Coming To Grips With Our New Minivan

by Cara McDonough
Originally Published: 

We were attending a wedding shortly after her birth, and upon arriving at the hotel post-reception, realized all three children—our 6-year-old, 3-year-old and newborn—had fallen asleep. “What do we do?” I whispered into the darkness. When we were a family of four, we enjoyed a one-to-one ratio and each of us would have carried a child to bed.

But in this strange new moment, life was a riddle: How would we get all of them inside without waking anyone up or leaving somebody abandoned? We couldn’t. So we woke our eldest, hoping she’d balk the least. “Get up, sweetness. We need you to walk.”

That’s just one small example, however, of a new life that’s been less exhausting than I predicted. I worried about after-school hours when I’d be home alone with them all, but my older children became even better playmates, and the baby was content on the floor, observing.

I worried about school pickups disrupting the infant’s nap schedule, but I soon learned that third children tend to go with the flow, or at least mine does.

This isn’t to say that our home is a tranquil place.

We live in close quarters with our family of five, plus two old dogs, one of whom, a Pomeranian mix, is on a diuretic for a heart condition and meets with constant distrust as we worry she’s sneakily emptying her always-full bladder somewhere inside.

There are fights over carefully constructed forts as my children debate their proper function. Then there are the forts themselves: a mishmash of blankets, stuffed animals and anything else within reach, set up on the living room rug—easy to trip over, difficult to clean up.

And, until recently, there was the hotbed of family madness: my Subaru Outback.

Upon announcing I was pregnant again, everyone asked if we’d upgrade, but I said no. We’d keep our Prius—which my husband parks for free at work thanks to a hybrid perk from the city—and we’d fit all three kids in the back of the Subaru for at least a few years.

We had to buy a new slim model carseat for my 3-year-old son in order to fit it, a booster seat and an infant carseat on the backseat. But I could get them all in and close the door.

It was tight, no question. Getting my 6-year-old situated required pulling her booster seat aside in order to shove one hand down into the upholstery, blindly find the latch and buckle her in before moving the structure back into place, a maneuver most unpleasant on frigid Connecticut evenings after swim classes, when everyone’s hair was wet and pleas to close the door were delivered with screeching urgency.

Plenty of people avoid buying a car with a third row, but I was proud to join their ranks. I didn’t dismiss the minivan because they’re uncool, but because I wanted to prove we could thrive in challenging conditions. We’d had more than two children, made the most of a small house, and we’d skip the third row, too.

But challenge isn’t all that exciting in the absence of fun. My Subaru—a car I’d adored for it’s manual transmission, outdoorsy toughness and deft handling in bad weather—was now a source of stress.

Nowhere was as tiring than in that car with all three kids. I’d shift into second while glancing in the rearview mirror to see my son with a finger in his nose. At the next light he would be affectionately stroking the baby’s face, my daughter wiggling out of her seat at what seemed a dangerous angle to get in on the action.

One was laughing, one crying, one singing a lullaby. The sounds mingled a foot behind my head, and I’d think about how using a phone while driving could not possibly be more dangerous than this.

When our youngest was 5 months old, I decided we’d at least look at the minivan models on the market. We quickly made the decision to buy one, trading in my beloved Outback for a Honda Odyssey.

I don’t like the way it looks, but I love what it does. The sliding doors open electronically, and once everyone’s in we close them, pump up the heat and get settled. There’s room enough for a cooler. On road trips, our dogs will ride in style, instead of squeezing their old limbs into the only space available.

Still, the purchase was an adjustment. On the day we brought it home, I thought about my age—37—and how it’s hard to grow up while remaining true to youthful ideals. When I was 17, I was the kind of person who wanted to change the world. I still do most days. But I’m also the kind of person who really wanted a minivan.

I operate differently in the mini, as I like to affectionately refer to the vehicle. I face the road, square in the roomy driver’s seat, no need for frantic mirror-checks because the seating arrangements allow for fewer antics.

It’s a smooth and pleasant ride that seems right for this stage of my life. A brand new feeling. And I’m getting used to it.

This article was originally published on