Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Minivan Identity Crisis

Tonight's cocktail is a cherry-vodka something I made up.  I muddled 5 fresh, pitted cherries in a cocktail shaker, added 2 dashes of Peychaud's bitters, 3 oz. vodka, and, as an afterthought, 1/2 oz. elderflower liqueur.  Shake with ice, strain.  If I had an unbroken martini glass in the house, I would have used that, but I didn't.  Totally yummy, though.

I have a confession to make.  I drive a minivan.  It's a rolling stereotype, from the child seats to the soccer gear in the back to the crayon drawings on the seat backs from when Tweak was 3 or 4 years old (it says "I love Mommy" though, so I couldn't really get mad about it or find the heart to clean it off).  When Tink was a baby and never slept, I bashed the right side a few times in parking lots and never got around to fixing it, which is just as well, because every time I think I really ought to get over to the body shop, I bash it against another column in my parking garage at work.  If you vacuumed the floor mats, you'd get a truly disgusting trail mix of crushed goldfish crackers, peanuts, gummy fruit snacks, and what I sincerely hope are raisins.  It's basically like this:

Now, before I had kids, I always swore I wouldn't drive ... let's see, how did I put it?  Oh, yes, "one of those pathetic fucking mommywagons."

My pathetic fucking mommywagon
About 2 weeks before Tweak was born, my ex's workhorse of a car breathed its last in the middle of the inbound lanes of the Key Bridge in Washington D.C. during rush hour.  Suddenly, like cult members, people we didn't even know were minivan owners came out of the woodwork to convince us to join them.  To my horror, what they said made a lot of sense, and before I knew it, I owned a totally pimped-out minivan, complete with onboard DVD player.  
The thing is, it is a really practical car for a suburb-dweller with kids.  The sliding doors are remotely operated, so it's way easier to get a baby in and out of when you're in in a tight parking space, not to mention shoehorning a squirming, shrieking toddler in full meltdown mode into a carseat during a snowstorm.  The minivan saved the day when my friend Debbie went into labor a month early at Noodles & Co., where we were having lunch with her sister and our 5 kids under 3 years of age.  If you get sucked into the Target Vortex, you can flip down the back seats and fit in all the crap you just bought.  It's great for carpooling, or going to ride bike trails, or if you have dogs, and ... oh, my God.  I'm One Of Them.

Those parking-garage columns just jumped out at me.
I know people have identity crises over buying a minivan.  Obviously, it's not the right choice for everyone, but the issues for these folks seem to have little to do with the merits of the car, as opposed to the fears the car represents for them.  They think it means being defined solely by your kids, being frumpy and out-of-touch, schlepping around with Kidz Bop music blasting from the speakers, not being able to hold a conversation, not having any interests or ambitions for oneself.  That's a scary prospect, but a car can't make you anything you wouldn't otherwise be.  It's easier to blame it on the car than to think that you're going to be responsible for how middle age and parenthood will change you.

Because it changes you.  And at times, many of those things - the frumpiness, the inability to hold a coherent conversation, even, heaven help me, the Kidz Bop, have been true for me, and for all parents.  But the deeper stuff that has always been part of me - my intellectual curiosity, my sarcasm, my political ideals, my loyalty to my friends, even my ability to swear like a sailor - never went away.  No vehicle or life circumstance or other person can take away who you are, unless you choose to let go of the things that define you.  In my mind, it would be really foolish to turn over that kind of power to a car.

It's basically the opposite of a man who buys a shiny red sports car as part of his mid-life crisis.  He thinks the car will make him cool, recapture his youth, and make people pay attention to him.  And no doubt the car is probably fun to drive, and if you've made enough money to treat yourself to the car you've always wanted, go ahead.  But we've all laughed at those guys when they seem to take themselves very seriously because of the car they drive, as if it makes them any less balding, paunchy, pasty, etc.  Just as the sports car can't give those guys what they're looking for, neither can a minivan take away the things we fear losing.

I know a suburban mom who blasts completely inappropriate hip-hop in her minivan so long as her kids swear not to sing any of it at school or church or in front of her in-laws.  I've long thought of having a minivan playlist of witty, edgy, ironic songs to blast in my car when I'm driving to ballet or soccer or whatever, but I'm not as good as many of my friends at coming up with stuff like that.  So, I hereby ask anyone who might be reading to submit a comment with anything you think might be good for the list.  I'll compile my favorites and set it up on Spotify.  Anyone game?
Oh, God, please, nooooooo!!!!


  1. Bitchin' Camaro (Dead Milkmen)

  2. Tom Lehrer. All of it. The entirety of his work. You did a great job describing your car, and I look forward to more hilarious blog posts.
    -Cousin P
    P.S. I love pimp my ride!


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