I think one thing that parents of young children find daunting about city living is the sheer enormity of getting out the door. I’m sure this is probably true of parents of young children everywhere, but those of us with an urban reality have another layer of complication to getting out the door. To wit: the stroller. I think suburbanites buy strollers primarily for strolling at the mall, storing in the back of their cars/vans/SUVs, and perhaps getting around airports and the like. I’m sure some rural dwellers use them on country roads and such, and I tip my hat to those of you on unpaved roads with little ones in tow.
I didn't realize this before I had children, but I have since come to the conclusion that there are basically two types of mamas--those who carry and those who stroller. I always assumed I'd be a stroller mom--my mother was, and it hardly occurred to me to use a carrier. I knew about Baby Bjorns (who doesn't?), but little else about the vast world of baby wearing. I don't know exactly how I stumbled across ERGObaby carriers, but I know that I bought one when my older son was teeny tiny and I loved it. I quickly realized that being bus- and subway-dependent precluded being a real stroller mom. We did buy a snap-n-go style stroller that we used infrequently, and somehow ended up with a total of three strollers by the time H was a year old, all for different purposes, but we used the ERGO daily. I can wear the ERGO for hours and not notice the weight of the baby at all.
H in the ERGO at Rockefeller Center, October 2008 (10 months old)
So I became a baby wearing mama for purely practical reasons. As it happened, my older son really liked being worn, and it seemed to fill his need for being held--he wasn't a particularly cuddly baby. I only stopped using the ERGO when I got pregnant with M and couldn't tolerate the hip strap around my middle any more. Once M was born, I used a long wrap-style carrier for the first week, since it is good when they are that size, but quickly graduated to the ERGO for carrying. Things seemed okay in the carrier department for a while, but it became clear to me at about 3 months that M hated the ERGO. He wanted to be able to see out, and, being a generally cuddly baby, didn’t have an extra need to be up close and personal with my chest. It seemed to be too stimulating for his ever-ready-to-nurse appetite. I discovered, quite by accident, that when he faced outward, he was content for hours! Unfortunately, the ERGO is a facing-inward only carrier and at the time, M wasn't yet big enough to wear on my back. So I ventured into the world of Bjorns and front-facers with trepidation, having heard all the nightmarish stories about aching backs, twisted necks and the like. We borrowed a Baby Bjorn active carrier (with lumbar support) from someone in our neighborhood, and while M loved it, we did not. In fact, I can say pretty unequivocally after three weeks of regular Bjorn use during the latter half of last August, I'm going to need a good chiropractor. Or neck surgery. Or both.
H and my husband in elevator at Dublin's public library, August 2010
I started inquiring about different forward-facing carrier options on the various mommy listservs that I'm on. The Beco Gemini caught my eye, but the price was a little daunting, and I inquired about finding a used one amongst the mommies. Two people highly recommended the Belle Baby carrier, which I'd never heard of, but looked promising on their website. One mama offered me a loaner of her Belle for the weekend to try it out. Another friend offered her Mei Favorite Baby Carrier from Babies Beyond Borders (full buckle style) to try out and if I liked it, to buy it used from her. Being desperate for some relief, I agreed to try both. I immediately liked the Belle Baby--it wasn't as ergonomically great as the ERGO, but it was significantly better than the Bjorn, and the website had two models on sale, so that was a bonus. The Mei Favorite carrier at first blush seemed like a dream come true--all the features of an ERGO with the forward-facing option. I quickly realized, however, that the forward-facing option works only with older babies, and the way the straps crossed in my back made me hurt all over. So that one wouldn't work. So that left the Gemini and the Belle. Since no one appeared to have a Gemini for sale or loan, and the price difference between it and the Belle was substantial, I decided to take the plunge and order the Belle. M loved it. We used the Belle with him until he was too big to comfortably wear front facing and then switched back to the ERGO around 6 or 7 months, when he seemed better able to tolerate the inward facing carry.
My mom and M in the Belle, at her house, September 2010
But back to strollers. When H was close to a year old, we bought a Phil and Ted’s classic with a doubles attachment, anticipating our need for it in the future. I had come to the conclusion that Philly’s sidewalks completely precluded any stroller that didn’t include pneumatic tires. There were so many things I disliked about this stroller, I can’t even begin to list them, but the most salient point is that I couldn’t get it on and off the bus. Ever. For a start, it weighs 30 pounds before you ever get the doubler on it, and you can’t fold it with the doubles attachment on it. So lots of moving parts.
H in the Phil & Ted’s with his godfather (left) and a friend, May 2009, 16 months old
It doesn’t have a one-handed fold, which is another key factor when dealing with a small child (or baby who isn’t mobile) at a bus stop. And since it wasn’t feasible for me to build in 3 extra walking hours into my day to get where I needed to go on foot instead of by bus, I rarely used the Phil & Ted’s. My husband used it to take my toddler jogging with him, but that was about it. About a year after we bought the Phil and Ted’s, we bought a second hand Maclaren Volo that weighs 9 pounds and features a handy shoulder strap. It was a stroller sent from the Lord, I’m convinced! It was lightweight, folded and unfolded easily, was perfect for bus travel and the underbasket was roomy enough to allow modest grocery shopping runs. We used it for day trips to NYC, where it was easy to get on and off the subway, in airports, around town, everywhere. It became our go-to stroller once I could no longer use the ERGO comfortably with the pregnancy. The Phil & Ted’s languished at the top of our basement stairwell for the most part and we sold the other two strollers that we’d accumulated, bringing our grand total to two.
M in the Volo, Dublin, Ireland, August 2010
We received a major boon in the spring of 2010, shortly before M’s birth, when a mommy acquaintance asked me if I would be willing to trade my Phil & Ted’s with the doubler for her Baby Jogger City Classic with the Joey Jump seat. She was due to have her second baby a few months after me, and her older son already exceeded the weight limit on the jump seat for the Baby Jogger. As H has always been on the small side, I thought we should give it a try. The Baby Jogger was love at first sight. All the things I hated about the Phil & Ted’s had been fixed with the Jogger. The stroller was easy to maneuver, had an adjustable handle, a great canopy, a fully reclining seat that was easy to put up and down, a fully washable cover and a plastic foot plate. It had a true one-handed fold that was the easiest thing I’ve seen then and since, and an easy foot brake. The jump seat wasn’t as adaptable as the Phil & Ted’s and only had one position (on the front), but I didn’t care; all the other features cancelled that one out.
I primarily used the stroller for my weekly walk with another mom friend who also has two boys about the same age as my own and for the odd grocery run to Whole Foods. For a while, I put M in the Belle or, as he got older, the ERGO, and took the Jogger for H for our weekly walking date, but as M got near 20 pounds, and I became pregnant again, I quickly found myself uncomfortable wearing M. We had a few walking dates where I sausaged both boys into the Volo, but it became clear that they were getting too big to do that much longer.
H and M in the Volo together, Dublin, Ireland, August 2010, ages 2 ½ and 3 months
So I girded my loins and began transporting the Baby Jogger with the jump seat onto the bus with both boys. At first I thought there were too many moving parts, as with the Phil & Ted’s, but I discovered a way to fold the Jogger with the jump seat on it, and that made things much better. While it was heavy to get on and off the bus (32 pounds!) the easy fold made it possible to do so.
The problem came in mid-February as I discovered H was getting too big to sit comfortably behind the jump seat and was consequently miserable most of the time I had to have the stroller out. I had been in the habit of letting him walk alongside the stroller when we were running errands around town, but around the same time, he hit a defiant phase and I started to be concerned for his safety while we were out and about. We tried a variant on a boogie board, but that was a disaster.
In the ERGO-only halcyon days. Dublin, Ireland, August 2010
After discussing at length with my husband why we needed to purchase yet another stroller, we began to research double strollers in earnest. My criteria were that the stroller had to have a one-handed fold, weigh less than 25 pounds, and fit both boys comfortably. I had to be able to carry it on and off the bus with a baby in one arm, so it couldn’t have any moving parts. Everything else was optional. My husband just wanted the price to be reasonable. It is surprisingly difficult to find double strollers that meet this criteria. Very few are under 30 pounds, and almost none have a true one-handed fold, as I discovered after trying a Baby Trend Sit-N-Stand that claimed a one-handed fold, but the company’s own video demo showed the model using both hands!
Baby Trend Sit-n-Stand
The finalists were the Baby Jogger City Micro Double, which was on clearance for half the price, and the Maclaren Twin Triumph, which was basically our Volo times two. The Triumph was also on clearance for the same price as the Micro, so price wasn’t going to be a deciding factor. I agonized over the decision, because I loved the Baby Jogger features, but there were several things about the double that made it unattractive for us in our space. First thing is that the double version doesn’t have a one-handed fold. It is an easy fold, but still requires two hands. Second is that it is 30” wide, even when folded, and we don’t have the space to store it in the house, even folded, at that width. We’d have to store it outdoors, under a cover, chained to one of the window grates like my husband’s bike. Not a terrible prospect, but not ideal either. Third, I couldn’t see us ever using it on an airplane trip, and since we fly a lot as a family, this was an important factor. Finally, the folded width made it slightly unwieldy and I couldn’t see myself being able to manage it plus a wiggly baby and a toddler on the bus. (And I was thinking ahead to having a newborn in a carrier, plus a wiggly older baby and a toddler to manage) It did have a nice weight of 21 pounds, all the great features I love about Baby Jogger’s strollers, but the negatives didn’t outweigh those factors.
Baby Jogger City Micro Double
The Maclaren Twin Triumph was our ultimate choice. It has an umbrella fold, which allows us to store it at the top of our basement stairs easily, weighs just over 20 pounds without the canopies (and I’m inclined to think canopies are overrated anyway), has a side handle for suitcase-style carrying, both seats have full reclines, and the under basket storage is decent. We could easily take it on a flight with us and I could manage security with it by myself, another important factor. Both my boys fit well in it, and they really enjoy sitting next to each other. My toddler now asks to take the big stroller out and is happy to sit in it while we are out and about, which makes things much easier. I can get on and off the bus with both kids and the stroller without too much fuss (I can’t really carry the Triumph and M in arms all the way to the bus stop anyway). So I have to allow a bit more time to get to the bus stop, even though it is only half a block away, but that is okay, because we can actually get on the bus! The Triumph is narrow enough to fit through standard doorways, and I’ve even had some luck with doorways that are slightly narrower than standard. I added the self-leveling cup holder I bought for the Jogger to the Triumph and now I’m good to go!
Maclaren Twin Triumph
(I don’t have a picture of the boys in ours yet; I’ve left off the canopies on ours, except when it rains because the rain cover only works with the canopies; so far I haven’t had to take the stroller on the bus in the rain)
Basically, my method to get out the door is as follows. I get H all ready to go first—I have him go potty, check his pull up, help him get his shoes on, or have him do it himself if it is a rain boot or croc day, help him get his coat on, and then make him sit on the bottom step of the living room staircase to wait for me. There is a gate between the staircase and the living room, so he can’t wander off and pull out toys, which is helpful to easily distracted little boys. Then I get M ready—check diaper, get bottle ready (if necessary), get coat or bunting on, and put him on the floor in front of the staircase by H while I get my own shoes and coat on. Sometimes I put the boys in the stroller inside the house, but more often, I open up the stroller on the sidewalk in front of the house, put H in first, then come back for M and strap him in, grab my bag and off we go. It is obviously much easier and faster when the weather is warm and we don't have to bother with coats, hats, mittens and boots.
The key to getting out and about with littles is to carry as little as possible and in a bag that is easy to either sling on your back or over your shoulder. I have learned that, for the most part, I only need carry a bottle for M, a diaper for him and a pull up for H, a travel pack of wet wipes, my wallet and Epi-Pen kit, and sometimes, a sippy cup and bib for H. If I know we will be out over a meal time, I take a jar of food and baby spoon for M. It all fits quite nicely in a small open-topped black canvas book bag I’ve been using for years. I can wear it on my shoulder or across my chest, messenger-style. I have a backpack style diaper bag that I use for longer outings when I need to pack more diapers, or carry a changing pad, or need everything zipped up tight, but my diaper bag doesn’t really contain much more than my Penguin bag. I figure if we need anything while we are out, we’ll just pick it up at a corner store or a CVS somewhere. Another of the hidden costs of living in the city, I suppose. It is probably not the most financially efficient and I know that, but I'd rather have a stroller that I can fold up fast without having to unload the bottom first. I have lots of friends who travel with everything but the kitchen sink stowed under their strollers, but they end up not being able to use the bus or subway much in consequence.
So far, the Triumph is working out well for us. We continue to use the Volo when it is better to have H walk, or when we are using the “divide and conquer” method of parenting. I could see using the Volo when the new baby arrives to put M into, with the baby in the ERGO and H walking alongside, but I think we will probably end up using the Triumph just as much if not more since there are so many more permutations available (two older children in the stroller, baby in ERGO; two younger children in stroller, toddler walking; middle child in ERGO on my back, toddler and baby in stroller, etc.) The recline option, while it adds a pound or two to the overall weight, is worthwhile for the versatility it offers.
I’m sure after all this, you must be tired! Basically, getting around the city with littles is all a matter of mindset. Either you decide you are going to get out and about and make it happen, or you sit at home most of the time and every outing is a major event. Or you drive a lot. My boys love being outside and love the hustle and bustle of the city sidewalks, and are much happier if we are out and about every day or every other day. They get a bit stir-crazy otherwise. So do I, for that matter! There is something about city living that begs one to be on the street, experiencing the life outside. Of course, there are plenty of days when I’d rather stay home and hibernate, or just not deal with the hassle of getting two very small children out the door, but it gets easier with practice and time. I also find that as my older son is getting older, he is able to do more by himself to get out the door, which helps considerably. I know I’m going to blink and all my children will be able to dress and shoe themselves and get out the door without any help from me! And then we’ll have to figure out a storage system for bikes instead of strollers….