“Look! That’s your car but in a different color!” My kids pointed out a minivan that was the same make and model as mine but it was black instead of blue. It was also shinier. Maybe it was because of the hubcaps still on the tires; mine came off at unknown times, as if they individually let go out of sheer exasperation. Maybe it was smugness of not having mouse poop on the floor of the interior and cup holders with Goldfish crumbs and gummy wrappers. Maybe that van was just better at hiding the absolute mess that resides within. Let’s be real folks: minivans are rolling dumpsters, even if the degree of chaos and filth swing from not too bad to Jesus Christ, what is that smell?
When I asked my friend Renee to send me a photo of the inside of her minivan, she sent me this text in response: “Oh my heavens! I make people who ride in my van sign NDAs! Definitely not sharing that shitshow!”
The only time I have ever seen a minivan with a clean interior was when it was on the showroom floor of a car dealership. Even then the window stickers showcasing the van’s details reeked of foreshadowing, because soon enough that window will be plastered with unicorn and superhero stickers from doctor and dentist visits.
When you purchase or acquire a minivan, standards of care are different than with other cars. This is likely a direct result of parenting standards being dropped as the number of children increases. I’m sure there are plenty of two-children van owners; however, the people I know who have made the leap from sedan to minivan or SUV have done so out of necessity to fit at least three children comfortably and safely into a vehicle. And by “comfortably and safely” I mean “far enough away from each other to reduce bickering and touching so that you don’t lose all rational thought and behavior while driving your precious cargo from one activity to the other.” If I could get partitions between the rows, that would be ideal. But they would need doors for snacks, because even soundproof layers can’t withstand the cries for food while driving .7 miles to a playdate.
I purchased my minivan when my ex-partner was pregnant with our twins. We were about to go from one child to three and needed a third row to accommodate three car seats. But what no one told us while picking out the symbol of suburbia is that fitting three kids into the back was just one of the realities of minivan life.
The van first became a cruise ship on land and whoever was in the passenger seat was the director. The ability to crawl from the front seat to the back to offer a bottle, fix a DVD player, entertain a child, or hold the hand of a carsick kid during a road trip was a perk and a curse. As the kids got older, snacks were tossed or stowed in backpacks next to them. Tablets replaced DVDs that skip or not play because the crawler tripped on the cord and disconnected the energy source. But just as independence of the riders increased so did their stuff. Actually, I take that back. They just started to independently bring more stuff into the van. Diaper bags, portable toilets, Pack ‘n Plays, and strollers filled most of the available spaces until stuffies and Legos started to appear.
Now my kids’ toys, books, homework, sports gear, sticks, rocks, and trash perpetually live under and on seats, on the floor, and in the well of the trunk—the trunk that holds the Costco purchases, hockey and baseball gear, and can serve as a changing room if another child is using the middle of the van to change their clothes. If it’s not a quick change from school clothes to soccer cleats, it’s finding a blanket or dirty-but-dry pair of shorts in a corner of the van to replace the muddy or wet pants that your child is wearing after an experimental trip into puddles, or a gas station bathroom. Yes, I teach my kids about taking care of the spaces they occupy, but minivan life is about surviving a busy life that is often lived inside sliding doors.
Ashley, mom of three from Vermont, tells Scary Mommy that before she recently cleaned her minivan it had, “football gear, activity sets, Cub Scout uniform parts, a bag full of snacks, an overflowing trash can, and a variety of jackets, sweatshirts, hats, and backup shoes. We could legit live in there.”
Jess, single mom of one, bought a unique minivan during COVID lockdown to use as a literal getaway. Jess tells Scary Mommy, “It has a tropical headliner and a wooden box that folds out into a bed in the back.” Though they have only slept in it once, Jess says it makes for a great night at the drive-in movie theater. “We call her ‘adventure van.’ It needs a miracle to pass inspection though.”
The minivan is our vacation home or second home on wheels. This means it’s also a space for podcast or music listening while running errands, a place to nap while waiting in a parking lot for our kids to finish their soccer practice or violin lesson, and a mobile office. I have taken work calls from my van and have sat uncomfortably with my laptop pressed against the steering the wheel while mooching WiFi from Dunkin’ Donuts in order to send timely emails to clients.
I’m not mad about any of this, nor am I embarrassed about the lack of shine or prestige literally and figuratively attached to the car I drive. I wish I could locate the exact source of the low-grade fart smell that seems to live inside of my minivan, but I’m grateful for this extension of space that makes like easier even while its messy. You can live by the idea that what happens in a minivan stays there. But a doll’s head will roll into the car loop when your kid gets out for school, so let’s just embrace the horror and help me normalize the reality of the minivan.
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