For more years than I care to count and long before these vehicles became a punchline of suburban motherhood, I drove a conversion van. It was big. Very big. And white. Windows the size of portholes. Insides the gray of intestines. Ugly as an inflamed bunion.
But it got the job done. Never fashionable, it proved the best way to transport five children and their equipment: bookbags, sports gear and the occasional friend. But it took up two parking spaces and the red flower I tied to its antenna looked like the period in an exclamation mark.
The van’s maiden voyage was cross-country, from Florida to California. Thieves broke into it in San Diego’s Old Town, and stole the children’s piggy bank, which put a damper on the vacation. Sibling squabbles did the rest. We couldn’t drive home fast enough — and the van, bless its eight-cylinder engine, trotted back as obediently as a pack mule.
Over time, it developed rust spots. Food stained the upholstery and air fresheners didn’t stand a chance against the funky smell that permeated everything, a bouquet of boy sweat, dirty sneakers, humidity and older sister perfume. As the children grew older and the van matured, the dang thing became as embarrassing as the woman who drove it. To pick up my daughter in middle school, I had to park two blocks away to ensure she wasn’t seen associating with something so…so…mortifyingly square.
I kept that van forever and a day. It coughed its last in front of the neighborhood high school one day and the mechanic declared it dead on arrival. I cried. So many sweet memories roosted in its chassis. Then I swore I wouldn’t drive another van again.
But here’s the thing about such sweeping proclamations. You always live long enough to eat your words.
I’ve just bought a minivan. It is big, though not as big as my first. It is gray. Windows the size of portholes. The inside? A brown labeled biscuit. And surprise, surprise, its sliding doors and folding seats are wonders to behold. I’ve nicknamed it The Gray Goose. (No, there’s no vodka in any of its many storage nooks.)
The Hubby claims I will come to rue the day we bought it. Think of the gas mileage, he argues. Think of the size. Think of where you will park.
I have, I have. But I bought this van for the same reason I owned the last monstrosity: children. I now have six granddaughters. They live nearby. I want a vehicle to ferry them — all of them — wherever and whenever I want. My last mode of transportation could only take two car seats.
No, a minivan is not glamorous. It’s not the kind of car whose picture you’d post on Facebook as a sign of your professional success. But while driving The Gray Goose, I envision myself as the Abuela Duck, guiding her little ducklings around to adventures. The park. The library. A play. All those small, indescribable pleasures that come from hanging out together with the people you love.
Eventually The Gray Goose will weather its first dent. It will develop a smell, adopt a stain. Eventually, too, the girls will grow too embarrassed to be seen with a woman who wears sensible shoes and sings aloud even though she can’t carry a tune. Eventually.
For now, though, The Gray Goose allows for possibilities, opportunities. At this stage in my life, that’s all I want: second chances.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.