It’s been a big year, y’all. Jake and I celebrated five years of marriage, continued the adventure of raising our IVF-conceived twin girls, and began planning an embryo transfer in hopes of growing our family. We even met with our fertility doctor and scheduled the procedure… only to find out it wasn’t needed. Day one of the cycle that would have kicked off our frozen transfer never came and we celebrated our little ladies’ first birthday just before announcing our miracle baby due in December. We spent the summer arguing over boy names, transforming our larger extra bedroom into the girls’ new room, and preparing to have three children under 18 months.
An incessant reader of news, it was some time in early June that I stumbled across an article declaring that while the used car market had improved, it would most certainly worsen in the fall. Jake had briefly mentioned upgrading the Kia Sorento we had bought when we found out we were having twins, but I’d brushed him off, insisting the SUV would suffice, as long as we could fit all three car seats in the middle row. The Sorento was paid for, comfortable, said to seat seven, and had relatively few miles on it. Buying another new car less than 18 months later seemed superfluous and needlessly stressful. Regardless, I decided to make sure that we could indeed fit three across the middle row, since the back would be virtually inaccessible with car seats in front of it, only to realize…
When Jake and I bought the Sorento, we’d intended it as a ten-year car, assuming a seven seater would actually, you know… seat seven. It really hadn’t occurred to either of us that we’d be in the market for a minivan when we began planning for baby number three. After the fiasco that was buying our Kia Soul in 2019, struggling to find just the right SUV in 2020, paying it off early with Jake’s lucky Bitcoin earnings, I truly did not want a new car… any new car, regardless of type.
Ever responsive toward and utterly dependent on research, however, I immediately accepted that not only was the market in the best shape we could hope for, but that it wouldn’t get any easier or less stressful to shop for a minivan later in my pregnancy. So, I texted Jake about our predicament and began searching for the best model within our price limit.
Folks, buying a minivan was exactly the nightmare I had feared, perhaps worse. Not only was I shopping for a completely different, more expensive, unfamiliar class of vehicle, in a competitive market, I was wading through a newfound swamp of Mom Snobbery. Review after review, I simply could not escape the elitism behind some of the brand names and their elevated prices. Models that seemed to offer exactly the same number of features, safety ratings, and comfort levels were tens of thousands of dollars higher. While many objective articles described the Dodge Caravan as a budget model with a rougher ride and lower mileage, listing the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as a top option for the fuel conscious, I never did figure out what made the Odyssey and Sienna such premium vehicles when all specs remained the same. After reading some of the reviews himself, Jake still points out every Honda Odyssey he sees, with mock awe.
Ultimately, we ended up with a black, 2019, Chrysler Pacifica Limited 35th Anniversary. It isn’t fully loaded, but does include some nice bells and whistles that are new to us, such as leather heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and remote start. Though finding it was a month-long headache, once it was ours, we were excited… and confused that when we shared the news, everyone seemed to expect us to feel defeated at having purchased a minivan. Even after highlighting the benefits of more leg room, dual climate control, flat-folding seats, and remote doors, everyone seemed to be waiting for our response to some kind of minivan stigma.
Before Jake and I had children, I actually do recall insisting that I’d never own a minivan. For purely practical reasons, I didn’t want to spend substantially more money to drive a much more cumbersome vehicle with worse gas mileage. As far as I understood, an SUV would accommodate just as many people, at a lower price. I just didn’t see the point. I certainly had no distaste for what it would say about me or my stage of life. Upon further reflection, in fact, at one time, I’d dreamt of having and eventually becoming a Minivan Mom.
Growing up in the 90s, minivans were at the height of their popularity and said something to me even then. They were a symbol of all the things I wanted as a child, gradually progressing from the frivolous to the completely justifiable.
- Parents who owned minivans lived in three bedroom ranch homes in suburban neighborhoods with ice cream trucks and friends just down the street. We lived in a trailer on ten acres, with few children nearby.
- Minivan moms either stayed home, worked part-time, or were teachers, so their kids didn’t have to attend daycare. The dads were home every night and weekend and in good spirits. My mother was a nurse, my father a lineman for the electric company, both exhausted after working long hours, nights, weekends, and call shifts.
- Minivan families lived in clean houses and the children wore cute clothes and practiced basic hygiene. Even when we moved to a traditional house, it was a borderline hoarder home, only cleaned when we hosted holiday celebrations. In time, my parents became too wrapped up in their crumbling marriage to pay much attention to grooming and fashion and it showed.
- Minivan families ate at the kitchen table, played board games together, and the kids were never allowed to watch anything beyond a PG rating. When I was nine or ten, my parents started spending evenings arguing in the garage, leaving us to call Gramma to bring fast food and entertain ourselves however we may.
- Minivan parents took family vacations and had loving, supportive, intact marriages. My dad stopped coming along on trips when I was eight and left a month after my mom’s brain surgery when I was 10. Not long after, my brother moved in with him and I stayed with my increasingly violent mother, while my father tried to recapture his youth.
Growing up, our trailer was just down the street from a foster home, where the parents were known to be abusive to their children, so I fully understood that other kids had it worse than I did. Objectively speaking, I didn’t have a miserable childhood, and see no reason to rewrite history to better or worsen it. Still, I perpetually envied what I deemed my normal classmates, who seemed to come from happy, functional homes, lead by parents with appropriate rules and boundaries. They were good at sports, from ballet and cheer to soccer and basketball. They were never blacklisted from sleepovers, because their moms explained the purpose of edible underwear to their friends when they were nine or let them watch Leprechaun when they were ten. They were slender and sweet, wore their hair in high ponytails with big bows, and the boys thought they were cute. Their parents budgeted for the bills first, so the electricity and water never got cut off. Their moms taught them to apply makeup and talk to boys they liked… and somehow, it seemed they all drove minivans.
You also don’t walk around the block for an hour to repeatedly pass by the boy you like, when he’s outside playing basketball.
As I got older, the minivan association morphed from a symbol of the ideal childhood to that of an ideal adulthood. My southern suburbia was particularly known for its Nicholas Sparks-esque young marriages, right down to the dysfunction and drama, minus the geese.
While I was far from the only 23-year-old divorcee in Shetland, there existed many more young marriages, between high school and college sweethearts. I’d like to assume at least a few were and are still happy. Though I’m no longer active on social media, I’ll never forget the time in my life when I thumbed through the profiles of my old classmates with envy. All those years, they told me my middle and high school bullies would amount to nothing and the Mean Girls were posting photos of grand Southern weddings to oilfield men, who paid for the degrees they’d never use after having babies immediately upon graduation. They bought cookie cutter McMansions in gated communities, carried Coach purses, outfitted their baby boys in Air Jordans, and drove minivans... all while I struggled to keep my head above water, massively overweight, living off of financial aid in a seedy motel after another eviction, while my ex swore he had paid the rent with money from the job he swore he actually worked. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
My senior year of college saw a miscarriage, my first year of grad school a divorce, while I worked two jobs substitute teaching and cleaning rec equipment at the local community center… and things started to get better. I moved into a comfortable apartment, where my ex could no longer sneak in and steal things to sell. I met the young men I was so close to in my early twenties, along with Niki, who plays DnD with Jake and I to this very day. I started working for the library system, while continuing to substitute teach and earn my graduate degree. Life was better… safer. I cultivated hobbies, lost a lot of weight, learned to dress and apply makeup. I dated on and off, as I recovered from the trauma of my first and only relationship and tried to decipher whether or not I wanted another. I worked on my credit and learned to manage my money. I grew into someone I liked, someone I wanted to be… but I still felt so far behind the classmates who’d graduated alongside me just six or seven years earlier. They were only in their early to mid-twenties, but they’d finished school, were presumably happily married, bought homes, had babies… and many of them drove minivans.
Ten years later, I of course realize how valuable those single girl years were for me. While the ages of 18-23 exist in something of a fog of memory I rarely allow to clear, 23-27 were the years those should have been. I learned to take care of and depend on myself, mentally, physically, and financially. After a near lifetime of feeling less than, I started to value and respect myself, acknowledge that the only one who had any right to decide I wasn’t worthy of more was me. I could be smart, successful, cute, funny. I could be a happily single respected academic who was really great at crafts, a worldly traveler and career woman who relocated every five years… or I could earn the minivan life I’d so envied at different times. It wasn’t about proving myself… okay, it wasn’t just about proving myself, but choosing the path I wanted, regardless of who my parents were, how I’d grown up, who I was in high school, the mistakes I’d made as a young adult. I finally realized that none of that actually mattered when it came to shaping my future. I had a right to any life for which I was willing to put in the work. I could leave the past in the past.
I’d never put much thought into what a minivan said to or about me today. It was just the obvious choice until people seemed to expect negative feelings on the subject. To them, buying a minivan meant becoming their parents with their socks and sandals, little league coaching jobs, mom jeans, and pumpkin spice. When I thought about it, it meant surpassing mine. It meant finally having the life I know my mother always wanted and was never quite able to grasp, the life my dad looks back on and wishes he’d valued more. Just as I could have been the academic, the career woman, being a Minivan Mom is an accomplishment worthy of celebration for me. Perhaps others look on and see the pretention and falsehood of middle class suburban white folks. That’s fine and I take no offense, because I wasn’t always in that class.
Twenty-five years ago, I was the the smelly kid with social and behavioral issues. Twenty years ago, I was the fat nerdy girl in overalls and a turtleneck. Fifteen years ago, I was mourning the house fire my ex started, killing all of my pets. Fourteen years ago, I was evicted in the middle of an ice storm, staying with in-laws I didn’t like until we could get into the aforementioned motel. Thirteen years ago, I was conflicted over how to feel about the miscarriage of a child that would have tied me to a sociopath forever. Twelve years ago, I was filing for divorce during my first year of grad school, wondering if I’d ever have the life I’d wanted… if that was even still the life I wanted.
After ten years in a successful career, I spend my days making grocery runs, attending library storytimes, and having dance parties with the baby girls who will never be neglected into outsider status, knowing that one day I’ll be the career mom once again. I’m happily married to a man who’s never known what it feels like to be ostracized, yet handles me with care when I feel left out. I host bi-weekly game nights with good friends and feel included with my in-laws and Jake’s high school buddies when we visit. I fit in and I’m happy. I’ve transcended. These are the best days of my life so far and unrelated or not… I drive a minivan.