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Sunday, April 27, 2014

V is for Van -- as in why I love my mini-van

I spend more time in it than anything else. It’s not my favorite pair of jeans or boots or even my bra. It’s the clunky hunk of metal in my driveway. My miraculous mini-van. Miraculous may be a stretch for a car I once turned my nose up at, but it does so many things, serves so many purposes in my life that in a way it is miraculous.

April is always the month I associate with my mini-van because that’s when it entered my life and it’s also when it will leave -- once my lease is up. It seems like only yesterday when its shiny blue exterior beckoned me from the dealership lot. In a previous life I might have said it was taunting me, however this was the second mini-van I was to own and I had long ago resigned myself to its elephant like exterior, sliding doors and soccer mom connotations. After all, I do drive my kids to soccer in it.

Surprisingly, my mini-van has become more than my ride. It’s my home away from home. Sometimes it’s even my sanctuary. I will admit to hiding out in my van waiting for some random child of mine to get out of a class or sporting practice and enjoying my twenty minutes of alone time. It’s my chance to chill out and enjoy the music piping through  the excellent stereo system with its array of satellite choices from 80’s nostalgia to coffee house, my own personal DJ at my fingertips. Or I might turn the radio off entirely and recline back in my heated seat and close my eyes – silent bliss.  Occasionally it’s a bunch of celebrity gossip magazines or a good book that make for a mini-getaway in the mini. And if I don’t want anyone to interrupt my precious few minutes of me time, I can even confine myself to the second or third row where tinted windows are the ultimate privacy screens.

Alas, a fashion statement the mini is not. I recently went to a party in Manhattan and parked the old sliding door sanctuary in a parking garage. As I drove into its cement trenches, gleaming Mini-Coopers, Mercedes-Benz, and Porches immediately greeted me. I felt like an outcast. Unlike the Mini-Cooper, my mini seemed anything but mini in a NYC parking garage. I swear the parking attendant looked offended that I actually wanted to park in his garage. Worse was waiting on the pick-up line hours later. One by one the parking attendant pulled up in shiny hybrids, fancy sedans, even a Rolls. And then my mini. It suddenly felt like I was wearing sneakers with an evening gown. It reminded of the bumper sticker I recently saw on the back of a mini-van driven by a fashion forward Mom, ‘I am not what I drive’. What’s wrong with looking like you might drive a mini-van?

Not many years ago I worked in advertising and my largest client happened to be a luxury carmaker that did not manufacture any mini-vans. Instead they had stylish SUV’s and crossovers. There was many a meeting I sat through where we discussed how to attract soccer moms to our luxury SUV or crossover. However, it was always stressed that said SUV did not resemble a mini-van in any photography and all copy reinforced its off-road, fun to drive attributes and not schlepping kids around. We were essentially targeting ‘soccer moms’ who didn’t want to look like ‘soccer moms’. Most women I know are not running around sporting sun visors with whistles around their necks, but in their book even if she was wearing Prada heels, if she was driving a mini-van she looked like a soccer mom.

For many years I couldn’t escape this luxury carmaker’s definition of what a soccer mom looked like and I didn’t want to be her. So I got a gas guzzling SUV instead, which happens to also have room for lots of kids, friends of kids, and stray kids and the possibility of taking an off-road adventure because there’s so many opportunities for that during carpool. In addition to gas prices rising, I felt like I needed a stepstool to reach the seatbelt to strap my kids in their car seats and was always worried some kid was going chop their finger off slamming shut the heavy metal doors. Suddenly the mini-van didn’t seem so bad. 

And it didn’t lead to an identity crisis. In fact it reinforced who I am. A mom in heels going to soccer or ballet or a club in the city. So now I embrace my behemoth of a car and rejoice over the two televisions that keep kids busy on long trips, numerous coffee cup holders, and storage for everything from book bags to video games. It might not get me any hot dates, but I will ride it into the sunset -- at least until next April when another miraculous mini-van will take its place.

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