Monday, February 16, 2015

Requiem for a Van

My minivan mama days ended abruptly on Friday, and I didn't even see it coming. A week ago I was happily broadcasting my intention of driving the Quest until her wheels fell off. True, Old Girl had 131,000 miles on her, and anyone who drove behind me could see that she'd had her share of run-ins--most damagingly with the wall of a parking garage. Two weeks ago, her side-mirror had a particularly destructive collision with our garage door frame. It's also true, she'd suffered scratches and dents and slopped coffee spills galore, but Old Girl was ours. She was paid for, and she was faithful.

And then, we got  the news. Old Girl's heart was corroded, and that rattling noise would cost $1900 to fix. While we appreciated how well she had served our family for the past 5 years, we knew our days with Old Girl were coming to an end. While I had never jumped on the whole "Once you drive a minivan, you'll never want to drive anything else" bandwagon, a strange thing happened as I drove to the car dealership on Friday: I got sad.

I waxed nostalgic the whole way down I-35. I thought about WHY we bought the Quest in the first place. How after having a foster child (of sorts) live with us for several months we knew that strapping three kids into three car seats in the crowded back end of the Explorer was less than ideal. So a few months before Makai's arrival, we decided to suck it up, sell the SUV, and go the way of suburban moms the country over.

Early on in my van-driving days, I saw a Honda Odyssey adorned with a bumper sticker that lamented "I used to be cool." I sped up alongside that van and glanced over at the driver. I hoped to make eye contact, to exchange the "I get you, you get me, we're in this thing together" shrug. The driver/mom was busy flinging goldfish crackers over her shoulder and didn't even notice me. Within months, I was her, almost dislocating my arm in order to offer baby Kai crackers, raisins, his sippy, anything to keep him happy for a few more minutes, for just one more stop.

So while I hadn't WANTED to be a minivan mom? I rolled with it. I reveled in being able to easily lift Kai into his carseat. I didn't have to reach up, I didn't have to bend down, it was perfect.  I liked that my kids were more than an arm's distance away from each other, and I resigned myself to the fact that, at least for a while, this van was my ride and a reflection of the stage of life in which I found myself.

And that stage? I loved it. Soli was in kindergarten when we bought the van. She was outgoing and funny, she sucked her fingers like a boss, she adored her sister, her dad, her new baby brother, and me. Soli was in half-day kindergarten, and one afternoon a week, several of the half-day moms (and one dad) would meet up at a park, have lunch and let the kids run their energy off. We had time on our hands, our only goal to be home in time for the kids to nap, in time for us to make dinner and maybe fold that load of laundry before our spouse came home.

As I write this, Soli is snowboarding down the hill in our front yard. She's running back and forth between our house and one of the neighbor's. On nice days, she and Maya cross the street and play in the small ravine behind the neighbor's house--unsupervised.  Soli is 10 and an almost-pre-teen and soft-hearted and smart. She is a reader and a thinker. She asks tough questions and loves nothing more than to be part of adult conversations. She is already10 and those early school years, our minivan years, flew by.

5 years ago, our life was different.

When we bought the van, Ferdie was a full-time pastor, I was a stay-at-home mom, our social life revolved around church people. I had my crew of SAHM friends, and we encouraged each other through infant sleep issues, potty training issues, post-pregnancy body issues, and "Is this really what my life has become? I'm college-educated, for God's sakes" issues. I talked on the phone a lot. I made innumerable meals for new moms. I spent whole days in pajama bottoms.

Yet now here we are: I've gone back to teaching, spending my days with teenagers, grading essays, discussing Julius Caesar and job interviews and why Kanye's such a jerk.  Ferdie is selling cars, his ministry less obvious, his "calling" less fixed, more fluid. Our friends are our neighbors, our colleagues, and a few good friends who've stuck by us since our first years in Kansas City. Most of my SAHM friends have re-entered the work force, and now we commiserate about how busy we are, juggling work and family and home and friendships. We talk less frequently, a weekly phone call or a girls' night out a luxury.

So my van years are behind me, and although the middle chapters of that era were harrowing and horrible, the book ends were great. Makai was born, and what more can I say about that? Has a better gift ever been given to a family? He was our mini sumo wrestler, the first chunky baby we'd borne. During the first year of his life, he was dubbed "Kai Kai, the Happy Guy," because he was the easiest. baby. ever. I know, I know, you're not supposed to brag about that, but we're four years removed now, and hey, it's true, after all.

The girls loved having a baby brother, and they were old enough to hold him and rock him and give him his bottle. They delighted at every milestone. Maya became a mini-mama, her nurturing side evident as she kissed Kai's boo boos, helped him into his pajamas, gave him bowls full of cheerios and snacks, held his hand across the aisle of the van.

Maya started school during our minivan years, and the life of our family became even more entrenched in the life of the Sunflower Elementary community. The girls joined Brownies, learned to read, began playing the piano. Their personalities and talents grew, and they surprised us with the joy of sisterhood. There was so much good in those years.

Often that good was embedded in the midst of ugly--the days when Ferdie and I did not know if our marriage would survive one more year, the months when we did not know how we'd pay the bills, the times when we doubted we'd ever be part of a church again, even then there was beauty. I had amazing sister-friends, a great counselor, good coffee in abundance, a family that had my back, people who took care of us. When we didn't have a church, we had a tribe. God was so evident in the people who surrounded us.

And this past year? My last year as a mini-van mama? It's been a ride, for sure. Last summer we packed the van and took our first "real" family road trip--just the Guintos, in a cabin, in the mountains, without technology for a week, and it was beautiful. We laughed and played and ate and hiked and read. We relaxed. For the first time in 10 years, we didn't have to deal with a stroller or a diaper bag or sippy cups. That felt like freedom, and we're hitting the road again this summer.

Finally, after a bit of reluctance, our family found a new church home. We committed. We Sharpied our names on stones and added them to the altar at the front of the church. Ferdie picked up his instruments again. One Sunday morning a few months back, he led worship for the first time in four years. No one in church knows us well yet, no one knew the years we'd passed through, no one knew that this? This was momentous. They didn't know that as Ferdie stood up front, guitar in hand, I sat in the back fighting sobs, watching redemption in action.

So on Friday, when we said goodbye to the Old Girl, it was with a little sadness, a little nostalgia, and a whole lot of gratitude. Because that minivan? She'd escorted both of the girls on their first day of school. She had delivered two day old Makai home from the hospital. She had taken me to the job interview that would restart my career. And she'd carried us over some rough roads.

Old Girl? She was a good one.

Now, let's see what this Hyundai's got.

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