When I was pregnant with my second child, I made it my mission to find the perfect double stroller. Instead of harnessing some wisdom about a child’s true needs that I ought to have gleaned from my first two years as a mom, I became shamefully obsessed with my search.
“Perfect” had a precise definition. I wanted a stroller that was smooth and sturdy for long walks, but light enough to get in and out of the car without Herculean efforts. Ideally it would have a good cup holder, adjustable handles, an easy-to-use basket, quality wheels, and cost less than a week’s vacation in Fiji. I had not succumbed to the pricey Bugaboo with my first child, and I would not fall prey to “needing” the Mercedes of strollers as a second-time mom either. That much perspective I was able to maintain.
The perfect double stroller didn’t exist, of course. I knew that to be true about single strollers, but chose to forget it. Most of my friends had regrets about the brands and models they owned. The basket was too flimsy. The wheels were good for walks, but too big to fit anything else in the trunk. The system for opening and collapsing the thing took a PhD in Engineering. Nevertheless, most people made do with their choices and moved on with their lives.
Despite that bit of logic and knowledge, I spent ungodly amounts of time reading online reviews of double strollers. It was a time-consuming, silly “hobby.” We ended up with two doubles anyway: a heavy, clunky one for walks, which we bought used from friends, and a light, cheap one to keep in the car. Both are fine and far from perfect, just like the two single strollers we own for the same variety of purposes. Yes, that means we have four strollers, which would shame me except that we had two more kids after that, and they sufficiently wore out all four models.
Don’t worry. I have nothing left to say about strollers. I’ve long since deduced that this entire period of my life had nothing to do with strollers anyway.
As time passed, I saw that my hyper-focus on finding the right match was really about my desire to control the imminent change in our lives. We were going from one child to two, which was making me anxious. I barely felt like I knew what I was doing with one child, so how was I going to rise to the occasion with two?
But if I’m being absolutely honest, there was even more going on than self-doubt in my parenting skills. I think I allowed myself to lose perspective because I was lonely and bored. I’d stopped teaching when my oldest was born, and I wasn’t writing yet. I didn’t have the full social and spiritual life that I have now, nor the confidence to know that my kids simply needed a good mom engaged in their lives and in her own life. They didn’t need a seemingly flawless mom who was wrapped up in finding an equally flawless stroller, or winter jacket, pair of rain boots, nursery paint color, big kid bed comforter, and more. I was worrying about all the wrong things, as if finding the right stroller or the perfect anything else would affect our lives in a way that truly mattered. I had lost my mind over nonsense and never wanted to be that way again.
I have fewer of what I call “stroller moments” now, the shorthand my husband and I use for when I’ve crossed the line from reasonable decision-making to needless obsessing. (We have a few different code words for when he needs a dose of perspective.) I recommend the code word concept for forced, on-the-spot self-awareness. It’s a tool that gives me a path for escaping any new pit into which my mind has fallen.
These days my stroller moments are more often about friendship and family issues or moves in my writing career, but the underlying problem is still a false sense of control. Why is cousin so-and-so still mad at me? Why is that editor not returning my email?
“Is this the double stroller all over again?” I might say to my husband. From the expression on his face, I can always see that it is before I’ve even finished asking the question.
One day I’ll probably help my kids find their own code words. However, with their youth, and thank God, their health, they’ve earned their lack of perspective. I’m going to let them enjoy that innocence a little while longer.
A version of this essay first appeared on Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.