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Going to the Dark Side

Guest Post from Meredith O’Brien

I resisted its siren song for years.

Buy me. You know you want to. I’ll make your life easier . . .

“No way in hell!” I vowed.

But I am so very spacious, dearie, great for hauling around your kids’ junk!

“I’m a grown woman who is not, I repeat, NOT going to be seen by the outside world as simply another mommy, a vanilla suburban parent, even when my kids aren’t with me in a minivan. I’m still cool! Damn it.”

But you can put all the kids inside me when it’s raining, climb in, easily shut the sliding door and then buckle them, my dear without getting yourself wet . . .

“I won’t melt.”

Then reality hit in the form of my pregnancy with my third child and the task of trying to fit three car seats—two for my toddler twins and one for the baby—into our beloved, teal Honda Accord sedan became an onerous one. Once that pregnancy with my son Casey was deemed healthy and viable, my husband grabbed three car seats and went to multiple car lots trying to cram the car seats into the back row of various sedans. Any sedan would’ve worked, as long as the vehicle had air bags and a good safety/reliability rating.

No minivan.

No way.

We didn’t listen when our friends extolled the virtues of minivans’ spaciousness, their convenience. We were not going to go to the dark side. We weren’t going to become one of those gas guzzling, minivan types of people who you could clearly identify, with pointed fingers and lips curled in derision, that they are suburban parents.

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I, for one, didn’t want to give up the illusion that, somewhere, deep inside, I was still a carefree woman who, when she wasn’t tending to her small offspring, could blast loud music (not kids’ fare) while inside a vehicle, put down the windows and not be pegged as a mommy (although a closer inspection of the car with its safety seats, random Cheerio distribution, extra diapers and plastic purple box of wipes knocking around on the floor would belie any such carefree status).

But the minute anyone plops one’s fanny behind the steering wheel of a minivan — regardless of whether or not the kids are in tow—that person immediately transforms into just a parent, just a mom, not a woman with a whole set of her own interests outside of her beloved offspring. I didn’t want to be a walking cliché (or maybe I was just in deep, deep denial).

When I learned of my pregnancy with my third child, I knew the days for my Accord were numbered. It got great gas mileage. It was reliable. It was easy to park. But fitting three car seats into the back: Wasn’t gonna happen. And believe me, we tried. There was one sedan my husband found where, if we put one of the seats in a little crooked and I used my hip to push down on the arm of a car seat, the seats could fit . . . barely . . . if all the kids held their breath and everyone turned slightly to the right.

Now keep in mind how long kids are supposed to be in infant car seats, then regular car seats, then booster seats. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site says children who’ve “grown out” of safety seats should be at least 58 inches tall and weigh 80 pounds (that’s roughly around age 8). “[C]hildren 10 years old and younger should be using a booster seat after they have outgrown the child safety seat,” their web site reports.

It’s not like the days when my friends and I would pile into the back of my dad’s cap-covered red Ford pick-up truck or jockey for spots in the “way back” of a friend’s station wagon. Nowadays, if your kid isn’t buckled with sanctioned restraints, not only can you get ticketed, but you risk being socially scorned and possibly risk the child’s death because those front-seat air bags can inflate with lethal force.

So with my belly growing exponentially, we stowed our vanity in the glove compartment of our Accord. In a serendipitous coincidence, an inattentive driver blew a stop sign and crashed into the passenger side of the Accord, rendering it totaled. (No one was hurt in the accident.) With the Accord transformed into an accordion, we put our quest for a new vehicle into high gear. And, as you may have guessed, became one of THEM. Those minivan people.

It’s been several years since I got a giant minivan that was only slightly easier to park than an oil tanker truck. I still hate the fact that it sucks down gas so greedily. I hate that it’s so hard to park. (See that minivan parked way in the back of the parking lot, away from the other cars? That’s mine.) However, there are many unexpected joys of going to the dark side:

I truly can shove all my kids inside during inclement weather, jump in, shut the door and then make sure everyone’s buckled in safely. There was ample room to breastfeed my baby in private while his siblings played. Grandparents can pile in and accompany our family to restaurants or events. There’s plenty of space for our possessions during family vacations or when we’re spending the day doing a gazillion activities. And I love the fact that when I’m driving at night, I’m sitting higher up than I was in a typical sedan so truck headlights won’t be aimed squarely at my eyes in the rear view mirror.

But I still hate that I’ve been stripped of the opportunity to look cool when driving solo in the van. That’s one thing convenience can’t erase. Despite my many years of resisting the siren call of the minivan, my husband and I were forced to answer it.

I knew you’d come . . . and, by the way, you left cool behind quite some time ago, dearie.

—Meredith

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