It seems begrudgingly fitting that shortly before I enter one of the final years in my 30s, I took a minivan for a test drive. That it was during one of the final years in my 30s certainly doesn’t make it better and possibly makes it worse, but it seems apropos nonetheless.
“It’s exciting to buy a new car,” my mom remarked after I returned from a day of car shopping.
“Yes, but it’s hard to get fired up if the one we end up getting is more van than mini. Or is anything but an actual car, really,” I grumbled.
There are things you have a solemn duty to do when you get older and have kids. Like, necessarily wake up every day and feed, clothe and bathe your offspring (or at least a few times a week, depending on how vigilant Child Protective Services is in your area). You are also required to say things you like, “I’m going to count to three” and “Stay on the potty until Mommy wipes you” — all in a tone of voice you didn’t know could come from anywhere but the mouth of a Disney villain. It’s not a particularly sexy way to go through life, but it’s all about family, so it’s really just about love. And the occasional tantrum.
For better or worse, the current tantrum is being thrown by me. I can’t emphasize enough how much I don’t want a minivan; however, it appears as if we have a societal obligation to at least consider purchasing one as we decide on the fate of our next family vehicle.
When I was in seventh grade, some kid’s mom got a minivan that another kid labeled a “clam” car. Ever since then I’ve associated them with rotten fish. It didn’t help that when I took a brand new one out for a spin a few weeks ago, it was a rainy day and the dealership was located near the shore and there was a stench of rotting seafood hanging in the air.
But the reality is that we need a new car, and we need one with more room. As kids get older, they seem to get bigger, multiply and amass friends who are also bigger and need to travel via automobile, oftentimes with you. Plus, our current car has served us well but is aging.
Sure, minivans and the marketing of them have improved over the years. But just like you can’t sugar coat a pile of dung, showing an ad with a husband and wife trying to be romantic while in the same type of vehicle most associated with PTA meetings and the general dreariness of suburban life is utterly fruitless as a promotional tool.
If there were a way to disguise the fact that minivans come equipped with things like 12 cup-holders (unless they can also boast that they come with flushable toilets) and four grocery hooks (a note to Madison Avenue: Moms do have other needs in life besides ensuring the safe travels of frozen peas and cereal boxes), there just might have been a chance, but apparently they couldn’t, so there isn’t.
The Toyota Sienna I tried out drove smoothly enough. It also had a fairly impressive amount of bells and whistles on the dashboard. But when I turned around to glance around the back and found myself squinting to make out the third row because it was that far off in the distance, I felt eerily like a school bus driver (which is a role destined to be in my future to be sure, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel as if I’m driving an actual bus).
It’s not like I’m going through a mid-life crisis and want to run out and buy some small or ridiculously impractical car. I also looked at the Subaru Tribeca, which was fine, but the third row could clearly only be used for Smurfs, and then only those with no legs. The Honda Pilot was decent, except the sales person in New York turned me off when I indicated that leather seats, 18-inch chrome-look alloy wheels and a rear entertainment system weren’t high on my priority list. I particularly enjoyed the Ford Explorer and decided that while the third row wasn’t awfully spacious, it would be decidedly better and more legal than riding on the hood or the roof.
“It is time to look in the mirror and acknowledge that you are a mature adult. … We all know that through emotional pain comes growth,” one friend — a minivan owner — posted on my Facebook wall after reading of my reluctance to consider a clam car.
And while I agree that I am fast becoming the age of a real, live adult, no one said anything about being mature.
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