As my family of five, plus my husband’s parents, pile into our 2010 minivan to rumble down the Washington, D.C. Beltway to watch my youngest child graduate from high school, I can’t help but think of all the travels that this van and I have gone on together. So much of our lives are lived in our vehicles and in many ways what we drive reflects our current stage of life. I still remember how excited I was to trade in our original van for this one. Van #1 was the van we bought when our car couldn’t fit three car seats across the back seat. I loved the luxury of the van’s spaciousness (the kids’ seats didn’t have to touch!) and looked forward to the adventures of the baby and toddler years. Despite my attempts to keep it “nice,” van #1 was eventually the victim of child snack accidents, car sickness, melted crayons and the general mayhem of three kids in five years. I have no doubt that at some point its next owners found smashed french fries and cracker crumbs lurking in its crevices.
So when van #2 entered our lives, I was delighted and enthralled to usher in the high school years with a shiny new van. 2010 was the year my oldest began high school and I stuck on his new high school’s window sticker with pride and anticipation. This was the van that would witness high school: football games, concerts, and dances! Bring it on! And for the next eight years, it did.
My two youngest eventually attended the same high school and the ensuing years were full of carpools, concerts, plays, clubs, practices, games, back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences. This van saw it all, and heard it, too. Parents of teens will tell you that drives alone with your kids are when some of your best conversations happen and simply listening to the kids talking in the backseat of your car will tell you more about their daily life than any direct questions and answers. The van carried us through high school triumphs and frustrations, both big and small, and before I knew it, our trusty van was now carrying us to college visits and commencement ceremonies. The van was stuffed to the brink on my oldest child’s college move-in day and yet impossibly managed to hold even more cargo on move-out day. Two college logo stickers are now sharing space with the fraying high school sticker on the back window, bringing us to today’s final high school celebration.
Celebration it is of course, but bittersweet. In addition to my children’s passing childhood, this van also carried me through very sad moments of my life. While one of the first family trips in the new van in 2010 was my annual summer trip up to my parents with the kids, by 2013 my mother was gone and then by 2014, my father was gone too and my childhood home was a place to visit in memory only. At this time of year, I still feel the pull to load the kids in the van and hit the road to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, with nearby Hersheypark and my father’s favorite local strawberry-picking fields.
Family vacations, trips with our two dogs, and transporting kids to/from college keep our van in use but not on a daily basis. As my two oldest went off to college, I got a new small black SUV for my daily driving. With only one kid at home, a seven-passenger minivan was overkill. After 17 years of driving a minivan, I love my car and feel like it represents the new stage of my life just as my van represented my child-rearing years. I love the ease of driving a sporty car with the thrill of the sky-roof open and my choice of music playing. I envision empty-nest dinner dates and getaway trips with my husband. I see myself emerging from my car dressed professionally and pursuing new career ambitions. In short, I see myself as an individual ready for a new chapter in life. As Mazda used to say “zoom zoom!”
The van, however, remains in the driveway, gassed up and ready to go whenever it is called into service. My SUV may be fun to drive but it can’t fit all five of us into its interior and it doesn’t stand a chance of being able to contain the contents of a college apartment. Like parenting young adults, the van may not be needed on a daily basis but it is still very important for the long haul. Eight years brought lots of mileage, journeys both happy and sad, and some dents that can never be fully repaired. But my van and I are still ready, willing and able to support the dreams of three kids, now young adults, by transporting them wherever their hearts and lives take them. So thank you, van, for getting my family wherever we needed to go for the last eight years. And thank you, most of all, for the memories contained in your doors