Have Stroller, Will Ramble

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'Can't we get rid of this?" my husband asks, exasperated. Rich and I are officially cleaning out the garage, and the three large bags we've designated "flea market," "trash," and "keep" are almost full. We are at that tense part of any household project: in too far to stop, but with no end in sight. The strain is beginning to show.

"C'mon, Liz," Rich adds, noticing my hesitation. "Even Kathleen's too big for a stroller now."

Well maybe. Kathleen, our "baby," turned 6 last month. She shouldn't need a stroller this spring. But on our seashore vacation just last summer, the collapsible stroller Rich is so eager to pitch was a lifesaver. After a long night of miniature golf, amusement rides, and sticky snacks, Kathleen stopped in the middle of the boardwalk and adamantly refused to take another step. Once in the stroller, she fell asleep within seconds.

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"Let's start a 'maybe' pile," I temporize. Rich rolls his eyes, then starts digging into another box.

Rich and I never did feel the same way about strollers, I remind myself as I sort through some old gardening tools and seed packets. To him our strollers - we went through several - were just one more piece of bulky baby equipment, slowing him down. He hated having to bypass the shiny, quick escalators at a mall, for instance, to search long and hard - while our two daughters squirmed and fretted in their double stroller - for the clunky, slow elevators always hidden in the back of stores.

To me, though, strollers meant freedom. I still remember how elated I felt, years ago, on an unseasonably warm day in February as I bundled up Elizabeth, my older daughter, then only a few months old. After snipping off the tags from her brand-new stroller, I settled her in carefully, and we hit the streets of our city neighborhood. It was my first trip outside in weeks. We both enjoyed the change of scene so much that I decided I was one stay-at-home mom who wasn't going to, well, stay at home.

"Have wheels, will ramble" became our motto. No matter how cold it was, as long as the weather was dry, Elizabeth and I went out: to the playground, the corner store, the mailbox.

When Kathleen was born two years later, our double stroller became a walking conversation piece, an instant icebreaker. Older neighbors - strangers, even - stopped me to admire the girls, to adjust a slipping blanket, or to retrieve a fallen mitten. Older moms instructed their gangly teenage sons to hold doors open for me at the neighborhood drugstore, and kids on their way home from school - some out of strollers only a few years themselves - gave the girls quick, furtive waves.

I remember how, one breezy afternoon in early spring, as we walked by a church, we passed the reserved older priest I had pegged as aloof. To my surprise, he greeted us, then bent down to retie Kathleen's hat.

"Haven't done that in a while," he said. "You know," he confided, "I was one of 14 kids myself."

Most of all, I remember how content - and proud - my mother looked when we took the girls for strolls around her neighborhood. "These are my grandchildren," she would announce to any neighbors we met, "out for a little fresh air." She always stood straighter behind the stroller.

Now, when my daughters want a little fresh air, they strap on their skates or reach for their bikes. Ecclesiastes says "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" - including "a time to keep, and a time to cast away." I should face facts: Stroller time, a gentler time, must make way for school buses and carpools.

But as I watch my husband surreptitiously slip his squash racquet and eight-track tapes - dusty relics of his bachelor days - into the "keep" bag, I recognize how hard letting go of things can be. It's almost as hard as letting go of the time, the season in our life, that they bring to mind.

I can't "trash" the stroller, I decide. I'll wipe it down and put it into the flea-market bag. Who knows? Maybe our faded castoff can shine again in someone else's bright, brief stroller days.

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