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/sleeping…how 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!

Liz Sukhovskaya is a Stoneworks missionary; you can read her blog here.