don’t have a whole lot to lose. But even if I did have a lot to lose, I think macho men and baby strollers can coexist these days. Times are changing. For proof, look no further than Star Wars itself and the most popular TV show around right now, the Mandalorian. The whole premise of the show is that a macho space gunslinger is followed around by a floating stroller. That wouldn’t have happened forty years ago. I mean, can you imagine Darth Vader being shadowed by a floating stroller? I think not. 

But these days nobody’s criticizing Mando for placing baby Yoda in the floating pram. So if Mando can use a stroller and still be macho, so can I. This is the Way.

A Petition to Cancel February, Permanently

February, ugh–a month so bad it’s reduced to 28 days. It’s also anchored by the holiday with the worst candy. How many teeth have cracked on those little hearts that say “Be mine”? Beware is more like it. 

The worst thing about February is that it’s cold and bleak and generally unconducive to peeing outside. I know bathroom humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact of the matter is that February is the last month you’d want to relieve yourself on the roadside in an emergency situation. And yet the irony is that nature calls more frequently in cold weather, which is another reason to hate February. Apparently, because humans sweat less when cold, the human body has to route more fluids through the bladder. But the bladder has already contracted its capacity to hold liquid because, well, the heater in the truck has quit working and it’s cold and many things contract when cold, including the bladder. Thus, the bladder is now, at best, the size of a large walnut and completely incapable of storing the two gallons of coffee imbibed to stay warm. All these factors, added to the fact that there’s no gas station bathroom within miles to patronize, mean that bladder has now commandeered control of the truck, engaged the emergency flashers, and brought the truck to a screeching halt on the roadside beside a patch of woods. 

Furthermore, we ought to know something is wrong with February when we start the month by relying on groundhogs to forecast our weather. It’s a pretty good indicator that we, as humanity, have given up when we transfer meteorological decision-making to the rodent that lives in the road pipe. My wife’s poppaw, who is eighty-five years old, can remember a better age when groundhogs had yet to inhabit every culvert in the countryside. He said he never used to see groundhogs growing up, and then, all the sudden, they were everywhere, poking their heads up along the roadside. Don’t get me wrong, groundhogs aren’t dumb animals, as anyone who has had to battle one in a garden can attest, but only in February would southerners in the greater Charlotte viewing area get so sick and tired of Larry Sprinkle’s dreary forecasts that we’d put our hope in a rodent from above the Mason-Dixon line. 

Yes, our weatherman’s name is really Larry Sprinkle.

Thus, February is so bad that humanity unites in general dislike of the month, if for no other reason than the “r” in the middle of February is a completely superfluous letter whose sole purpose is to make us feel like idiots and second guess the spelling of a word we learned in first grade. 

Anyway, you can probably tell I don’t like February, and I’m sorry if you were one of the people who lost the calendrical lottery and were born during the month. But, let’s face it, you would benefit most from canceling February because, with it wiped from existence, you’d never grow older. So if you’d like to make the world a better place, please sign the petition by leaving your name (or favorite fake name, I’m not picky) in the comments and then distribute this petition far and wide, so we can rid the calendar from the scourge of February. Even if we can’t get February omitted entirely, maybe we can negotiate and at least get the “r” omitted from the middle, which would be a big win for the universe if you ask me. 

When Pigs Fly and A Farmer Exercises

In a clear indication of how behind the times our society is, pot belly pigs bear the weight of an unattainable standard. Really, it’s a double standard if you ask me. While most farmers spend years working on a respectable pot belly to drape over their belt buckle and show off at the sale barn, pot belly pigs can’t get a cloven hoof in the arena door. Try bringing a pot belly pig to the sale barn, and you’ll be laughed out of the unloading line. 

Our local small animal sale rules: Pot bellies get no respect.

I know the pain this causes because of an enlightening and thoroughly delightful conversation I had with an aspiring pot belly. I made its acquaintance quite by surprise, one day after work, on my daily “run” (in an effort to postpone the looming heart attack, I sometimes lift my feet repeatedly, in a pattern indicative of briskly shuffling penguin). My route takes me past the sale barn, up a tortuous hill, to a long dirt road that dissects a crop field. The field has a small patch of trees beside the road. On the day of my encounter with the pot belly, I noticed a truck with a gooseneck livestock trailer parked beside that clump of trees. “That’s strange,” I thought, “I wonder if they’re broke down.” 

But no sooner than I thought that, the truck began moving, whipped the trailer around, and started barrelling toward me. I always give a little wave to oncoming vehicles, but the farmer didn’t even throw up the obligatory “how ya doing” index finger. He just kept boogying down the road, leaving me running in a cloud of dust. “Strange,” I thought. 

A few minutes later, I made it to the trees where the farmer had been parked. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, low and gruff with a thick Bronx accent:“Hey, you, can I get some directions?” I stopped running, looked around, but didn’t see anyone. 

“Yeah, you, runner boy,” the voice said, “over here, down low.” 

“Holy smokes!” I said, staring at a creature emerging from the woods. It was short and stout, with a low center of gravity. 

“What? You never seen a pot belly pig before?” 

“No, I mean, you, you’re a…” I stammered. 

“You humans are all alike,” said the pig, with an offended grunt. It shook it’s stubby little snout in disappointment and then started sniffing the ground, stopping every so often to root around for some unseen delectable. I stood in awe, speechless until a few words finally welled up from my throat, “but, but, you’re a…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a pot belly pig, already covered that. You know those yahoos at the sale barn had never seen a pot belly pig either. They wouldn’t let me strut my stuff across the arena floor, and I got modeling offers from Versace and Tommy Hilfiger. Then that good for nothing, sorry excuse for a farmer just abandoned me out here in the middle of nowhere and didn’t even say goodbye.”

“No, I mean, I’ve raised lots of pigs before,” I said, “but you’re a talking pig. I mean, I’ve never talked to a pig before.”

“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” said the pig, “Imagine that–a farmer who has never talked to a pig before. Never thought I’d see the day. Now if you can quit yapping and point me in the direction of the Charlotte airport, this pig’s gotta catch a flight to New York City for a fashion show.”

I gave the pig directions. It turned and trotted off to Charlotte. Meanwhile, I started running the other way and wondered if I had just experienced the mysterious condition called a runner’s high.

The Danger of Stranger Danger

If you ever visit Little Rays of Sunshine Daycare, remember to walk fast, keep your head down, and don’t make eye contact—or else the three-year-olds will have sufficient time to exploit your fear. They like to ride tricycles over to the playground fence and give strange parents the stink eye. Walking past them, sometimes I feel like I ought to be carrying pepper spray, or at least a safety whistle. 

Child 1: “Who’s that?” 

Child 2: “He ain’t my dad.”

Child 3: “He ain’t my dad either.”

Child 2: “Hey, you, what’s your name?” (child rattles fence)

Me: (looking around, hoping child 2 is accosting someone else. Realizing he’s not, say name meekly): Umm, I’m Thomas’s dad.  

Whatever happened to teaching children to fear strangers? I mean, stranger danger was so successfully programmed into my belief system that now I’m wary of talking to strange three-year-olds. And by the time I was the ripe old age of three, my shyness level had already exceeded that of most woodland creatures, excepting perhaps the sasquatch.

Apparently, most babies develop an innate sense of stranger danger at about six months old, after which they begin to look warily at unknown faces. But it’s up to parents to foster this burgeoning fear into a healthy phobia that will not only save their child from the kidnappers plaguing the neighborhood, but make their child an incredibly awkward adult. 

“Don’t talk to strangers,” was the mantra of my childhood, and even now, I still hate trying to integrate myself in a group of strangers. I’ve tried many integration methods over the years. I’ve tried approaching with a mosey, spitting, and saying “howdy,” but that only works if you don’t spit on your shoe. I’ve tried the stealth approach in which I attempt to sidle up undetected and then act as if I’ve been there all along, but to some people that can be extremely alarming. I’ve tried the humorous approach, though the tripping-and-falling gag was purely by accident. Generally, my best method for introducing myself to strangers is to aim for the pity inclusion and employ endearing awkwardness.

Anyway, the more that I think about it, I’m glad the three-year-olds on tricycles have yet to be indoctrinated. It seems to me that “don’t talk to strangers” has an insidious suspicion baked into it. It teaches children to attribute nefarious and sinister motives to people who don’t look or talk like them. And if the current state of American society teaches us anything, it’s a civics lesson for what happens when opposing groups of people retreat to the comfort of echo chambers and thus never talk to strangers.  

Good Tool Sheds Make Good Neighbors

[An OLD FARMER chews the cud with a YOUNG FARMER, while both sit on benches in front of an Ann Taylor store at the mall. The two talk the finer points and intricacies of a farmer’s hardest task, tool wrangling. FYI, this bit of make-believe took place in the good ole days, pre-COVID, when husbands patiently sat outside of women’s clothing stores and made small talk to pass the time.]

OLD FARMER: “What type of tools you run?”

YOUNG FARMER: [his feet surrounded by bags of various shapes and sizes, full of great deals in the latest women’s fashion] A little of everything–Craftsman, some Kobalts, even a few DeWalts. Been trying to cull out the Pittsburghs, but I’ve got more of ‘em in my tool shed than I’d like to admit.

OF: Well, it takes a few generations to stock a good tool shed, but you gotta start somewhere. I remember when I was about your age: I had the wildest bunch of tools this side of a rodeo chute. Never would stay put.

YF: Sounds like my hammer. Get’s out, and I’ll spend half a day hunting it. Usually, it’s laying somewhere in knee-high grass, but one time I found it over in my neighbor’s front yard, hanging on some shrubbery.

Current state of my finger–nothing meaner than an old claw hammer.

OF: Some ole hammers are more trouble than they’re worth. Yep, it’s best to load the ornery ones up and consign them at a junk sale. Had one hammer I never could trust around a nail–a finger nail, that is. Turn your head for just a split-second, and it’d take direct aim for your thumb. I finally lost a thumb nail to it, and that’s when I said enough is enough. Yep, hardly anything meaner than an old claw hammer.

YF: Yeah, my granddeddy once got gored in the backside by a claw hammer. Really, he sat on it accidentally, but he said it had the same effect.

OF: It happens to the best of us. Last week, I got lassoed by a wild water hose, but really my feet just got tangled up. It’s hard to pick your feet up when you’re an old man like me.

YF: Well, if you ask me, water hoses are the worst. Never will coil right, and then they get lost in the winter and I never can find them come spring–unless I happen to be bush hogging and then I find them shredded and wrapped up tight around the bush hog blade. 

OF: That reminds me of the old saying: A good tool shed is ladder high, wrench tight, and hammer strong–and if you keep any water hoses, it best be water tight–they have a way of slithering through the smallest openings. 

YF: Ain’t that the truth. Never heard that one before.

[At this point, the YOUNG FARMER’S WIFE walks hurriedly out of Ann Taylor Store, bags dangling from her side, with a panicked look on her face.]

YF: What’s wrong?

YOUNG FARMER’S WIFE: Just got a call from Nell–several wrenches got out and are rampaging through her shrubbery. She said if we don’t get back fast and get them caught up, she’s going to pepper them with birdshot. I think you forgot to close the tool shed door again. 

[YOUNG FARMER jumps up from bench, scrambles to gather all the bags at his feet, then gives a little nice-to-meet-you nod to the OLD FARMER, who nods back.]

OF: That’s farming, son. Just remember: Good tool sheds make good neighbors. Now yall take care, and good luck getting the wrenches caught back up!