The minivan purchase is a parenting rite of passage, one that loudly announces to the world, “Yes, I do have very young children and I do occasionally (sometimes against my better judgment) have to take them places.” Like many young parents who dream of cooler conveyance, my husband and I reluctantly (yet also enthusiastically) purchased a Honda Odyssey in the spring of 2006.
It was a practical purchase; at the time, our oldest son was 2 and the younger was an infant. The minivan’s remote control doors meant I could get my kids in and out with relatively little fuss (important on those single-digit mid-winter Chicago mornings) and shuttle visiting friends and family members around town. It had room for another kid or two, if we ever decided to expand our family. No, it was not cool, but with its 12 cup holders (enough for Starbucks, sippy cups of milk, and more Starbucks) and entertainment system, it was a judgment-free zone: The minivan knew what parents of young children wanted, and that was enough room for all of my used Starbucks cups and a couple of hours of DVD-induced quiet on long drives.
Fast forward eight years: My kids were 10 and 8 and the minivan was starting to show her age. It had been with us through two Chicago winters, a cross-country move, and trips up and down the state of California. Not to mention the daily after-school shuffle among Little League practices, music lessons, swim practice and—usually—Trader Joe’s. We kept it in good condition, but after those Chicago winters and then more years spent in Bay Area parking garages, the exterior was starting to show signs of wear.
More than that, though, was the simple realization that we’d outgrown the minivan. At some point, it had stopped being useful. I had changed, too. Now that my kids were older and in school full-time, I had stopped identifying myself as a mommy first and was beginning to reclaim my pre-mom sense of style. Driving around town in my aging minivan was not the way I saw myself. And it wasn’t how I wanted others to see me, either.
Last year, after another big move (this time only across the state), my husband and I decided it was time to retire the minivan and get a vehicle better suited to our current lifestyle. We got a Porsche, and now make the kids walk everywhere. Just kidding. In the highly unlikely event that ever happens, it will definitely be after the kids are out of the house. What we really got was an SUV, one that has the space for two active tweens and our frequent road trips but aesthetically feels a little more like who we are, now.
In the year since we sold our minivan and purchased our new car, I’ve come to realize that a few things happen when you enter the minivan-free stage of life. If you’re also approaching that stage, here’s what you can expect:
1. People stop asking you to be the driver when you’re going out with a large group of people. Whether it’s Moms’ Night Out or the class trip to the zoo or shuttling half of your running group to a nearby trail, you’re out of the running. You either catch a ride with somebody else (finally) or drive solo.
2. You find new ways to entertain your kids on long drives. We always used the van’s DVD player sparingly, on drives longer than an hour, but that DVD player and the stupefying effect it had on my children kept me sane on the two-and-a-half-hour drive from our home in the Bay Area to visit family in Central California. Now, we pass the time by listening to podcasts (This American Life and Star Talk are family favorites), playing Mad Libs (because my kids are now old enough to read, write and identify parts of speech) and—yes, I admit—bringing out handheld devices. Turns out Minecraft keeps my tweens just as quiet as Toy Story did when they were toddlers.
3. You realize that you no longer have the room for camping trips longer than two days, small furniture purchases or the supplies for home improvement projects. Because even when that extra row of seats in the minivan wasn’t being used for people, it was still extra space.
4. You don’t want your kids to eat or drink in the new car, ever. This is your clean slate. After years of spilled milk, Goldfish crackers crushed under car seats and, bizarrely, melted Junior Mints that somehow became one with the leather interior, there are some things that just never get clean. You vow this will not happen in the new car.
5. You really miss all those cup holders. You have enough room up front for a bottle of water and a cup of coffee. Maybe that’s all you need. You (and when I say you, I really mean I) should probably throw all those cups away more often, anyway.
6. You feel happy that your van has gone on to a better place. Despite your reluctance to be identified as a minivan-driving mom, you have to admit you did have some really good times in that van: trips to Disneyland and the coast, driving your son and four excited classmates to the third grade skating party, that time you got pulled over on I-5 for speeding because you really had to pee and your husband was just trying to get you to a restroom faster (it wasn’t funny then, but it is now). Your kids grew up in that van. Now another family will make memories inside of it.
7. You come to terms with the fact that you’re done having babies. This is something you have known for a while, but trading the seven-passenger van for the five-seater SUV really cements it. This car was purchased knowing you would never have to shoehorn a car seat into that middle seat. There is, however, just enough space for a smallish dog. And since you’re done having babies….
My new SUV may not be the coolest car on the planet. Some of my childless friends really are driving zippy little sports cars. But it is infinitely cooler than the minivan—I feel like the outside finally matches the inside. I could be a mom. Or I could be a lady who likes to wear sunglasses and sing along to the college rock station. You’d never know.
Until the kids get in the car and start bickering. It doesn’t matter what kind of car I’m driving. That is never going to change.