Mama Madison: Take me ridin' in the van, van

Does your ride say something about you as a parent?

Just a few weeks back, the New York Times ran a story that posed, what seemed to me, a pretty innocuous question: Could the modern minivan ever be recast as cool ? Yet, in the course of two days, the article received over 200 strongly worded comments on-line. Sure, I totally understand why public breast-feeding, "Tiger mothering" and attachment parenting might be controversial in some circles. But driving a minivan? Is this really a major philosophical divide among parents?

My brief personal journey to van ownership commenced in the spring of 2002. Up until that time my family had grown quite attached to the used Subaru wagon we had purchased the very week we moved to Wisconsin, some four years earlier. The car was sporty, outdoorsy and serious of purpose - some of the qualities I admired most in my new Madison neighbors. And, to be honest, so many of them drove the exact same dark green model I was pretty sure Legacy ownership must have been written into the Regent Neighborhood Association by-laws.

But in my 38th week of pregnancy with child number three, it dawned on my husband and I that perhaps we should check if a third car seat could be strapped safely across the back. Always up for a challenge, he got to work and with the grace and ferocity of an Australian crocodile hunter managed to wrestle the trio into the back seat. Sure, it took a full 30 minutes, but he had won"until we tried to close the doors. It wasn't going to happen. Yet another watershed moment in parenting had been reached; we were going minivan. And we were going to have to go quickly"I was starting to have Braxton Hicks contractions.

The next morning we headed over to the car dealership where, for the first time in my life, I squeezed behind the driver's seat of a minivan. It felt great for many practical, rational reasons: lots of room, automatic sliding doors, and a five star crash test rating. But it also felt good emotionally. I was ready to embrace everything van ownership might say about my "personal brand." I was about to be a mom of three.

I was safe and responsible and not ashamed to admit I wanted room in the back for diapers, wipes and a double stroller. I wasn't worried about losing my last shred of "cool"; just a bit worried about losing the car in the parking lot of Target. My gosh, there are a lot of silver Odysseys out there. Three weeks later, driving comfortably home from the hospital with all three strapped in, two in plush captain's chairs, I knew it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

But alas, the van went down like the Titanic in the winter of 2008. She fell victim to the iceberg that had amassed in the apron of our driveway. Lazy shoveling is not without consequence. We didn't replace her with another van but instead a Honda Pilot. After all, we were done with strollers and down to just one car seat. The kids were getting older and could easily get in and out of the car by themselves. It was time to embark on a new kind of Odyssey. And perhaps time to give sporty another chance.

Do you think your ride says something important about you as a parent? Care to join in the authoring of the minivan manifesto?

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