The mom maneuvers into the small parking space and then backs out and straightens up, twice. Her kids open the sliding side doors before she has the car completely in park, and pop out of their seats to sprint towards the house. “Take your trash,” she calls to their retreating backs, and then hesitates before turning to take in the wasteland behind her.
You want to know the truth about your minivan? I think you can handle it.
The first time I drove a minivan, it was one we rented to use on a family vacation. Holy smokes, I think I almost swooned once we buckled the boys in (no problem with the bucket seats), got my in-laws situated (plenty of room for everyone), loaded up our ten tons of luggage and small kid gear without issue, and trucked on down the road like champs. This car was genius. Sign me up!
And just like that I kissed my loyal, reliable, cool 4Runner that we bought the year we married goodbye, forgetting it gave its best years to us. It carried us from NC to Massachusetts when we moved. It provided literal shelter from the storm when we had no money but vacationed every weekend anyway, thanks to a book called Campgrounds of New England and the ability to sleep inside the back of the truck. Like someone suffering a midlife crisis, I turned my back on my faithful ride and focused my full attention to the new, younger model.
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I justified it all by saying that this car was better for everyone, not just me. Better for my friends and neighbors whose kids I could ferry around town; better for my kids who could easily maneuver the seats; better for their teachers getting them out of the car in the school carpool line. Better for the earth! This car was a big car but not an SUV monster, stinking up the planet. Which I seemed not to care one bit about before, but doing my vaycay test drive turned me into a new woman. With a mission.
We bought the minivan.
It seems I broke some kind of self-respect code when I went for the Mom-mobile choice instead of the rugged cool ride. “Oh, you got a minivan,” friends commented with pinched faces, as if I had accessorized my outfit with a poopy diaper and used a Baby Bjorn for a purse. There was no way to get the mom off of me if I was driving around Charlotte in a minivan.
Of course, that dynamic was even worse for my husband. One fateful day he was in the driver’s seat at a stoplight when the boys began pelting each other with juice boxes. As I hollered and disciplined them from the front seat, a young dude in a kick-ass convertible with several attractive young women pulled up next to us. The men exchanged glances. I felt something akin to physical pain on my husband’s behalf. “He is so jealous of you,” I whispered sarcastically, and then after a moment added, “You’re welcome.”
The thing is, minivans seem to universally deteriorate into all that is stinky and sticky and worn out and beaten down about parenthood. There is just something about the van that invites abuse. It has housed hours-long tantrums and spilled sippys and lost fries and multiple road rage curses. It has inspired dubious odes, like a blog I wrote upon my husband’s return with the van after taking the boys on a biking trip to the Creeper Trail that I titled, “Men Are From Mars; Women Are From A Planet Where You Don’t Leave Child Vomit In A Car Overnight.”
My next-door neighbor just traded in her old minivan. She stood beside her shiny, perfect, classy new car and lamented that saying goodbye to the old minivan was bittersweet. I glance at my dirty jalopy with the scratch marks down the sides from the time I screeched out of the driveway late, too close to the overgrown bushes along the side wall; and the mysterious dent no one claims on the rear bumper. I am thinking when my time comes to say sayonara to that hunk of junk I will not feel sad.
But then I remember that there are fewer and fewer obvious signs that tell the tale of my life, now that the kids are getting older and more self-sufficient. Being that we are firmly in middle school I could be in the same room with my kids and you may not have any idea they belong to me. This is because they assiduously act like I am a total stranger.
This is a new chapter in our book of life, one that is inevitable. Even as all evidence suggests that they are growing up, I am left searching their faces for their toddler grins and their wide baby eyes, knowing I may be the only one still able to see them. Their occasional coldness, while expected and accepted, is still painful. Like a twisted ice bucket challenge recipient, I find their rejection deals a shocking, but not fatal, blow. Your minivan may make a decidedly unglamorous statement, but the truth is, once your kids begin the process of casting you off, you may gratefully embrace those things that keenly proclaim that you are a mom.
Want to get a better handle on the magic of your minivan? Read about one dad’s parenting journey with the book Dan Gets a Minivan; witness the unfortunate combination of teenagers and minivans with this clip from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; and wallow in your nostalgia for your kids with this sweet poem by Sharon Olds.