How I learned to stop worrying and love my minivan.
In the life of a parent, the smallest things often make for the biggest milestones—the ghostly wiggle on a first ultrasound, a baby’s first laugh, the farewell of a kindergartner on her way to school.
Sometimes, however, parental milestones are all about buying stuff.
And so it was for me, six years ago after the birth of my second child, when it became clear that the time had come to trade my single guy car—an aerodynamic, two-door Saab 900—for something with sliding side doors, dual-side airbags and a third row of seats.
It was time, in short, for a minivan. I knew it was the right choice. A minivan meant practicality, safety, comfort.
But a minivan also meant something else entirely. A minivan meant surrender. Men in minivans had settled completely into reliable, neutered domesticity.
Ads for minivans featured fluffy golden retrievers and kids in spotless soccer uniforms. No one mentioned performance or horsepower. It was all about cup holders. Raved one testimonial for the Honda Odyssey: “The 17 cup holders embarrass the competition.”
My own Odyssey was described as granite green. It was only after I took it home and peeled off the dealership stickers that I realized how I’d been misled. The granite part was right. But there was nothing green about it. My minivan was grey. It was the exact color of a tombstone.
Life as I knew it was over. I had no idea what came next, but I feared it involved a lot more History Channel, Home Depot and Ben Gay. I knew I was being silly, but I couldn’t help it. I spent the next few weeks searching for a custom shop that would paint yellow and turquoise racing stripes from one bumper to the other.
Somehow, I thought all my anxiety would vanish the moment a stranger mistook my minivan for a Hot Wheel that had been miraculously enlarged to life size.
I never did get those racing stripes, but I over time I came to terms with my minivan. it may have lacked style or oomph, but it was undeniably cushy. It was a rolling living room. Every once in a while, however, I was reminded how deeply uncool I’d become.
One morning idling at an intersection I found myself singing along to a song from the Shrek soundtrack. Throwing my head back in mid-wail, I looked over and noticed a young woman in the car next to me. Of course she was gorgeous. And of course her expression was one of complete and utter pity. Then she peeled away in, wouldn’t you know it, a convertible Saab 900.
One more kid and 80,000 miles later, my minivan was showing signs of wear and tear and, thanks to my kids’ charming habit of lodging sippy cups deep into the upholstery, had developed the permanent stench of rotten juice.
And so it came time for another milestone: the second minivan. This time, however, was altogether different. For one thing, the ads have changed. The groomed dogs and sweet kids are gone. The new Honda Odyssey campaign chugs along to an acid rock soundtrack and mimics the airbrushed ‘70 stoner van murals of warriors and wizards. The tagline: “Respect the van.”
The vans themselves have changed too. My old minivan was utilitarian on the inside and unassuming on the surface, with so many soft corners it looks like a giant lozenge. The new ones have blunted edges and aggressive, angry-eye headlights. Deluxe models come with V-6 engines, alloy wheels and speedometers that peak out at 160 miles per hour.
And the features are way cooler - new ones come with so many gadgets and gizmos you can pretend you’re doing the carpool in an advanced military transport. Last week I brought home a new model with lumbar support, GPS, XM radio, Bluetooth and a voice recognition system that lets me crank the air conditioner with a manly grunt.
Still, I’m not fooling anyone, least of all myself. No matter how sleek the styling or powerful the engine, I know it’s still a minivan. But you’d be amazed how easy it is to surrender with lumbar support.