Overrated: High-tech strollers carry same old poopy pants

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The parents in my Brooklyn neighborhood are known collectively as the "stroller mafia" and around these parts we take our strollers pretty seriously. We may live in an outer borough, but it's still pretty urban and gritty, and strollers take a beating around here. We use ours every day for walks to daycare that run about a half mile each way, plus weekend expeditions. We go up and down stairs, in and out of the car and fold and unfold all day long. That's the reason a lot of my neighbors spend a bundle on the latest in baby-carrying mechanisms. And what do I mean by a bundle? North of $400 in most cases, with many price tags in the $800 range. Giggle, a high-end online retailer, is selling a Stokke Explorer Complete for $1,200.

The rationale is that any extra comfort one can achieve for this kind of daily use is worth an extra couple hundred dollars, especially amortized over the course of three or four years (or three or four kids). This is how most people in my neck of the woods now justify the purchase of the $400-$600 Phil &Ted's suite, which can turn from a jogging-type stroller to a double stroller (which affixes underneath for a London double-decker bus approach).

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Also popular are the $500+ Quinny, which has a strange triangular look that makes a child look like he's about to fall out; the $400 BOB, which is just a huge, heavy jogging stroller; the Stokke Explorer, which perches the baby up precariously high and facing backwards, and the $900 MBUD (the Mountain Buggy Urban Double), which is just a huge double jogging stroller. These are all making $300 Maclaren's, which used to be all the rage, look downright puny. Some models come with iPod holders, and all have a variety of extras like rain gear, matching cup holders and stroller bags that are not interchangeable.

But I counter any big-purchase rationalization with this: Any kid item that is going to be pooped on, spit up on, have Cheerios ground into it or suffer the indignation of daily kid wear is only worth the lowest going price. Hand-me-down is best. Buying used is the next-best option. And when buying retail, you only buy as much stroller as you need. There are plenty of decent, light strollers on the market for $100.

I know that expectant parents are excited by the prospect of buying a new stroller and want the very best for their new babies. I live on a block sandwiched between luxury condo buildings and the Red Hook Housing Projects, and I see an endless sea of $800 Bugaboo strollers going both directions, with smiling parents pushing the prams as they go on their merry ways.

But where are those smiles when trying to fold up the contraptions? Where are the happy faces when lugging the extremely heavy frames up three flights of subway stairs? Or when trying to pack up the interchangeable parts and loads of extras (the parasol, the pram attachment, etc.) and get them all to fit in the trunk of the car? And what about on laundry day, when the bright red or orange or green covering is slathered in ice cream drippings, bug spray and several unidentifiable food crumbs?

And as far as durability goes, the expensive strollers are not immune to problems. The wheels still fall off at the same rate; the covers get dirty and ripped no matter how strong the material. After a year or even a couple of months, all strollers smell a little funky, no matter how much money paid for them.

After all of this, most parents will long for simplicity. My most happy stroller purchase was a used universal carrier frame (known as the snap-and-go for the uninitiated) for $25 from Craigslist, now on its second round with my younger daughter. Also high on the list is the $11 umbrella stroller from Target that has been on many subway and airport trips. Our daily stroller is a $250 Peg Perago P3, which has been quite sturdy, but if I were able to do it again, I'd buy something even cheaper and smaller.

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