Family life

How a new stroller has changed my life

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk invested in a new stroller for her preschooler and she couldn’t be happier about it.

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Anna gets some shut-eye in her (borrowed) umbrella stroller. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

I have a confession to make: I just bought a stroller. I’m not pregnant, and my child turned three-and-a-half this week—arguably too old for a first-time stroller purchase. It’s not that we don’t have a wagon, or a bike trailer (which I use as a stroller) or a push bike—but I stand by my recent decision to buy this particular stroller. I’ll explain.

You’d be stumped to find a parent-to-be or new parent who wouldn’t tell you choosing a stroller was difficult. In some ways, I think “mommy wars” may as well be called “stroller wars” (except that term is associated with the conflict between transit riders with and without strollers). The truth of the matter is: like it or not, a stroller is a status symbol. People who have recently shopped for strollers—the people you see at the park and in community centres—know how much each brand costs. They know what each stroller does. They can tell if you got a hand-me-down or a discount brand. Shamefully, I find myself noticing newborns in yellow-canopied UPPAbaby strollers because that was the 2010 model, the year I was first in the market—which means people who have them either have an older child already or bought their stroller used (which I am all for, to be clear.)

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As an expectant first-time parent I was dead-set on proving that I didn’t need an SUV stroller. I definitely couldn’t afford one, so it worked in my favour to decide that I also didn’t want one. After some OCD-level rigorous research, I bought my first stroller used off of Craigslist. I had a friend drive me slightly further than made sense to pick it up, and bought it on the spot. It did everything I wanted and was attractive. It was an unusual stroller and a conversation piece, and the price was right. At the time, I lived above a café, up a tall flight of stairs. I was a single parent and often carried this stroller—and my newborn—up and down those stairs multiple times a day. The stroller weighed a ton. It barely steered. I couldn’t push it over the snow if the sidewalks weren’t cleared, and I regularly found myself stuck at snowy curbs. It was impossible to lift on my own at subway stations without an elevator—of which there are a lot in Toronto—and I don’t drive.

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Aside from not driving and living in a city with winter and (mostly) inaccessible transit options, I also live with chronic pain. Between fibromyalgia making my body ache and endometriosis causing chronic fatigue and painful disk problems in my lower back, the anvil stroller was not something I could handle long-term—despite all of my research and hopefulness. It also meant I couldn’t just chance it to sometimes carry Anna long distances, though I often did. To this day, when I see other parents pushing one of these strollers I feel the need to give them a few lines of sympathy. After the anvil stroller, I was given a nice hand-me-down umbrella stroller that reclined enough that I could use it when Anna was quite young. I bought a sun canopy for it and it became our primary stroller. It was great until one of the posts broke in a way that meant it could not longer be folded up. I bought another bigger used stroller after testing it multiple times and reading countless reviews of it online. While much, much better than our first stroller (and great for cargo) it wasn’t transit friendly, and Anna eventually outgrew being in a big stroller. Next, we found another umbrella stroller someone was getting rid of. It was incredibly light, folded up so easily, had decent storage and was free. We used it for a good year-and-a-half. But it barely steered, was awkwardly low to push, and in the winter weather it was like pushing a chair down the street, or worse, carrying it. For all the times I told myself each stroller was a fine investment, because it was used or even free, and convinced myself I could resell it later, I never did resell any of them.

Last month, I took a trip with my daughter. Before we left I solicited a neighbourhood parent group for a toddler-appropriate umbrella stroller I could borrow for a week. I figured most parents drove or maybe someone had one their kid had outgrown. Anna mostly naps in the stroller, so it was important to me to bring one, and I couldn’t imagine dealing with our awful one, despite it being what we use at home. A neighbour came through and his loaner stroller changed my parenting life for a week. Although Anna is old enough to walk most places, I could use it for our bags, for when she gets tired, and for naptimes. I actually like to walk long distances rather than use transit when possible, and I can’t do it with her on foot. I held onto the stroller for a couple of days after we got back. It was easy to lift onto transit, it fit easily in elevators, I could sneak it onto escalators—even though no one likes it when you do, and it’s not the safest.

I returned the stroller begrudgingly and with much thanks. My neighbour replied, “you know who to ask if you need to borrow it again.” I realized he probably assumed I had had a niece or nephew or a friend with a kid in town for the week. It hit me that the truth is, even with my daughter having been essentially out of a stroller for as long as she was in one, having a functional stroller improves our quality of life substantially. So, despite having already enrolled my kid in JK for next year, I went out and bought my very first brand new stroller. I bought the exact model of the loaner, because this time I’d tried it out with the kid in it, in my actual day-to-day life. It cost an entirely reasonable amount. I wondered immediately if I’d have regrets. But I don’t. I think it’s really helping our mobility and easing some of the strain on our days. My only regret is having been so stubborn for so long and not prioritizing having our needs met sooner.

Have you had a product that changed your parenting life? Tell me about it in the comments section or tweet me @therealrealTMZ.