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May 08, 2009

Ode to the Jogging Stroller

Written by Dena Evans

This week, I finally gave our double stroller away – my kids now weighing far too much in combination, and having long since passed the time when they found it acceptable to be belted into the stroller and pushed along the bike path or the sidewalk.   As I watched it folded up and driven away in someone else’s car for someone else’s kids, I must confess to a bit of nostalgia. 

Both my single, then the double were well researched and purchased before the birth of my two kids, probably with at least the same care I used to shop for car seats.  I had a hunch they’d be well used, and I wanted to make sure we had products which would stand the test of time and the inevitable abuse.  That my kids are too old to be pushed around is an exciting thing, but nevertheless, an end of an era.

I had never taken as much time away from physical activity as I did during my first pregnancy - at least since the beginning of elementary school, having always played sports of some kind or another pretty much year round.  Vicious morning sickness ruined about the first 20 weeks, and after a few weeks of digging divots in the ground while I clomped around for about 20 minutes a few times a week, I packed it in for the duration.  I always had been sure I was going to be the type who ran right up until my due date, but when the moment came, my running shoes had been untouched for months. Happy Donuts also had a better bottom line, but that is a story for another time.

Suffice it to say, however, I was ready to get going once we were home safe and sound.  My doctor, although fully knowledgeable about my usual levels of activity, held quite firm about waiting a few weeks to run.  Many times, I felt quite confident that she was being way too cautious, but because I also spent a lot of time encouraging runners to listen to the medical advice of their doctors, I found that the importance of setting a good example was the single strongest thing that held me back.

After what seemed like an eternity but was really about a month, I finally did get back to running.  Whereas it once was a given, something taken for granted, an effort put forth to maintain a decent shape inside and out, now it was literally a lifeline, a chance to remind myself of my individual identity, a way to connect with friends when time was so limited, and a way to just get things done.

For that, I must thank the jogging stroller.  Both my single and my double have been on airplanes, to track practice (many), to the bank, the supermarket (when the power is out, the car is locked in the garage, and you and two kids need food for the house, the stroller is a wonderful thing), the library –the list goes on.   The stroller has been to Rancho, to Huddart, to Sawyer Camp, to Shoreline, to Crissy Field, and up the face of the Windy Hill Open Space preserve (one memorable time – NEVER again!).  Sure I was slow, but I was out there!  I would give myself extra minutes in my log as a “stroller penalty” on hilly routes, and even enjoy running probably two miles per hour against the wind along the San Francisco Bay Trail in San Mateo, the canopy acting as a sail effectively thwarting any potential forward progress I hoped to make.

One July 4th, I noticed that our local 5k had a “Female Double Stroller” division.  I thought, now THAT is a race I could win.  I came primed and ready for all comers, but when only one other woman showed up pushing the double, we just ran easy and enjoyed the race alongside my husband. Not being a distance runner by nature, he soon asked me to quit chatting, giving him splits, and go ahead so he could suffer in peace.

The plaque from that race, that my kids still have proudly displayed in their room (hey, we wouldn’t have won without their participation!) represents in a microcosm what the stroller has meant for me and my family, and what I believe it means for many other moms and families.  A chance to bridge the gap between one of the things you do as an individual, with your cares, concerns, and responsibilities as a parent.  A chance to share with your kids many scenes, places, and conversations you might not have otherwise, an effective mechanism to find some of the elusive balance we always read about.   A chance to do something simple together with no distractions.

As much as we begin to understand our kids as they grow, they begin to understand us.  Runs with the stroller allowed my kids to understand some important things about who I am, without Big Talks and overt explanations.  Runs with the stroller also allowed them to share and see so much more than they might if I only scheduled exercise when I had care at home.

Through these last few years, we spent hours together, only us, traveling along the paths and sidewalks near and far.  We’re starting to take out the bikes a bit more, and maybe one day we’ll even run together, but I am guessing they won’t think twice the way our generation might have about heading out with our parents to go for a run or other physical activity.  Hopefully, they’ll think it is normal, and hopefully they’ll still talk.  It won’t be about snack and our surroundings, but it will be important, and I am hoping they will think it is as natural as anything else they have been doing their entire lives.  Because they have.

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