Beautiful Dreamer

Babies No. 1 and 2 had to suffer through less-than-perfect strollers. But baby No. 3 will have the ideal ride -- that is, if there is a baby No. 3.


Lisa Kleinman
October 19, 1998 8:49PM (UTC)

More than nine years ago, during the last trimester of my first
pregnancy, I was busy acquiring all the things I believed a new baby and
new mother would need: changing tables, diaper bags, nursing bras, a front
carrier. I live in New York City, but at the time I commuted to work in New
Jersey, so I had the advantage of suburban stores and a car. But I was also
at a disadvantage -- although I didn't know it at the time. I had no
experience as a city parent, and I was dealing with salespeople who had a
suburban mentality.

I didn't really do much work during those last three months, content
instead to concentrate on shopping. One of my obsessions during my
frequent shopping excursions was choosing a stroller. I imagined that of
all the paraphernalia I'd acquire for the baby, the stroller would be the
most useful. I envisioned myself pushing it down the street, another new
mother at my side. I could see myself sitting in the park reading a novel
while the baby napped in the perfect, cozy stroller.

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It is now unbelievable to me that no one offered me advice on choosing
one, nor did I seek any. But most of my friends either had slightly older
children or none, so the subject just didn't come up. And I wasn't around
my urban neighborhood during the day to see what the new moms were pushing.
So I went to a baby-equipment superstore, where I chatted with the salesman
and ended up with a lovely Aprica stroller. I no longer own this piece of
apparatus, but I remember it well. Something between a pram and a
lightweight folding stroller, it looked more like a lunar landing module
than anything else. It must have had a metal frame but it seemed to be made
mostly of plastic. Its double wheels seemed sturdy enough when I rolled it
around the showroom floor. The basket underneath seemed adequate, and the
backrest, which could be lowered until it was completely flat, was perfect
for a newborn. As I recall, most of the other strollers in the store looked
similar to the one I chose, except for the folding umbrella strollers that
seemed more appropriate for toddlers, and the expensive prams that resembled
cribs on wheels.

When the baby was born, we rested for a few days, and then I tucked
Jacob into the Aprica for the first time and we hit the street. After I
managed to get the stroller through the narrow entrance of our brownstone,
that is. I hadn't thought to measure the width. This was my first clue that
I had bought the wrong stroller, and a few minutes later I realized that my
problems were just beginning. The Aprica was, perhaps, a great model for
suburbanites, since it folded so quickly and fit snugly in a trunk. But for
irregular Brooklyn sidewalks and curbs, it was a disaster. The wheels
couldn't cope with the cracked sidewalk, and the bulky frame was difficult
to heave up the curbs that didn't have curb cuts. Just when the bumpy ride
had lulled Jacob to sleep, a wheel would catch in a particularly deep crack
and bounce him awake.

I learned to adapt soon enough, however, and mastered the art of getting
the stroller out of the house. I also quickly figured out which blocks were
smoothest and had curb cuts. Even so, I couldn't help but notice the sleek
stroller that virtually everyone else seemed to be pushing around. This
ingenious model, the MacLaren Dreamer, was as compact and streamlined as an
umbrella stroller, shaped like a right triangle with a snug bucket seat to
cuddle a baby. Underneath the seat was a basket with lots of space to store
groceries -- by now I had determined that the Aprica's basket just didn't
cut it for cumbersome loads.

I coveted a Dreamer, but I was too cheap to buy one. I put up with the
despised Aprica for three months, then bought an umbrella stroller and
improved the quality of my life somewhat. An umbrella stroller has curved
handles that look like umbrella handles and a simple cloth seat that
reclines. It folds accordion-style into a small, light object that you can
hook over your arm. Now I could zip in and out of my house and any store
in the neighborhood. The sturdy wheels had no trouble with most sidewalk
cracks and it was easy to leverage this stroller up and down the curbs. As
for Jacob, he didn't seem to notice the difference, although old ladies,
presumably with the sagacity of experience, stopped me on the street to
inform me that he needed more support for his back. In the end, even the
umbrella stroller couldn't match the MacLaren Dreamer.

- - - - - - - - - -

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When my second son, Roger, was born three years later, I was in
second-hand mode. Everything he used was a hand-me-down from his brother or
from a friend, although I refused to use the Aprica again and it stayed in
the basement until my suburban nephew inherited it. I borrowed a different
MacLaren model called the Buckingham from a friend, which worked fine
although it didn't have the élan of the Dreamer. The Buckingham is a
cushier version of an umbrella stroller, with a backrest that offers more
support and can be lowered until completely flat. But it's no Dreamer.

Five more years passed, and my husband and I were contemplating, with
great ambivalence, the Optional Third Child: Was our family complete, or
might we still consider expanding? Although we couldn't really decide, we
agreed to begin trying. I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment each
month when I got my period. Then, one Sunday I volunteered at a tag sale to
benefit Jacob's school, and there it was: the Dreamer of my dreams. It
looked brand new, and in fact, it practically was. The woman who donated it
had bought it for her second child, but after three months, he had refused
to ride in it. (I wondered: How does a 3-month-old
express his refusal to sit in a particular stroller?) She had tagged the
Dreamer at $50. If the model were still available in retail stores, $200
would be a conservative estimate, but MacLaren stopped manufacturing the
Dreamer several years ago.

All morning, as I sold books for 50 cents and secondhand children's
clothing by the pound, that stroller haunted me. I still wasn't pregnant
after six months of trying, so would it be bad luck to buy the Dreamer now?
Before Jacob was born, I was too superstitious to have the Aprica delivered
until he was safely home from the hospital. How would I feel if I failed to
get pregnant and had to face the stroller in the basement, gathering dust?
When I left to take a lunch break, the stroller still hadn't been sold.
That's when I realized what this obsession was really about: If I bought
the Dreamer, I was buying the dream of a new baby, choosing to make a
commitment to conceiving, carrying and raising another child. If I passed
it by, I would have to admit to myself, and my husband, that my heart
really wasn't in it.

When I returned to the stroller, it had been marked down to $30 and
someone else was seriously considering it. "I'm buying it," I blurted out.
I thought I'd said it to myself, but it turned out I'd spoken aloud. The
other mothers all looked at me with interest. Some of them had openly
wished they could have an arrangement like I have, as a freelance writer
with 5- and 8-year-old sons already in school. No one had suspected I might
consider trading in my freedom for a chance to add to my family. I paid for
the stroller and clumsily fumbled with its folding mechanism so I could put
it in my car. Then one of the fathers at the sale came forward unsolicited
to demonstrate how to collapse it. Obviously it had been a long time since
I'd handled one of these things. I walked it to my car feeling
self-conscious. My 5-year-old son, walking at my side, didn't ask a
single question.

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The Dreamer sat in my basement for a few months. I found myself
mentioning it a lot to my closest friends, describing the acquisition as a
metaphor for my indecision about a third child. As the months passed and I
still wasn't pregnant, I began to be unnerved by the way the stroller
caught my eye every time I went to the basement for a roll of toilet paper
from the storage closet. So I offered it to a friend. Her baby, a third
child himself, was already a few months old, but none of the strollers in
her large collection were right for him. He has Down's syndrome, and with
his floppy muscle tone, he needed a stroller that cradled him cozily. The
Dreamer's bucket seat was just right. My friend was thrilled with the
stroller, and I loved seeing her son snuggled inside. I began to feel less
possessive of my Dreamer.

Even so, I continued pursuing the dream of a third child, though I felt
less and less optimistic. We had decided that we were not willing to pursue
the various high-tech approaches to infertility. I had never had trouble
conceiving before, but perhaps my body, at 38, just wasn't interested in
doing it again. After 10 months of trying, I was a little surprised,
in March, when my period didn't arrive. On day 27 I began to feel
curious, and on day 30 I broke down and bought a pregnancy test. These items
have improved since my last pregnancy and I was amazed at how clear the
result was. It was positive.

After the initial wave of panic subsided, after I called my husband with
the news, I thought of the Dreamer. When my baby arrives in December, my
friend's son will be big and strong enough to sit in a regular umbrella
stroller. I'll reclaim the Dreamer and push my baby around the
neighborhood, tucking all my bags underneath in the roomy basket. And when
baby No. 3 outgrows it, I'll pass it on to a deserving and decisive
friend.

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Lisa Kleinman

Lisa Kleinman, a freelance writer, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and children.

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