Saturday, June 8, 2013

Walking Culture

How do I put this into words? One of the more common traditions I've encountered here and NOT in the U.S. is that of taking the baby outside on walks.

Here's what I was used to: I grew up in a neighborhood where we could play out in the backyard, or even on the street or wander over to a friend's house. Going to a public playground didn't happen very often. Family "walks" were for Sunday afternoons. My mom took walks on her own. I don't recall anyone ever worrying that we weren't going outside enough. But if we needed exercise, out we went.

Enter Russian culture-and, probably, other cultures.

First I would hear a few mothers talking about how their babies behaved on walks; about how their prams were holding up; about what time they took their 1st and 2nd (or even 3rd) walks of the day. I might see a Russian mother or grandmother or father or grandfather strolling along with the carriage and think...they don't seem to be in a big hurry. It seemed to be something parents discussed as readily as feeding/ is the strolling going?

I suppose one difference is that in the U.S., the stroller is a form of transportation. It's for taking the baby WITH you when you go to the store, to pick up other kids from school, to get to your gate at the airport, etc. We just don't have that perambulating culture.

But it IS important here (I wonder about other big cities?), and with the tradition come certain conditions, like:

-the baby has to be bundled up very appropriately, and shielded from all sorts of weather
-the baby should be walked outside from birth, for 2-3 hours a day, preferably twice a day
-the baby shouldn't cry or yell in cold weather because he could catch a cold/get a throat infection, so pacifiers must be on hand
-the baby should be turned towards any sun rays in order to get Vitamin D, though not in such a way as to get sunburned, of course

Andrei and I were so excited to finally tell the pediatrician that we've been taking David out every day, reaching the minimum. Guess what the pediatrician said? At this point we should be taking him out for 5-6 hours a day. Sigh.

No one will look at you funny for going to extreme measures to get those walks in. There are lots of playgrounds around, with benches. People who know about child-rearing will often tell their companions to hush if they walk by and David happens to be taking a snooze. That always amazes me, that people can't stop their public drinking or keep themselves from smoking in stairwells and elevators, but they will respect a sleeping baby.

You know, the walking ritual may take a lot of time, but it has clear health benefits...even in a city, where "fresh air" might not feel as invigorating as out in the country. And it can definitely be a pain to do the whole routine (twice a day, at that) and get the monstrous carriage (though now we have a lighter one) outside. Still, both mothers and babies can benefit. It certainly might have helped me feel better in the early days, though it was so hard to make myself go outside in the dreary, cold weather. I wonder how Russian mothers cope postpartum, in general?

I am trying to think of a similar obsession in American culture, but it's hard to think of something to compare. There are many types of gear that we are obsessed with, and things like sleep training.

Incidentally, when I was in Estonia last fall and David was just a few months old, I saw people simply PARK the stroller outside their window. The parents were inside and the babies were outside!


  1. This is one of your best posts ever! I love comparing and contrasting cultural differences and you did such a great job of it! Now I understand why I saw so many children outside, walking down the street with their grandmothers (usually).... Unless you were not only a grandmother without a job, but also one not responsible for all the cooking and housework, I don't see HOW you could provide baby with 5-6 hours of fresh air WITHOUT putting baby out, while staying inside yourself!

    I try to take Monica on a 15-20 minute walk each day. I was previously feeling virtuous about this. I did walk Aidan much, much more because I was in a temperate climate (Portland, Oregon)... But, St. Petersburg is not known for temperate climate.

    I expect that fresh air and sun IS good for baby....but I don't see American babies exactly wasting away for lack of it.

    I LOVE your comment about Russians who will let a baby sleep, but not manage to curtail other excesses! Funny.

    Trying to think what American moms are obsessed about.... Diet would come as close as anything, I suppose. I made some comment about feeding Monnie "solids" and was treated to a few long, long descriptions of making [organic, of course] baby food from scratch.

    1. Ha ha, you sound just like me with the 15-20 minute walks. However, you are a busy lady, so I'm impressed.

      Well, the climate is harsh here...not sure how going out into it makes the situation any better, but it's good to take advantage of any sunlight, I suppose.

      I am not making many baby foods from scratch, as he will only try 2 bites (or zero) of just about anything. It seems like a waste of time. But he does get fresh fruit and yogurt, and he will be able to try more table foods soon, which we've prepared ourselves.

  2. This was a big adjustment in my way of thinking as well, since Isabel was 2 when we moved to St. Petersburg, and then Jasper was born a few months after the move. It took some time for my perspective to change about the stroller, as it went from being just a way to get Isabel around the mall when I went shopping, and turned into a source of protection and shelter for Jasper. I realized that in the first couple of years or so, children really have there own little dwelling place there in the stroller! Blankets and pacifiers and all they need is to be in there somewhere! Really nice post - thank you for sharing!

    1. Yep, it's their own little condo! And it IS nice to have that protection, especially in a bustling city.

  3. I enjoyed this post. It's interesting how cultures approach things differently. I do think the main use of strollers here is to get around while shopping or so mom can get exercise...but I love the idea of just getting out so baby can get fresh air. My mother in law is originally from Italy and she always tells me to take Joshua out three times a day for walks. It's a good day if I get out just once!

    1. I wonder if extended family is around more in Italy? If we lived with my in-laws, I'm sure David would get walked more, or we would all share housework and childcare, or whatever. But it is a bit hard to imagine a schedule with 3 walks AND everything else assigned to one person! But it is certainly a nice idea. I agree, one walk a day is certainly better than nothing.

  4. Hmm ... this is so interesting. I'm not sure what it's like now, but when I was little there was still a baby-walking culture here in England. It's definitely something I expect to do with my children if God gives me a family of my own someday. That said, however, I don't think we'd say that a baby SHOULD be outside for 5-6 hours a day. That's a long time! Isn't it interesting how different countries and cultures have their own ideas about what is best for their babies?!?

    1. I hadn't realized you were from England! I definitely associate the "pram" culture with Great Britain more than with the U.S. Has it changed now? I guess I have this vision of English nannies taking kids to the park, probably from Mary Poppins? Yes, these efforts to promote babies' health must be common to all man!

  5. Very interesting! It reminds of me of La Passeggiata in Italy when I was living there.


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