My life was a whole lot different 106,000-something miles ago.
New baby meant two children to get where they needed to be safely and securely. And, although the songs on the radio may have changed in the past 10 years, my minivan still remains a constant family friend and part of me, no matter what tune is playing.
I got it on my 32nd birthday. It was the same shade of a deep blue sparkly companion I knew as a banana seated bicycle many years prior. Everything felt right about buying it. I never doubted the purchase or had any buyer remorse. It was official. I was continuing my role as mom and I had a lot of road ahead of me. I was ready.
Traded in a smaller sedan and found myself with so much happy space. I was amazed at how much room there was when I test drove it. Between the two front seats felt like a ballroom dance floor compared to my trade. The price was right and within an hour of walking into the dealership, several glossy papers stated I was leaving with it too. It seemed vitally necessary—a right of passage. I’d finally grown up and had the kids to take places—and we were going places.

Part of the family
It has become a part of the family. It has aged and knows what it has been through, albeit completely adorned with all the markings of one terrible driver. I raise my hand on the healthy dent in the rear door the first week I had it, close encounters with a herd of deer, way too many aviary incidents, and the occasional, sudden, hazardous pulling over to rescue a roadside turtle. Sprinkle in a few nicks from kids’ scooters in the garage, stray dings from shopping carts at large, and the weirdly obscure needle scratches from a Balsam fir of Christmas past. There’s still a petrified fry from 2010 in the door gear chain mechanism that slides the door open and shut. How do I know it was a good six years ago? Our kids were 11 and 4 at the time, tantrum-y and slobs. Enough said.
There’s a nice four-inch slash in the middle seat that boldly announces a scar from ice skates, something god-awful sticky in the rear cup holder I’m sure I’ll never get out, and black marks on the ceiling that denote we had it completely filled to the roof at some point or someone had a permanent marker way too long. Random chipped windshield specks replaced and repaired, strange ghost-like electrical window malfunctions which all had been inspected and repaired. Four sets of new tires and a few hundred oil changes. State park pass emblem in the left corner window every year.
If you’ve seen us, we’re a Kiel Raider family purple sticker set complete with dog and cat. I identify myself by this blue lug of a vehicle my husband and I coined “The Bus” because it really does get us and everything where we need to be. Not exactly in luxurious sophistication with a sexy style, but it’s trusted and reliable. Seating for seven? Absolutely! I have the Manitowoc County Hockey Ice Breakers sticker on the back as of last season just to reaffirm we’re that type of family, the ones happily carpooling and caravanning.
A small basket net in the middle of my two captains chairs will tell you who I am in two seconds. Always a bottle of water if not a whole case in the back, tissues, umbrella, random CDs from everything ‘80s monster ballads, Christian rock music, my father’s polka recordings, two flashlights, pens, paper, granola bars, and spare set of socks. The socks are because sometimes the kids would find a jumping castle or bounce house which inevitably only allowed socked feet; thus, mom is prepared. I still carry around the Safe Assured Identification disks we did for our daughters in case they became lost I would have the data and a small disk to give to local law enforcement to identify their voices, images and mannerisms. Those stay under the passenger seat drawer. They have never moved.

Multiple tasks accomplished
It has carried me through every job in the past 10 years. Back when I was this or that, getting lost in the twist and turns of far-away places, finding big cities to swallow me up, or parading me through the small towns while heading back home. Been shoveled out of snow banks, been pushed out of ditches. Steered myself out of slippery situations more than once, got myself in and out of the traffic of life more times than my odometer can count.
Blazing a trail to a story.
Getting my story distributed.
Getting myself distributed.
Dispersing my family.
Collecting my family.
Daddy plays bass, momma plays her drum set, and little kids fit right in there. Strategy and skill and condensed equipment was the name of that game one particular day a few years ago. I remember one very busy, equally crazy occasion where Jon and I had a small musical performance to do in southern Ozaukee County. Just so happened the same day our oldest daughter would be playing soccer in a field not too far from our show. Gas being around $4 a gallon at that time, we opted to take one vehicle and all our gear. Occasionally the kids get lumped into the term gear.
We did it—got the whole five piece drum set, upright bass, amp, gig bags, kids, soccer gear and our human existence in the minivan. Started it up, headed out early and took off for the day. As I recall, soccer first, then show, then a friend’s house by evening for a graduation party. Used the money we made on the show for gas and cash gift right into the pre-bought card. I was super organized. It helped to have this house on wheels.
This is the hauler. Not exactly a lot of things one might opt to spend 60 monthly payments on, but it has been and still is the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. Protector from the rain, blizzards and elemental Wisconsin moments/days/weeks/years. Scorching summer sun? Park it under a shade tree, open up both sliding side doors and we’re having a picnic.

A memorable day in School Hill
I particularly loved one School Hill baseball game when a friend and I placed our minivans side by side with the sliding doors open so our kids could play (and jump) between the vans. With the sudden burst of rain from looming storm clouds, we felt sheltered and safe from the storm. I’ve always loved small spaces and the feeling of protection from the elements. At that moment I loved my van. I was only one year in then.
This summer we’ll throw in another blanket for spontaneous picnics and the small cloth tote full of golf disks for throwing, a lawn chair and a good book. Drive-in movie night means we’ll take out the back seat and place it on the ground under the open elevated back door. Stow and go’ers cannot do this trick. I am pleased to have the basic model vehicle that has so many laborious options.
Our kids loved it when we’d take out the middle row seats. That way we could have a feast inside, or just have that space for the cooler and easier access to the food bags and baby wipes. Back in the days when both kids sat in the back row together lovingly like cupids looking through books, and being great kids, this space was a great element to our driving time. It gave them their own world with little ability to hear adult conversations from up in front.
Of course 30 miles later, they’d hate one another. The divider pillow had then been installed and we’d all have a few recognizable statements to share in the van. “She’s touching me,” “She’s looking at my magazine, tell her to stop it,” “Keep your hands to yourself” and then of course the look from a husband stating non verbally, “I’m turning this thing around, that’s it, we’re going home.” I got smarter that trip and just had the older one sit copilot up front with dad. “Here, help dad with the map and tolls,” I told her and sat with the little one. Little one always wanted to hold my hand anyway. I loved that.

A great trip to Door County
I can say the best trip was last summer going to Door County and boarding the van on a ferry to Washington Island and then leaving it in a lot to board another boat to Rock Island. I remember feeling odd leaving it there; it was like it was supposed to come along with us but autos are not allowed on Rock Island at all. It was a great road/hiking trip. The kids still talk about that vacation and want to go again.
It has been with us through our ages. It’s all my soon-to-be 10-year-old has ever known as her mother’s car. We’ve finally removed the caked-on, sun- baked, smeared banana goo off the window where her child seat used to reside. I remember the day she was old enough to be in the front seat. That was strange for me, but a milestone for her. She smiled the whole way; don’t recall the destination. Now, she’s my copilot navigating my smart phone map app for me while I drive.
And although one of my daughters no longer needs my chauffeur services or my lectures while driving or my human existence for most things lately, I’m sure she appreciates the transportation services I provided for her previous birthday party outings with several of her giggly friends. Last year, she learned how to drive the van because a strong young female should know how to do such things. She does not get to use my van, however, because an educated wise mother should not allow such things.
So, I imagine this is my version of my mother’s generation station wagon of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I grew up in two of those. One was green and then she got a red one. Both cars I was allowed to sit up front on a pillow so I could see over the dashboard. Different times then. Certainly my mother was also a mom on a mission getting my brother and me where we needed to go. Dad had this terrible orange and black cargo-like van. I’ve been told this was super cool back in the day. They had their own gear to haul too.

The beginning of the end
So how much can one woman lament about her minivan? Because I do feel a slow sorrowful mourning passing over us as we decide to move on. I should be grateful more often then I have in the past. I’ve place my naked feet up on the dash so many times as my husband would drive us on longer trips to see family or adventures with our daughters. I’ve piled everything and everyone in so many times. It has been convertible, as I’ve contorted it into so many things for so many reasons. I’m emotionally tied to it and my wheels are spinning about the future.
It’s going to be hard to say good-bye when the time comes. I know I’ll cry. It’s almost like letting go of all the memories and walking away. I won’t be able to look back at it in the lot when we do trade it in. It’ll be a difficult day. I’m not ready, but I feel the slow yearning for a new change. This could be the end of my mommy-dom years, my got-to-haul-the-kids-and-all- their-crap years. It would be an end to a safety net. Picking up a new dishwasher at the hardware store? Should we fit in a new storm door too? Just strap it to the hood. We got the bus! Are we really buying kayaks today? Camping all weekend up north in the wilderness you say? Hmmm...I’ll sleep in the van.
Next stop? Not too sure what lies on the road ahead. Perhaps now is a good time for a mid-life crises. I say bring on the real convertible! Perhaps SUV? It’s a Jeep thing lately for my husband, but I’m the one who is trading in her life here—at least another 10-year jaunt with something equally trustworthy. Do I go for reliable again? I feel so much pressure. Been looking at cars, mostly all or four-wheel drive—something with oomph and power in Wisconsin because our snow is horrifying and I’ll still need to get myself where I need to be, I’ll still have gear, perhaps grandchildren in the next decade. They may have to share space with my drum set, but they’ll live. As long as the banana goo stays on the windows, everyone will be OK.
It’s still a piece of me, my family and overall my life as it is right now. One more year? Possibly. I see all the newer vehicles out there that I want, but I don’t really need. I’m in no hurry for another loan. I’m in no hurry to move on just yet. Pretty sure nothing could really replace what I’ve had all these years. Pretty sure nothing could even come close.
So, I keep putting the miles on, another 20 today, another 200 by Monday. Another 1,000-plus after hockey season practices this fall, but they’re mine, all mine and I’m proud of those miles—every one of them.
Because I know how they got there.
And, I’m still along for the ride.