Feb. 25, 2013 at 9:06 AM ET
Any mom can slap a sticker of a stick-figure family or an oval decal featuring her kid’s favorite sport on the back of her car. And if she’s got smarties, the bumper is the place to let the world know they made the honor roll.
Some women, though, go the extra mile in combining their love of motherhood and the never-ending driving it seems to require, affixing one-of-a-kind, mom-themed vanity license plates to their mom-mobiles.
With daughters ages 18, 14, and 12, and a 16-year-old son, Jennifer Hutchinson, a high school biology teacher from White Bear Lake, Minn., has been on the go for nearly two decades.
Her husband gave her the plate “GOMOMGO” back when she had only a 2-year-old and a newborn. “Heck yeah, I’m proud to be a mom,” Hutchinson remembers thinking when she received the gift.
The plate has become even more fitting as her family grew and grew up, with her children becoming increasingly involved in sports, theater, scouting, church groups and music lessons. It shows off Hutchinson’s top priorities - all four of them - and her pride in her ability to work and also be there for her kids as much as she can.
“Some people think working moms are selfish or absent,” she says, adding that she works out of financial necessity. “The plate describes my personality. The plate describes my commitment. I enjoy being a mom.”
Hutchinson, 40, leaves home each weekday morning at 5:30 for a nearly two-hour round-trip commute and spends many evenings shuttling her kids to various activities, sometimes not walking in the house until 8 p.m. Her busy weekend schedule sometimes includes driving several hours to pick up her daughter at college for a quick trip home.
“We have a running joke in the house that you can’t let the engine cool down because it’s just used to going all the time,” Hutchinson says. “Sometimes I just pull in the driveway, I honk the horn and they come out and the car does not get shut off.”
She does it all with a custom plate on her SUV that describes her life perfectly.
“My plate sets me apart,” Hutchinson adds. “It makes me kind of beam with pride that I have it and nobody else does.”
A vanity plate is like a “mobile tattoo,” a creative statement about how you see yourself, or want to be seen, says David Schlenoff, a psychologist for Baltimore County Public Schools who studies the psychology of vanity plates.
“A vanity license plate is a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which a person can project their self-perception,” he says.
While you can’t have a vanity plate without just a little bit of narcissism, Schlenoff says, mom plates are less ostentatious than ones that flaunt a lucrative career like “CPA” or show social status, like “AT LAST” on a Mercedes.
“That’s more showy and more in-your-face,” he says. Motherhood is “more an archetypal, universal phenomenon that carries with it a connotation of love, nurturing and family, everything that’s American and apple pie and good in the world.”
Back when Kim Weaver was carting around her sons and all of their baseball, football and basketball equipment, she chose “MY2BOYZ” to help justify her vehicle choice.
“I thought driving a minivan was kind of dorky,” says Weaver, 52, of Dublin, Ohio. “I’ve got two boys and basically, it’s like their taxi. It’s kind of like this is why I have this car.”
At 21 and 25, her sons are grown now, but Weaver remembers the days when she would drop them at school at 5:30 a.m. for weight training, and pick them up again once football practice was over.
Though her friends tease her a little because she has kept the plate for about 17 years, she can’t part with it. For her, it’s a constant reminder that her sons turned out right and that as a mom who was home with them, she was “pretty damn good at it.”
“They’re probably my greatest accomplishment, so why give it up now?” she says. “It’s like a badge of honor.”
Elizabeth Alaio is still in the thick of it, getting her children, 13- and 6-year-old daughters and a 10-year-old son, to school and activities like dance, cheerleading, football and soccer and religious class, all without carpools.
“My entire life is getting these kids up and off to school, to their activities,” says Alaio, 41, of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., who stays home with her children. “It’s a lot of time in the car.”
While looking for a vanity plate for her husband about three years ago, she typed in possible ideas for herself, and was stunned to find that “MOMOF3” was not taken.
“I’m like, this is a taxi and I should give it a proper name,” she says of her minivan. “I couldn’t believe it was available. I said, ‘I gotta have it.’”
Alaio’s kids won’t need rides to soccer games or dance class forever, but for now, her plate tells everyone around town when she’s coming or going, and fills her with motherly pride.
“It’s like my identity,” she says.