There are moments that divide time, separating one part of your life from the next.
I just didn’t anticipate watching my minivan being driven to the back of a used car lot to be one of them.
That dark green Toyota Sienna had seen better days. One of the back windows was welded shut, the sliding door on the passenger side was so stuck we’d just stopped using it. It had its share of scratches and dings, including a big one on the back door where I backed out of the school parking lot after Open House one night and into a pole.
And it was starting to run neck-and-neck with the vet bills for our 10-year-old chocolate lab in costing us money.
Truth be told, I was barely willing to drive it anymore. Neither one of my teenage drivers wanted any part of it, either.
But I fought for the extra $500 on the trade-in with the salesman as if it was my most treasured possession. And it wasn’t until the service department worker drove it away that my stomach dropped a little, and I realized that it might have been more treasured than I gave it credit for.
Becoming a mini-van family is a milestone for many of us in the odyssey of parenting. You fight it for a long time, swear you won’t drive one, look for any other car that might work. Then you find yourself one day intrigued by the convenience of the sliding doors, the air conditioning, the mere fact that you can shuttle six kids at once, plus their backpacks, bag lunches and still have room for groceries in the back.
So you buy one. It quickly becomes more than a moving storehouse for your children, your stuff. It becomes a vehicle for your memories.
The rides to preschool, where your friend’s son becomes the first one to break it in by spilling a juice box on the seat the day after you got it.
The elementary school field trips and the treks to Girl Scout camp, transporting a load of preteen girls, their duffle bags, sleeping bags and their laughter for four solid hours.
Driving to Disneyland down Highway 5 at the crack of dawn, with the portable VCR/TV wedged between the captain’s chairs in the back seat, so there would be a movie to watch when the kids woke up and started asking ‘How much longer?’”
Soccer games, basketball practice, even the drop-off at the homecoming dance freshman year when the girls had to climb gingerly into the back in their dresses.
The seats and floors have been christened with crushed goldfish crackers and soda spills and other unmentionables (let’s just say there are people in my house who don’t like mountain roads and leave it at that). There might still be a petrified French fry or two under the seat.
There was a time in my life as a mother where everybody had one. The school parking lot was a caravan of boxy, utilitarian vehicles we’d all discovered we couldn’t live without.
But as you move through your life as a parent, the van becomes more and more empty, simply less relevant.
Your kids don’t need rides anymore. They drive their own cars to practice and games. Their friends don’t need rides either and no one has sat in the “way-back” bench seat for a very long time.
The van is tired, weary from service well-performed and a constantly churning odometer (180,000 miles and counting in this case).
The time had come. But what time exactly? Time for a nice sedan, sure. But also time to say goodbye to more than a minivan. Time to say goodbye to the life where you needed one.
I have one daughter who has finished her freshman year in college, a son who will soon begin his junior year in high school.
We are no longer a mini-van family.
So while I might not miss the worn-out van with itsrough-running engine and the carpet stains, I’m going to miss needing it. Going to miss the time in our lives that it represented.
I’ve joked that it’s off to a nice farm where it can run free with all the other vans. It’s probably off to an auction lot where somebody will get a bargain and squeeze a few thousand more miles out of it.
But nobody will squeeze more into it than we did.
Michelle McDonald is a Bay Area writer, wife, mother and serial volunteer who has settled quite nicely into her bronze four-door sedan with the two-tone interiorand ample trunk space.