By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
Women across the globe will squeeze into their size 2 pair of skinny jeans and 6-inch Manolo
Blahniks the way they’ll squeeze into their chic but snug GMC Acadias…making my oh-so roomy and comfortable minivan the equivalent of post-Thanksgiving day sweatpants.
I’m not sure what possessed us to buy a minivan. Actually, that’s not true. My husband and I had just moved to the suburbs 3 days earlier with my 21-month-old son and 2-week-old daughter, my former NYC neighbor had just bought one when she moved to Westchester and my brother in Pennsylvania owned one. I thought I was embracing my new suburban identity with gusto… nose diving into the Tri-State Area deep end, if you will, along with a Costco membership, landscaper, gutter cleaner, exterminator, plumber, roofer, electrician and garage door repairman. Goodbye to my doorman and super, goodbye to my difficult-to-fold-Bugaboo, goodbye to street corner puddles and small supermarket aisles. I was about to become a carpool driving soccer mom! Bring it on!
So I didn’t notice when an old friend who had been living in my new hometown for a few years made a bit of a face when I told her how my husband and I bee-lined for the Toyota dealership after suffering in suburbia with only one car for 2 days. I turned a deaf ear to the faint “tsk tsk tsk” and subliminal “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” as she climbed aboard her huge black SUV. Everyone I knew who owned a minivan (all two of them) loved theirs. After all, what other car made sense?! And for the first several months that I lived in my new suburban town, none did. I loved the automatic doors, opening them up with the key fob from 60 feet away and snapping the Snugride back into its base in one full swoop. I loved that my entire immediate family and my in-laws were able to pack into just one car when going places. And I truly appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to cringe about denting the car next to me with wide-swinging doors when getting the kids into and out of their car seats.
But eventually, the buyer’s remorse set in almost as fast as the new-car-smell wore off. First, my husband dented the side of the front bumper when pulling the monstrosity out of our narrow garage the 1st time he drove it. I had about 50 heart attacks about fingers getting chopped off once my son learned how to open and shut the automatic doors. And it would be all too easy to pull out of the garage with the door still open (my friend actually did that and the whole door got torn off)! As for the run-flat tires the dealership raved about? Let’s just say they caused the air pressure light to go on basically every other day, leading to countless unnecessary trips to every Midas in a five-mile radius. But what really had me second-guessing my purchase was the preschool parking lot.
Not unlike the original opening sequence to the TV show “Weeds”, black SUV after black SUV would enter the carpool line at my children’s preschool with an occasional sedan (often the nanny’s car) or a white SUV sprinkled in for good measure. The same 5 brands of cars peppered the parking lot to the point where even my 4-year-old started seeing the pattern emerge: GMC, Mercedes, Buick, oh my! We were now living in some alternative universe where a Buick and a Lincoln were actually much, much cooler than a Toyota could ever hope to be.
Sure, I wasn’t the only one who owned a minivan in my town, but I was the only one of us who had only 2 children. People tended to forgive the minivanning moms who had at least 3 kids to chauffeur around. As it turned out, I tended to genuinely like all of the moms who drove this practical vehicle and our shared taste in automobiles actually seemed to bond us in friendship almost instantaneously. We minivanning moms were basically in our own little club and we’d try to recruit new members by singing the van’s praises every chance we got: ‘It has sooo much room!’ ‘You have a full sized trunk even with the 3rd row up!’ ‘I’ll totally drive your kid to soccer – as well as 6 of his friends!’
But for better or worse, my minivan gave me an identity before I even entered a room. It was the world’s largest (and most embarrassing) accessory. I’d try and convince myself that the space, comfort and practicality of the minivan far outweighed the uncool factor. I’d berate myself for not having the self-confidence to know that my car did not define me. I tried to drive it like a badge of honor, as a non-conformist who stood her ground and didn’t cave into the peer pressure of brand-name car obsession. And I figured, as long as I stepped out of the van wearing lululemon, Prada sunglasses or a Burberry raincoat, I could actually come off as the pinnacle of self-assuredness – it was like saying to the world, “even a dork-mobile like this couldn’t negate how cool I actually am.” It’d be like wearing flats instead of heels or no makeup at drop-off and still looking totally fabulous. But it never seemed to work out that way. Stepping out of that van was more like stepping into 1982 wearing mom jeans.
I realized I had major issues when I started taking it as a legitimate compliment each and every time my son or one of his friends told me that I had the coolest car ever (and to a 4-year-old, a minivan is pretty freaking awesome). I’d feel a sense of relief seeing it parked in the driveway on TV’s Modern Family (oh wait, they have 3 kids on that show, dammit!).
I talk about my stint with the minivan as if it’s now history but alas it’s not. And we bought the darn vehicle so it’s not like we have a lease expiration date to look forward to. I tell myself (and others) that I might have a 3rd child and that doing so will somehow justify this choice in transportation. But whether or not that comes to be, I’ll focus on the positive – on all the reasons I originally thought of the minivan as a no-brainer when buying our second family car. And the things is – it is a good car – strike that – a great car that keeps my family safe and has a whole lot of room for love, happy memories, tons of crushed Cheerios you’d never find in my friends’ gorgeous SUVs…and of course, my son’s entire soccer team.