To Parents Who Don’t Want a Minivan: You’re Probably Wrong

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We recently became the proud lessees of a Honda Odyssey minivan.  It is big, it is overtly parental, and I love it.  I love it, and Will loves it, and we are not ashamed though we know that most of our peers do not approve.  We hear you, we love you, but you are kind of full of it.

Here is why it is awesome and how your pleas leave me unmoved:

It is made for parents.  Like, down-to-the-detail, Honda learned who you are, what obstacles you faced, and to the extent that a car can fix them, it does.  Did you hear “parents”? Good.  Because of course I do not speak to the utility of the minivan to the childfree.  No kids? Run free! Drive a two-door car! A Vespa! Better yet, don’t drive! Move to a city and enjoy your joie de vivre train-side!

I don’t even really speak to the one-child’ed.  In fact, we had no car in Germany where Edie was born, and being fortunate enough to live in city with great public transport, we didn’t miss cars one bit.  But here we sit, in these United States, with its wide roads and strip malls, we are city-adjacent but have only standard US (and therefore, sadly, unexceptional) public transport.  But even in Munich, I don’t know how we would’ve fared with no car and two kids.  Circling back to the singleton household, yeah, a minivan may be overkill.  That’s valid.  Given the trappings of today’s modern child, it is not unthinkable by any means, but “it’s too much car” is, to me, a legit, neutral reason.

But for more than one kid? Come on.  I have squeezed two children and their car seats into a non-minivan car. Children and babies are small.  Car seats are islands unto themselves.  Factor in a double stroller, the 30lb of food that each kid needs to be out of the house for more than half a day, the two dogs you acquired back when you should have had kids already but instead you misplaced your maternal leanings on to what you now realize are loathsome creatures, and you got yourself a van-full, amigo mio.

Then there are the sweet, sweet amenities.  When I first learned of the little perks, I thought, “am I totally frivolous for wanting a car kind of a lot because it has built in sunshades?”  My frivolity is neither here nor there.  Because when you get down to it, all of these little ameniities incrementally add up to something only just short of grace.  Yes: grace.  Picture it: your arms full of groceries, one kid on your hip, the other threatening to dart into the parking lot, you’re cajoling and yelling, it’s freezing out, and then you reach for your remote and then …. Beeeeep …. The trunk pops open, both side doors slide down their tracks, leaving space between your car and the car parked inconsiderately close by.  Your wild kid gets to climbing in, the baby gets set gingerly in his seat, and you plop the groceries down on the wide open surface of your trunk.  Three more buttons, everything closes while you start the car to take this zoo home.  The moments and exertion you saved count.

You say, it lacks maneuverability.  I mentioned that I was speaking to parents, right?  Yes, I did.  So, maneuverability, you say?  For all those turns at break neck speeds with your kids in tow?  So you can chuck a juice box to the back seat while popping up on two wheels to avoid the 5-0?  Listen, there is a reason that Raffi is not on the Fast & Furious soundtrack.  I am not saying it’s not big.  I am not saying it’s as easy to park as a smaller vehicle.  It feels like you are driving a yacht.  A glorious, safe, comfortable, and plenty-maneuverable-for-your-parental-life, yacht on wheels.

But, the gas mileage!  I call shenanigans here! Or more precisely, a little something we lawyers call pretext, y’all. Anyways, Mr. Mario Adretti, with all your maneuverability, I would hardly think that you are concerned with gas mileage? But driving fast is the real gas guzzler!  Stay at 55 and you are going green.  And my sweet ride, oh she loves a good 55.  And anyhow, are you driving a Prius or something with all your kids?**  Seriously.  This isn’t much of a thing.  Also, go ahead and cut down on animal products and rinse out your ziplocs.  That’s how we do.

The thing of it, the real thing?  It’s not cool to drive a minivan.  It is downright dorky.  Not nerdy; I know nerds are in.  Not geeky either.  No, I am 5’6” of pure dork in that thing.  But you know what?  If you ever have the chance to learn to let go of caring about the cool factor, to shed the weight of living up to these impossible ideals you set up for yourself long ago: Do it.  Feels amazing.  For example, as a result of my ongoing journey to let go of being who I think I should be and instead trying to roll with what’s right for me at the moment, I am able to do attend dance aerobics class – occasionally in a room covered in mirrors, among people I know.  And I do Gangnam Style.  And I get low.  And I look so utterly ridiculous that I will either make you blush or you will totally root for me in my unabashed incompetence.  Driving to dance aerobics in my Odyssey?  Good for the body, and great for the soul.

I am not concerned with proselytizing.  I don’t care who has a minivan. Truly, drive a sedan with eight kids, ride a burro, buy a jet pack.  Whatever, man.  Live and be happy.  I’ve just found people’s need to tell me why my car is not for them utterly fascinating.  All I’m saying is that when I drive around in my powder blue behemoth, my butt securely swaddled in that pilot’s chair, my child futilely unable to assault the back of my seat, life is good.  So laugh it up, chuckles, and if you get thirsty, I’d love to offer you a sippy cup of water from my Odyssey’s built in cooler.  SAHM out.

** I have a friend who has 2 kids, husband, dog, cat, double BOB stroller, and a Prius.  But she has no qualms about my van, and she knows that her situation is basically a clown car.  And I love her, and you should read her blog, too.  http://outofkadesh.com/

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Happy Birthday, Big Sis

Today, my sister Andrea would have been 36 years old. The last time I saw her, we were both newlyweds in our 20s. I feel so far away from her now, something I dreaded when I was in the midst of processing this loss. I didn’t have the coherent thoughts or emotional energy to write about this anew. It just kept coming out: I miss her. But it’s more than that, and more complex than that. I found what I wrote for her funeral just now, and it brought me back. Made me sad, sure, but honestly feeling that surge of sadness is reassuring in a way. It’s what I’ve still got. So, Andie, I really do miss you.

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From January 2006:

I have tried to get the words straight in my head to explain this loss and to get across just a sliver of who my sister Andrea was. Though there are no words that even approach true meaning when it comes to these topics, it soothes my soul to try.

Today, I spent the afternoon looking through photographs of Andrea, futilely attempting to make a display worthy of her life, but more realistically just setting out images to remind us of the many, many ways she touched our lives and added to our spirits.

I remember watching her, as little sisters do. She was so beautiful, so confident, so cool. I would watch out the car window as mom dropped her off downtown, where she would be met by her numerous friends like a true celebrity. Then she went off to college, and we waited for holidays to catch up. I would fire off a million questions at her about every detail of her college life, and she would make time with her little sister, answering each one. Then I felt like a celebrity.

As we grew older, Andrea made time for family. I mean truly made time. No birthday or holiday ever passed without a call. I will miss those quick chats that turned in to two hours on the phone, where we recounted the past, and opened up to each other about the present and future. She took the time, no matter how busy she was – and Andrea was always busy, from returning to school to get her bachelor’s degree while waiting tables full-time, to eventually starting her own business with several of her colleagues and then planning the most stunning, perfect wedding you could imagine. Her energy and passion knew no bounds.

At her wedding, her closest friends noted in a toast that Andrea cared deeply about what was going on with you. To know Andrea was to understand this in a way that words cannot express. When I arrived in Denver for her wedding, the first thing she did was hug me hard, smile big, and congratulate me on getting in to my law school. Time stopped when you talked to her. I laughed and reminded her that we were here for her, not me, but I kept with me that magical feeling you got after talking to her. I will forever treasure that feeling, guarding it closely to my heart.

Andrea’s husband, Ben, has been a fixture in her life, and thus in ours, for many years now. To have Andrea for a soul mate, you can imagine what an extraordinary person Ben is. His loss is an especially cruel and unfair one, and he is in our hearts and prayers now as well.

Andrea’s life ensured that she will never, ever be forgotten. I must admit that I am incredibly angry right now, but I know that will pass. I just want to spend these days cultivating every memory, remembering to be thankful for each one. I miss you, Andrea, and I don’t understand why this was your time. But moreover I love you, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and you will never, ever be gone from our hearts. I will see you again one day, and this time, I want to hear only from you.

Car Shopping: It’s the Most Eh Time of the Year

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We raised the stakes at the dealership by bringing along a cranky 9 month old, over-tired 3 year old, and a small stuffed duck that quacks for a long, long time when you squeeze it.

Oh, the elegance we’ve enjoyed as the proud owners of a 1996 Honda Accord, with her 170k miles, hanging front bumper, and delightfully irreverent windshield wipers that turn on whenever they please.  All this is nearly at an end.  For the old gal is now burning oil, and we have already sunk untold (or, more accurately, embarrassing to tell about) moneys into keeping her running.  Time to put it to rest and get a car that doesn’t require re-routing to avoid highways.

Not that my husband hasn’t enjoyed it.  I think he rather enjoyed his scrappy professor-mobile.  It told the world: all I care about is SCIENCE!  Professor G doesn’t need your flash or material markers of success.  He’s got degrees for days!  [Side note: this is what happens when you meet your mate at eighteen years old.  You don’t really have an opportunity to get a wider view of how their eccentricities will manifest.]  But even he, Mr. Take-What-You-Must-But-Leave-Me-My-MATLAB, has admitted that he’d like to drive something a bit sturdier.   He is, after all, regularly in the position of wooing graduate students (to work in his LAB, people! C’MON!).  And while the Honda may or may not chase them into the arms of another university, it will likely nudge them toward business school.

What do we want? A family car.  As big as the wagon used to seem, two car seats have taken up more space than I ever dreamed.  I can wedge myself in between them only at contortionist angles with the acceptance of significant pain.  Plus, kids be needing stuff!  They’re hungry, they’re hot, they’re cold, they’ve soiled themselves, they’re bored.  So much stuff.  Something a little roomier than the station wagon would be awesome.

So, we’re back to the car buying.  The first time we bought a car together was when we graduated college and Will’s parents helped buy him a car.  We had our budget, the wind at our back, no children or even mutts to speak of, and off we went.  After about 15 minutes in a car dealership, we just wanted bus fare home.  Will and I are sensitive people, often to a fault.  And car dealerships?  I’m not sure why, but they make me awfully sad.  Hordes of sales people all working late into the evening, livelihoods dependent on the luck of which customer they happen to glom onto.  This could be utterly projected despair.  For me, every aspect of this job is what I would not want, so that’s the tainted lens I see it through, I suppose.

The sales strategies I’ve come across can be lumped in two categories: sales people with looks of resignation and melancholy in their eyes causing you to want to buy a car just to cheer them up; or a manic, slick-guy vibe that leaves you confused and panicked that you may accidentally buy a car if you aren’t totally vigilant.  Not sure which I prefer.  At least with the latter you end up with a car and the whole thing can end.

Right now we are in the throes of negotiation.  Which means I get five calls a day from car dealers.  I keep saying “YOU WANT TOO MUCH MONEY.”  And they’re all, “Just come on back.  Let’s take a look at that trade in.  We’ll make it work.”  So I then reiterate “Our trade in is worthless so just SELL THE CAR FOR LESS MONEY.” I don’t know what they think a face-to-face will do.  There was no, shall we say, chemistry in these interactions.  I even required a Diet Coke to stick with the whole ordeal, which delicious poisonous caffeine nectar I gave up long ago.  Unless the strategy is to drain our life force till we drive off the lot in a shiny CR-V…  That’s actually a solid strategy.  “Ok, let me just go back to talk to my manager again and….” “Oh God, STOP! You’ve got me! I’ll just buy the thing! WHAT DO YOU DO BACK THERE WITH YOUR MANAGER? I don’t want to be here any more *sob*.”

We do need the new car before ye’ oldest car bursts into flames.  Soon enough I will have my pound of flesh in the form of mud flaps or a free cargo mat.  And they will sell us a car.  We will get a reasonable deal, because I am not terrible at this.  Better, at least, than my husband.  During our second car transaction many years ago, I asked if I could get a better price if I took a car off the lot that they were having difficulty moving.  One, I was told, was in an unpopular color.  I was shown this Superman blue Jetta, and my (should have been) silent partner offers: “That’s not a bad color at all! I like it!”  Simmer down there, Pollyanna.  I got this.

This whole thing would be a lot more pleasant, too, obviously, if this were not money we neither wanted nor readily had to spend.  It has conjured up the always fun: “Lord.  Maybe I need to get a job.”  “Yeah, that would help.”  “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR LIFE WOULD BE LIKE IF I WORKED FULL TIME?” (Husband exits stage left, walking backwards and muttering incoherently.)

The big car reveal, I believe, will come in the next week or so.  Till then, feel free to start sending me amazing bumper stickers.  I will accept “I’d Rather Be In Ann Arbor”, “Is that your FINAL answer?”, and “Lost Your Cat? Check Under My Tires.”