My Parent Trap: To Minivan or Not to Minivan?
This is not my "Van-tasy"
My friend Lisa was about to step out my front door without telling me her big news. This is noteworthy because she’s been my closest friend since fourth grade. If she stubs her toe, I hear about. But there we stood, saying goodbye, when I was startled by what I saw in my driveway.
“Um…What’s that?” I said distastefully. Lisa shot an anxious glance over her shoulder, but no denials or explanations could disguise the glaring truth: it was a late-model minivan, and it was hers.
I could understand it, really. Child number three had recently joined her family, creating new transportation challenges.
“It was getting ridiculous,” Lisa explained quickly, clearly relieved to have the topic on the table. She went on to describe in excruciating detail the near-friction burns her kids had suffered being wedged into the backseat of their much-loved SUV. Her resolve finally crumbled, she said, and she bought the van. I listened, nodding sympathetically, but couldn’t help reminiscing.
A number of years earlier, it had been Lisa who had knocked at my door, keys to a brand new, baby-blue Camaro dangling tantalizingly from her fingers. As an indirect beneficiary of her indulgent father’s generosity, I was soon blessed with driving privileges. Oh, the fun we had in that sassy little sports car. Even a quick spin to the gas station was pure pleasure. Back then, we had few cares and fewer responsibilities. Now, the vision of the minivan parked in my driveway left me yearning for 1990 – no small feat for fashion reasons alone.
Witnessing the "minivan" slide
Over the years, I’ve witnessed friends and relatives slide, helpless, into the vast oblivion of minivan ownership. I am acquainted with dozens of satisfied, well-adjusted folks who drive them proudly. But watching this happen has been challenging. In my pre-parenting days, I came to associate minivans – with their built-in baby seats and plethora of sippy-cup holders - with a complete surrender of youth and freedom. As each new friend pulled up in one, I’d exclaim: “Hey, nice car! And the ‘baby on board’ sticker is so awesome!” Inside, though, I was crying out: “Yoo hoo! Call me in 18 years when you’re available again!”
Fearing social alienation, I kept quiet. After all, I know minivans are the ultimate mascot for committed, responsible child-rearing. Gone are those free-spirited days when kids were flung into compact cars to fend for themselves without the ball-and-chain of car seats or seatbelts. I’m in no position to question the wisdom of the surgeon general or the attorney general or the general public or whoever decided minivans were the wave to ride.
Still, with years of parenting under my belt, I have remained vanless, despite my stellar qualifications for ownership: Well over 30. Married. Habitual school commuter. I live in a world where the men that pursue me with the most passion are under the age of 10, or would love to sell me a minivan. Still, those old feelings stick with me like bubblegum in a pixie cut. They just won’t budge.
Potential Van Ownership Hits Home
My vehicle bias has nothing to do with wanting to impress people. My husband and I are, in fact, notorious tightwads with cars. For years, our one requirement – that a car get us from Point A to Point B – served us well. But a while back, our car failed to return us to Point A, chugging its way instead into a repair shop where it refused go anywhere for less than $3000 – tipping the scales way out of its favor.
For the first time, I was staring at possible van ownership like a deer caught in the high beams. I was frozen with indecision. What should I do? Act my age and buy one? Unable to commit, I started phoning friends for advice, expecting them to scoff at my immaturity. Instead, the minivan topic ignited an unexpected firestorm of passion.
My friend Becky was the first to verbalize it: “Ugh. They’re the epitome of mid-life. Everybody will start calling you ‘ma’am.’ Don’t go there.”
My sister was even more direct. “No,” she commanded, her voice sizzling. “You cannot buy one.”
My friend Beth, a satisfied van owner chimed in: “I love mine. But it’s not the sexiest car in town.”
My husband: “Let’s just get the van….But you have to drive it.”
More undecided than ever, I scoured the classifieds for an answer, a clue, anything. With three kids, I hoped for something larger than a typical sedan, but not so big I’d need a megaphone to communicate with the backseat passengers.
One afternoon, I found myself in the middle of a car lot, surrounded by a gazillion minivans, ready for a test drive. It was a last ditch stop. We’d been to dealerships all day and it was late. My eyes bulged and ached from sticker shock.
Reluctant, I climbed behind the wheel, feeling frumpy and defeated. The car was comfortable, a little bit luxurious, even. Practicality oozed from every square mile of cab space. It drove nice; the price was right. I felt myself being tugged in a direction I wanted so much to resist. The salesman and I went around the block, my friends’ comments echoing in my head: “Get one!” “Don’t do it!” “You should!” “You can’t!”
Afterward, we stood outside the vehicle. The decision was mine. My husband, the closet van lover, stared at me. The salesman stared at me. I shuffled my feet, considering the raw truth that there was no logical reason not to buy this car. Except I didn’t want to. I took another long look at the spotless interior and visualized cookie crumbs smashed into the carpet, Happy Meal toys strewn about the cab and a gaggle of screaming kids dangling from the armrests. I shuddered.
“No, thank you,” I managed to squeak, and mustered my best apologetic smile. It was back to square one.
After a few more days of searching, I eventually did find a vehicle that I hope will keep us happy for some time to come. But it was so close.
I have to wonder about this silly agonizing over a car. Maybe it says I’m insecure. Maybe I’m shortsighted, or impractical. Maybe I’ll be shopping for friction-burn ointment myself someday soon. But for now, there is no van in my life. Complete surrender to suburbia will have to wait.