Obesity rates are on the rise among American children in part because our kids spend precious little time playing outside. So in addition to weaning their progeny from a steady diet of doughnuts and television, parents also need to find some way to get very young children interested in outdoor activities.
Thus, I propose a new athletic endeavor: Stroller Olympics.
In keeping with the credo of the ancient Games - swifter, higher, stronger - I envision a pram-pushing festival that would emphasize racing, hefting, and feats of derring-do. We'd start with sprints, folded-stroller throws (for distance and accuracy), plus some hair-raising encounters with unleashed beasts or motorists turning right when the walk light is on. Such competitions would recall the chariot races of old and create a play date of global significance.
The preponderance of qualified athletes for this competition will be women, as many dads lack the early exposure to stroller skills that girls learn through baby-sitter clubs. Stay-at-home dads, however, could offer some surprises in the full-contact portion of the Games. Special events should also be created for the parents of multiples, with particular consideration given to double-wide strollers and those minibuses used by the parents of triplets.
As the athletes' skills improve and the television commentators run out of things to talk about, the Games could be diversified. Downhill slalom, balance beam, or luge would surely add spice to the proceedings. It's inevitable that world-class parents would add various degrees of difficulty to the proceedings. Many competitors, for instance, may attempt to win their races without waking their sleeping babies. The International Olympic Committee would inevitably respond by randomly testing pacifiers for banned substances.
Another big question is how baby-buggy manufacturers will respond to the needs of international competition. Street-model strollers are clearly not suitable for world-class competition, so the industry needs to find ways to blend safety and comfort with world-record pace. Current high-end models may be wonderful for a jaunt to the park, but Olympians will hunger for high performance, particularly in the face of the inevitable technological advances made by the Germans and Japanese.
Our training for the first Stroller Olympics must start today. Athletes from around the world have already come to America and benefited from our first-class facilities and training in their work as nannies. As a result, we can assume that the US lags behind stroller-sport strongholds like France and Latin America.
Given that young children will participate in these events, organizers must be sensitive to the individual needs of the competitors. Long-distance race courses would need to include planned breaks at playgrounds and unplanned stops to gape at passing buses and trains. And although the added weight and wind resistance could keep times artificially high, no baby - medalist or otherwise - should be expected to compete without her sippy cup and Cheerios.
Since the point of these Games is to raise the next generation of active, well-adjusted citizens (who one day soon will graduate from Princeton and make enough money to buy their parents vacation villas in Tuscany), events must encourage the active participation of the young passengers. For example, pursuit events would challenge stroller teams to follow garbage trucks around suburban neighborhoods. And, in a special event for the 2-year-old set, parent-athletes would be graded for patience and stamina as their youngsters get to choose which way to go at each intersection during a marathon stroll of indeterminate length.
In homage to the ancient origins of the stroller, many of these events should conclude with a special test of skill: the dismount. Parents would be challenged to transfer their still-sleeping tots from the stroller to a waiting crib. New parents should note that there will be many heats before you reach the finals.
Forget test scores, co-sleeping, and the breast-vs.-bottle debate. The best way for American parents to prove their mettle against the rest of the world is in that ultimate field of play we call Olympiad. So strap in little Tommy, and let's go for the gold!
• Jonathan Graham is a playwright, essayist, and stay-at-home dad.