Monday, May 2, 2011

Momma in a Mini-Van or the Three-Bean Baby Driving Machine

Well, it finally happened--we got a mini-van.

Let's pause here for a second and let that sink in.


Can you tell I have conflicted feelings? Can you tell that even though our lease was up, on what some may deem as our equally uncool station wagon, and that we definitely needed a bigger car to accommodate our growing family, that the thought of an actual mini-van has haunted me for a while?

Let's be perfectly clear, the last time I spent any considerable time in a mini-van it was being driven by my then 19 or 20 year boy-toy (now my husband) around the streets of the town where we grew up in an ardent attempt to find a place for us to hook-up. I don't know if I should even be admitting to that because I am not 100% sure he won't still get in trouble for it. But in the spirit of full-disclosure, and the fact that he knocked me up three times leading us to this mini-van purchase, I am fully admitting it here.

Let's also be clear, I am not a car person. I have no idea about makes or models and I don't particularly care about all the bells and whistles. I am glad when the radio works and the AC does its job. If asked to identify the getaway car after a hypothetical bank robbery, I would maybe be able to tell you the color and if it was a very recognizable make like a Hummer or a VW Bug. But the terms "late-model sedan" or "V6 engine" mean less than nothing to me.

And yet I found myself trolling the Internet looking at any type of car that might accommodate my three kids and our uncanny ability to accrue stuff. I looked at SUV's and cross-overs. I researched price and style and I tried to figure out what would work best for us as a family. Sure, the smaller SUV's with the optional third row were more sexy than the boxy vans, but in all actuality they looked like a pain in the ass to get car seats in and out of and they were lacking on storage space.

So, I found myself one damp, chilly evening with my husband and the Ladies in the double stroller, a light mist falling on our heads, walking the lot at a local dealership looking at the mini-vans. They were spacious, they had dual-sliding doors, DVD players, storage space, all the things you want to hear when you are shopping for a family car. But I was still a little skeptical. Could I picture my kids in a van? Yes. Could I imagine myself driving one? Not so much. It isn't so much the cliche of being a mom in a mini-van, it is just that these things are so big and I am not used to driving such a large car. I mean, if we just had the square footage of the mini-van added on to our condo, I am not sure we would have to put the place on the market. The other issue is that these vans are all automatic. I haven't driven an automatic car since 1994, not since the days of the Chevy Cavalier and my first few months on the open road.

Well, we looked at the options, the Ladies got out of the stroller and sat in the seats for a while, we went inside and my husband sat down and talked numbers with the car guys and I tried to entertain the Ladies with glossy brochures and photos of our not so distant future when we too would be mini-van driving.

As it turns out my husband found a good deal at a different dealership and so a few nights later we repeated the scene, the Ladies once again in tow--this time strollerless and wandering aimlessly around the show floor trying to get into cars and letting me know that if we did get a new car, it should be red.

I will not get into the amount of things that happened/went wrong/needed to be accomplished in a very short window of time between the time when my husband called me on the Friday before Easter and let me know that the dealership in our town couldn't honor a deal that was being run by one in the town where we grew up (a short 1/2 hour away) and that we would have to go over to the other dealership on the Saturday before Easter in order to check out what their availability was, all before my husband left the following Thursday and our old car needed to be turned in just a mere four days after that. Phew.

The anxiety that this caused me could have induced labor. I will say (and I know this is technically a backhanded compliment) that although I think my husband could have been a bit more on the ball about handling all the ups and downs of this transaction (like perhaps starting to look for a new car more than a week and a half before the old one--one that needed repairs and to be inspected by the leasing company--needed to be turned in, and that only he could pick-up the new car from the dealership even though he knew he was going to be gone for a week. . .  I could go on, but I really am trying to be nice here and not get my blood pressure rising. . . ) in the end, he did take care of everything that needed to be done and he drove that mini-van off the lot with the Ladies all excited in the back and even told me he thought it was a "smooth-ride," when we both know it is a mini-van and I was super scared to drive it. So, I will say thank you to him and that I love him very much.

So like I said, the Ladies were very excited. The Lady had fallen asleep during the ride over to the dealership to pick up the car and the Little Lady was wreaking havoc indoors with her father, so when the salesman came out to show me all the bells and whistles that this new ride had to offer, I had to contend with the Little Lady climbing on the seats, trying to get into my lap and push buttons and throwing a fit because she wanted to drive. When the Lady woke up, we were able to get her into her seat, attach the headphones to her head and pop in Strawberry Shortcake. You better bet that I came prepared with some DVDs and quite honestly that was the only option in the entire van that I wanted to be proficient in before we drove out of there.

The Ladies on their maiden voyage in the mini-van.

The Little Lady really thinks she should be driving this thing. Note the amount of stuff already in the car and the fact that one part of the way back is down, but I can't figure out how to get the seat back up.
So, the next morning I put the Lady in her new car and drove her to school. Did I make my husband wait to make sure I could back out of the garage OK? Yes. Did he call me later in the day and ask why it took me 5 minutes to back out of the driveway? Also yes.

But now that I have almost 5 days of mini-van driving under my belt, including a two-hour drive to the beach house, I am trying to focus on the positives of this family machine and less on the stigmas of being a mini-van driver. I know that there is a divide out there in the parenting world about these vans. There are those in the "Loser Cruiser" camp and those in the "Swagger Wagon" one. I will say I was hesitant about joining the "Swagger Wagon" constituency, mostly because it seemed a little cultish. Every mini-van driver out there seemed to be trying to convince me to join their side. I also was convinced that the minute I pulled into my driveway in the new car, I would be compelled to get those cartoon stickers for the back window that represent each person in our family.

In the end, I think we made the right decision for our family. We got a nice new car with ample space for not much more than we were paying for the wagon. It has drop down DVD players with headphones for the Ladies and the option to watch two different movies at once, plus a rear view camera so that I can see if I am backing into any garbage cans.

It also has three free months of satellite radio. So I set the dial to the Grateful Dead channel and sometimes I find myself thinking about those other vans I might have spent some time in in my youth while waiting for a concert or two to start, and then I look in my little fish-eye mirror and catch my own little miracles in their captain chairs, singing off-key to the Strawberry Shortcake theme song while wearing their headphones and I think that maybe we made the right decision after all.


  1. Ahh - welcome to the world of mini-vans! It will be better then you think!

  2. Another great blog Beaner! They keep getting better and better and this one is awesome! Congrats on the new ride! I too am someone who also says, "I'll never drive a mini van!" However, I have to admit, you've made it sound quite appealing...but most of all what it all stand for. I’m ready! :-) Enjoy it!!

  3. Thanks Ladies, it is starting to grow on me and I do like being high up and able to see everything.

  4. Troy and I drove around in that same mini-van back in the day looking for a nice spot to give the shocks a little workout. And you know what? It was wonderful.

  5. Ahh Steadman, he likes to recount that story to me on many a cold night.

    I am hopeful that this summer we can throw the Ladies and your boys in the back and drop down the DVD players while we enjoy a cold one on the driveway.