The Dutch seem to like it when you blend in. Roughly translated, one Dutch saying reads: “If your head sticks out above the cornfield, it will get chopped off.” Enforcement of this social code continues to fascinate me five years after moving to the Netherlands. I am unforgiving in my criticism, though, and no wonder: where I am from, individualism is a good thing. From the Lone Ranger to Horatio Algiers, Americans pride themselves on singling out to succeed – for standing out in the crowd.
It was easy for me stand out back home. Being half Japanese and half Armenian meant I never blended in anywhere. Here in Holland, my face already sets me apart.
Add to that a stubborn streak that loves to swim upstream, and I make the worst candidate for cornfields. People like me, Dutch or not, get called “eigen wijs.” It means “own way,” and it´s a phrase the Dutch use to criticize those who insist on doing their own thing.
Did you catch that? Standing out here is not encouraged.
Two months ago, I became the mother of two girls under two. I emerged a couple of weeks later with my youngest nestled in a sling and my toddler in the stroller in front of me. Soon, however, I realized with distress that this arrangement was not weather proof. I´m big on baby wearing, which worked with the first baby in all weather conditions. During the colder of the seven months that I toted her around, we both fit under my jacket and an umbrella. Things were now a bit more complicated. With rain or snow, I would not be able to steer a stroller and hold an umbrella simultaneously.
After a bit of conferring with other parents of young children, my husband and I solved the problem with a couple clicks of the mouse. Within twenty-four hours of ordering, the Easy Walker Duo Deluxe double buggy arrived in a mammoth box on our doorstep.
It is a monster. From my vantage point behind the handle, I look and feel as if I am steering the newest naval addition to the Holland America Line. It has been, thus, a pleasant surprise to discover that the ocean liner fits through most doorways – saved by the grace of about a centimeter on either side.
The Easy Walker Duo Deluxe can get through, for example, the side door of our house. It can also get into the elevator at the mall, or between the magazine rack and the greeting cards at the post office – if I scrunch up the rain cover. If I don´t, the cover gets caught on the turnstile, causing birthday cards to twirl. It also makes the postmaster raise an eyebrow.
But the buggy cannot get past the cash register at the supermarket. I have discovered a special aisle at the far right end of kinder stores which is designated for elephants, Hummers, and double buggies. I used it the other day when I pushed forward to pay and couldn´t go any further. Everyone standing in line behind me had to back out their shopping carts and let me move out and over to the right. I left my girls in the aisle for wide loads and ran back to the one where my groceries were holding up traffic. I barely managed to pay without burying my head in my coat, summoning all my salmon strength to ignore the whispers and chuckles.
I suppose that the creators of the Easy Walker Duo Deluxe intended to simplify the lives of parents with an attractive, light, swivel-happy vehicle such as theirs. I suppose most parents, who don´t wear their babies the rest of the time, do find the buggy a huge relief. But because I carry my daughter during the day, and because I have done this continuously since her exit from the womb, she doesn´t like to be left to her own devices.
My first daughter was the same way, screaming her head off when we´d tuck her in to walk. But my oldest daughter is also proof of the pudding: she has taught me, in my mothering, that kids never stay the same. My geology teacher used to tell our high school class that “the only constant in the universe is change.” I wouldn´t say that it is the only constant, but evolution can be a remarkable comfort to the mother of a young child: my baby would eventually get used to the Easy Walker Duo Deluxe. She, like me, has no choice in the matter.
A few days after it arrived, I took the buggy out to the city center. It’s a fifteen minute walk away, which I was looking forward to, and I had a list of things I needed to get downtown. A few of the items, for example, were available for purchase at the small and crammed drug store closer by. I was certain, however, that the buggy wouldn´t make it past the entrance. I was forced, thus, to shop at the roomier franchise in the mall downtown.
After the baby´s screams on the previous walk, I didn´t even bother putting her in the buggy, just my older girl and the rain cover. I thought fleetingly about how dumb I must have looked for pushing the biggest stroller in the universe while simultaneously rendering it redundant, the evidence of which was on my chest, plain to see. But I didn´t have the heart to listen to her cry. Only precipitation would force me to subject the three of us to that again.
On the street, the gawking began. I ignored it and the odd comment (“What are you pushing around, a day care?”). I dropped a letter off at the post office and twirled my way past the postmaster and his eyebrows, then rolled onward to the library. Once there, after liberating my toddler, I found a seat to nurse the baby.
Then she pooped mid-feed. I asked my toddler to follow me to a far table, awkwardly directing her with exaggerated head movements, while steering the buggy with one arm and holding the baby with the other. With one eye on my older daughter, who waltzed around pulling books off their shelves, I discreetly changed the baby as quickly as possible.
She pooped almost immediately after being changed, then threw up all over her outfit. Sighing and deciding the empty shelves were not a crisis, I peeled everything off the baby and started from scratch. While my hands moved, my mind did mental gymnastics. I planned my route and actions for the next quarter of an hour, something I had learned to do on a constant, unconscious basis in the last eight weeks.
Put baby in sling; make sure all winter wear parts belonging to three girls, myself included, are in buggy seats; put books back in general area of correct shelves; steer Hummer and daughter back to kids´ section; pick ten books; bribe toddler into chair with promise of snack; put on her winter layers; strap her in; check out books; exit; distribute promised snack.
My last stop was the maternity store for a bigger baby bag. It´s a fun place to be when one is pregnant, because you feel the temporary privilege of belonging to the exclusive club of women with every justification of buying hot mama-to-be clothing. Of course, it´s also fun to spend money on things to embellish the baby wardrobe or bassinet. After two labors, I am all for cushy pregnancy stores. Women who have yet to endure birth deserve every distinction and opportunity to look maternal and gorgeous – or to splurge a little.
I was surprised this visit, however, by a change in attitude. There was no longing for the privilege of the budding pregnant. I felt tired by the mere sight of the potbellied manikins in the display window. I was relieved that I had no labor pains to anticipate in the ever-impending future, pitying my peers who did.
Moreover, there was an unexpected, splendent pride in the here and now. Maneuvering my way around aisles that seemed paved for my vehicle, I discovered that in maternity country, the Easy Walker Duo is a sort of diploma on wheels.
Here I was actually cool and admired. I wasn´t “yesterday´s news,” uninteresting because my due date had expired. No, on the contrary, I was the object of fascination for being in a unique situation that required an Easy Walker Duo. I was the newly decorated mother of two children under two.
It wasn´t just a curiosity in the stroller´s technical capacities – the subtle yet careful study to aid future purchasing. I sensed an interest in me for being a seasoned and accomplished supermama. Whereas the world outside the maternity store seemed to condemn my lack of birth control, these waters ebbed and flowed around me with reproductive pride.
As I wheeled my way out of the store and toward the door of the mall elevator, the elevator opened and out rolled a brother buggy – the Easy Walker Duo Deluxe in navy blue. I pulled mine back to make some room and swiveled around to smile at the other mom. She was dressed really well, and her kids were calm and clean, even though the toddler boy looked bored. I had already accumulated muddy spatter on the brown bag of our buggy, but the navy blue of hers was pristine. She nodded at me, smiling back.
“You have one, too,” I said, shimmying to stand next to her.
“They´re fantastic, aren´t they? Makes you mobile! It´s great to be able to get around with the kids.”
“We just got ours this week. I´m still getting used to it. It feels rather, eh, big.”
“Oh, don´t worry. You´ll acclimatize quickly. At first it feels like you´re wheeling around a daycare, but you´ll discover it fits everywhere – exactly. Give it time.”
She winked. “I don´t notice it anymore.”
I discovered that her older boy was two years old and her daughter, whose name was stitched on her hat, two months. I told her about mine.
We wished each other luck and I waved goodbye, rolling into the elevator. Pushing the button to go down, I leaned over to my toddler and said, “What do you say we start a support group for mothers with Easy Walker Duos?”
“Yah,” she said, chewing on her yogurt-covered raisins.
© 2010 Anastasia Hacopian. All rights reserved.