Making the jump to minivan speed Just do it now and get it over with by Bob Cook
photo courtesy of Bob Cook Jacqui and author Bob Cook with Grace, 5, Bobby, 7, and Ryan, 18 months, love their minvan.
A friend of mine told me he and his wife were expecting their first child. I was congratulatory. Then he told me he and his wife expected they would have to buy a new vehicle as a result. I was cruel.
"Well, you may as well just get the minivan now and be done with it."
He shot me a pained look, as if I had just rapid-fired a staple gun into his sternum. It was hard enough thinking about the major life changes being a parent would require. But the minivan?
Suddenly, my coworker had visions of himself no longer as a young up-and-comer. Instead, he pictured himself sitting on a lawn chair, holding a trickling hose and sipping a lemonade. In the vision, he was wearing bermuda shorts, black socks with stirrups and a plain white T-shirt and yelling at the neighbor kids to get off of his lawn.
Maybe I should have softened the blow by using the new, more exciting industry designation for a minivan, "crossover sport van." But then my friend would have wondered if he was supposed to drive it or enter it in a triathlon.
Really, I meant to be helpful, to show him that there's no need to be scared of the minivan. It's a lovely vehicle: sturdy, roomy, versatile and relatively fuel-efficient, at least compared to SUVs, whose market success comes mostly because so many people are afraid to buy the minivan but need more room than a sedan can offer. I love my minivan, although my wife would prefer upgrading to a model that at least has a second sliding door.
Of course, what I conveniently forgot in offering up the minivan was the fear and distaste I once felt for it. In fact, I didn't agree to buy one until a car wreck forced my hand.
After our first child, my wife and I felt no burning need to get a minivan, even though our Toyota Corolla was frequently filled past capacity with the baby's clothes, diapers, toys, monitors, portable crib, bouncy seat, activity center, walker and other miscellaneous and necessary supplies any first-time parent packs for a trip longer than a block.
When our second child was born, we still didn't budge, in part because that Corolla was too full for us to move.
The second car in our burgeoning family was my Bachelormobile, a red, almost circular 1990 Mazda 323 hatchback. It resembled a pimple about to pop, but I didn't care. I bought it after my college graduation-you could say it was a symbolic tie to my youth.
Really, though, I coveted the car because my wife only drives automatic-shifting cars, so I knew it would be the last stick-shift car I would own until my midlife crisis. I had replaced most of the major parts on it, and it had 137,000 miles on it. Now, all it was being used for was the four-mile round-trip between home and my train station.
In September 2000, it appeared to be just another commuting day. I sat at an intersection waiting for the red light to change. Suddenly, WHAM! I was thrust forward into the airbag-less steering wheel and bounced back into my seat. I had been hit from behind and sent into the bumper of an SUV, which flicked my little zitmobile back like a fly that had been swatted but not killed. It turned out the driver who hit me was a 16-year-old girl, mere weeks with a license, who decided she had to pick up a cell phone that was ringing on the floor of her car.
I was not hurt, but my pride was, because my wife and I knew we had to replace the Mazda with the minivan. We cried together over it, wondered how lame we had become that we were actively shopping for a minivan, and put some money down for a 1997 Mercury Villager.
And then, an amazing thing happened. We loved the van. We didn't have to smush everybody anymore. The van felt like a car, but we were higher up over the road for a better view. At intersections, we could see who was picking their nose without having to crane our heads in their direction.
Then my wife and I cried again-all the wasted years worrying about how a minivan would make us look uncool! We're parents-of course we look uncool!
Since then, we've added one more son, and the minivan has handled the addition quite well.
So it was as a friend that I told the new-parent-to-be to give in to the minivan. Ah well, I guess some things you have to learn for yourself.illustration by Marc Stopeck
Reader essays What could be better for summer than a little light reading about adventures in parenting-especially if the adventures and the problems have to do with other people's kids? Chicago Parent is lucky to have a wealth of talented parents who are not only readers of the magazine but are willing to take a moment and write for us as well. Each month, we receive a number of great essays and until now, we were limiting ourselves to printing but one of those essays a month. No more; we have decided to take a little more space and try to get our readers voices into the magazine more often. After all, this is your magazine. Why shouldn't it be filled with your voices? This month, we offer three great essays about: throwing the not-so-perfect birthday party; Hailley, the amazing entrepreneur, and her lemonade stand, and one man's battle with giving into the dreaded minivan.
Bob Cook is a writing raconteur, as much as a married guy with three kids, a dog, two fish and the aforementioned minivan can be. He's business editor at American Medical News, sports columnist for the online magazine Flak, a sports commentator for NPR's "All Things Considered," and a contributor to various other Web sites and alt-weeklies that would probably rather not be associated with someone so unhip.