My friend’s husband had taken her out for dinner. He suggested the babysitter. The extra-fancy restaurant. When she told me their plans she said she was even considering shaving her legs. Technically there was no special occasion, but as it ended up, the evening was monumental.
“So tonight he happened to mention” she wrote in a text, “maybe it’s time to consider a minivan.”
Her disappointment oozed through the message, no emoji emphasis required. She thought her big life question of the evening would be tiramisu or flan. But she ended up wondering if her whole idea of who she was would have to shrink to fit a traveling rectangle with 10 cupholders, a sliding door, and stain-resistant carpet.
I didn’t know what to say. The plain truth is that if you have a lot of kids, minivans makes sense. I know for a fact that at this very moment there are two Tupperware bowls of Cheerios in the third row of my vehicle that I sure as hell am not in the mood to crawl back and retrieve. Those bowls are calling out for bugs. Their wheaty smells are literally beckoning the bugs to brunch in my backseat. A minivan makes that sort of rescue mission easy. You slide the door. You get the bowl. You go on with your day. There is no wedging yourself in a hard-to-reach place. You never risk that moment when you pop your head to the side to watch as you crawl backwards out of the seat and then catch a snippet in the rearview mirror of your backside, looking topographically larger than expected and maybe even slightly unruly in jeans you could have sworn were labeled ‘slim fit’ at the store.
But while logic says ‘yes’ to a minivan, I understand why her husband wanted to butter her up before he broached the topic. Minivans have been the punchline of parenthood for decades. I once heard a comedian refer to a minivan as birth control, and when he did that the whole room broke out in laughter. Everyone got it, or at least pretended they got it and then waited until it was really dark and the parking lot was empty to sneak out to their minivans and leave.
Somewhere along the way we decided that the minivan is everything ‘with it’ parents are supposed to resist. When you get a minivan it means you’ve given it all, not just your time and your heart but that thing our culture celebrates even more—good taste. Ad men and women have told us how it is, Subarus mean we love dogs, kids, tree hugging. Dodges mean we are aggressive, in your face, mudsplashers. Minivans mean we have handed over the last shreds of independent identity to the Cheerios-throwers in the backseat.
And it definitely doesn’t stop there.
“I don’t want a high chair that looks like a high chair,” another friend said to me when she was picking out items for her registry. She meant that she wanted a high chair that was high design, one that looks like it belongs to a baby from The Jetsons and you can just tell is probably a total bitch to clean. Those designers are genius when it comes to transforming some pieces of metal into functioning art but when it comes to the places a one and a half year old can stash macaroni and cheese—they know absolutely nothing.
So we don’t want our cars to show that we have kids. Or our houses. And we definitely have decided we want to erase all signs of having kids from our bodies. The quest to camouflage that we are parents is getting almost as time-intensive as having kids, which really is saying something.
My minivan friend is still on the fence, she says she’s weighing pros and cons. We both know the biggest con is in her mind. I can tell her all day long that minivan moms are as hot as any other mom but if she doesn’t believe it then every time she gets in that driver’s seat, she’ll wilt just a little.
The whole thing makes me think of the most pivotal moment in romantic comedies, when the main girl is choosing between two guys. And one guy is really perfect-looking. Sleek and smooth, but all of us in the audience know he’s not a real fit for her life. Then there’s ‘the other guy’. He’s usually teddy bear cute, hilarious, and the kind of guy you know would be able to make her laugh uncontrollably while waiting in line at the bank.
From the safety of the sofa we’re like, “Go with the other guy! Just live a good life! Let yourself laugh and have some fun!” But then when it comes to our lives we’re always tempted to join the side of all that is perfect and sleek… how we think life should look.
Whatever your mommobile choice may be—the minivan or a Subaru or a black Escalade—it’s important how we treat other people on the road. Are we looking down on them? Are we looking up? And even more importantly—how are we treating that driver staring back from the rearview mirror?
Are we telling ourselves that we’re doing OK?
Are we looking for reasons to laugh even while enthralled in the mundane?
Or are we beating ourselves up for things that don’t actually matter at all, like cars with durable carpet, high chairs that look like high chairs or even topographically challenged backsides.
That really is the decision we should make with care. There are Cheerios-throwers in the backseat and they are watching our every move.