The Minivan
Monday, November 16, 2009
I thought parenting was tough when the Odawg screamed with colic, days blending into 
nights with her one long wail.

I thought our biggest trial would be guiding our girl through that terrible beast of shyness.

I thought our darkest days were her sassy teenage years where sometimes I was certain 
I'd have a stroke trying to reason with an unreasonable, hormonal she-devil. 

Turns out, I didn't know crap. 

Little did I know those were our salad days. 

Life took a nosedive the day she got behind the wheel of a car. 

It was only then as she tried to navigate the mini-van through the streets of our small town,
that I realized we were coming to the darkest hour of the night.

I'm being kind when I say driving did not come naturally to her....unnaturally, either. 

I sat there in the passenger seat, trying to be calm, trying not to scream, "Dear God, We're 
going to die!" as she veered in and out of her lane, almost sideswiping the cars around her, 
all the while crying, "I don't know how to keep the car straight in the lane."

And the simple task of keeping the car straight was just the beginning. 

The rules of the road seemed to fly out of her head the minute she turned the key. She 
would try to turn left at red lights as I screamed, "STOP!" 

She almost ran down a pedestrian, once, insisting SHE had the right of way, as the homeless 
man scrambled out of our path, eyes as big as saucers while I screamed, "STOP!" 

She came within inches of smashing into a dear friend's car in the parking lot of that dear 
friend's grandma's funeral. As she gunned it, headed right towards their car full of grief-stricken 
family, I screamed, "STOP! STOP! STOP!" It's really embarrassing to herald your entrance to 
a funeral with a screeching skid and the smell of burning rubber as your daughter weeps, head 
on the steering wheel, "But, I thought I had the right of way!"

I finally gave up. My heart couldn't take anymore.

In the meantime, she enrolled in Driver's Ed at school. She got an A in the class, acing all 
the written tests. It was the actual driving that was the problem. She failed the driving test 
where she had to maneuver through the parking lot. 

She killed a pedestrian. Thankfully, it was a cardboard one.

I decided a driving instructor would be the answer, someone I could pay to get in a car 
with her. 

My Hubby scoffed at this idea. He said, "I'm not going to pay someone to do something 
I could do myself. How bad can she be?"

It took two lessons. She came in the house weeping. He walked in behind her, all pale and 
said. "Call the instructor."

The driving school assigned us a man named Lee. The first time Lee walked in our door, I 
wasn't sure if I should let him in my house much less in a car with my daughter. 

He had mutton-chop sideburns, a mouthful of brown teeth, the two front ones already absent
and a hatful of cornball jokes. I sat him down and politely began my interrogation. When I
expressed my concern over letting my girl drive alone in the car with him, he didn't hesitate in
his offer to have me along for the drive.

Lee was calm, even as she showed off her sideswiping cars technique. He handled her with 
a steady hand and voice. Not once did he flinch or scream. When she finished her first lesson, 
I complimented him on his natural ability with such a frightening driver. 

It was then he informed me, he'd driven a semi rig for over 30 years. 

I knew he was the man for the job. In all those years, I'm sure he'd been through some pretty 
hairy driving moments. Teaching my daughter would probably head the top of his list. 

Thanks to Lee, she finally stopped trying to mow people down, simply because technically, 
she had the "right of way, even though I told her that argument wouldn't cut the mustard when 
facing a manslaughter charge.

Thanks to Lee, she passed her driving test with flying colors. 

And that was when the real fun began. 

We had this old minivan. That van had served us well, through years of traveling. It had 
taken us faithfully over the mountains and through the woods. It had been through a few 
babies, several car seats, and millions of smashed up goldfish crackers. It was well-worn, 
to say the least.

She was none too happy to be driving a minivan. But, The Hubby and I both held a firm, 
agreed belief that we would NEVER buy our children a new car. That responsibility would 
fall to them, just like our first cars had been our financial obligation. And buying her own non 
minivan would be a stretch since she'd never held a job. Her heavy academic and extra-curricular 
load left her just enough allotted time to sleep. She was stuck with the minivan.

On her third day of driving that fine red machine, I answered the phone to her teary wail, "

It was a sound so filled with terror, I immediately screamed, "WHAT! WHAT, DEAR 

She'd had an accident in the school parking lot. She claimed the girl backed into her. I was 
a bit skeptical. Not that I thought she was lying, It's just that her,"But, I had the right of way!" 
insistence seemed to apply to every situation.

Her dad was able to hammer most of the dents out of the back of the van. The other girl didn't 
even tell her parents about the damage.  

I breathed a sigh of relief knowing we'd gotten the first car accident out of the way and no one 
was too worse for the wear.

Six days later the phone rang again on a day shrouded in drizzling rain, a day where the thought 
of my child behind the wheel knocked like an anvil on the base of my brain, filling me with 
worry the entire day. 

This time, the cries were harder. This time she said, "Mom, it's bad."

I rushed to her side after ensuring she wasn't injured. 

And it was . . . bad. 

Her driver's side door was crumpled in, the window smashed. The damage went all the way 
down the side of the van. The road was littered with hunks of metal and glass. I looked at that 
door, where my tiny daughter had been sitting just on the other side and felt sick. She had to 
crawl out of the passenger side. Her neck and back were already starting to throb. 

She was coming home from school. The exit from her school is a precarious one. Kids turning 
left face a heavy stream of oncoming traffic from both sides. It takes skill and in my opinion, a 
wealth of experience to execute that turn. 

Thankfully on most days, the school's police officer is there. 

On most days. 

Oftentimes, he's pulled away to deal with, the school's truants: the drug dealers, the fighters, 
and the bomb threateners who are really looking to just get out of their Chemistry Test. 

I would preach to the Odawg constantly that if Officer Alonzo wasn't guiding the traffic, to 
just take a right and find a place to turn around. 

On that day, she'd thought he was in position, directing traffic. When she got to the front of the 
line, she realized he wasn't there. Her panic took over. 

As she sat there, trying to gauge a safe moment to pull out, a car stopped to let her in. 

She told me through her tears, "Mom, I looked to the left and then to the right, but I forgot to 
look back to the left."

She pulled out directly into the path of a truck. 

Her guardian angels were there, setting the pieces of her destiny in place. That blessed, blessed 
driver of the truck was driving the school speed limit. Not everyone does. And if he hadn't been 
so law-abiding, my little slip of a daughter would most certainly have had to been pried from the wreckage. 

I thanked him. I also thanked the police officer who was the most compassionate policeman I 
have ever encountered. He calmed the Odawg and then told her he wasn't going to give her a 
ticket, because he could tell "she was a nice girl, who just made a mistake."

It was the most comfortable accident scene I've ever been involved in. Well . . . except for 
one, tiny thing. 

After I'd wrapped my arms around her and comforted her, I asked as casually as possible, 
"Um, has anyone stopped while you were out here?"

She shook her head no as she wept. 

Within minutes of my arrival, the Mom wagons were pulling up on all sides of us.

See, I know a few people in this town and I know there's always going to be somebody 
witnessing me doing something. I can't get away with ANYTHING around here. So much 
for trying to make a career as a drug dealer or a car thief or a prostitute. 

As the cars gathered, the Odawg realized the impact of my casual question. She looked up at 
me in horror and said, "Mom, please. Do you have to do this?" Like I called up all my friends  
to invite them to the scene of the car accident. 

My kids have had to learn, there's a price to be paid for being born from my womb. 

When her father got home that night he inspected the damage, walked straight into the house 
and gave her the fiercest hug I have ever seen him give. 

That didn't mean she was off the hook, though. We made her visit body shops and get 
estimates, something I don't even like doing. Mechanics shops are intimidating to women, 
especially when they start asking questions about actual car trouble. 

I always answer with a, "Um, I don't know what that part is called. I just call it a thingy." 
At which point, they sigh heavily and inspect the car themselves.

The estimates were more than the car's worth. We were about to send the minivan to the salvage 
yard in the sky when we met Rick.

Rick owned a repair shop. He took one look at the van and informed us he could find a door 
and get that thing in working condition for a fair price. 

When Odawg grumbled about the minivan's high mileage and how it might not be feasible to fix 
it, he pointed to his own truck and said, I swear to you Internet, "My truck's got 385,000 miles. 
I can keep you in that minivan for just as long, I promise you that."

Odawg was not thrilled.

Rick fixed the door. Granted, it looked like this. But, it was functional.

Odawg was not thrilled. She drove it for the rest of her school years. In that minivan, she learned
to be a driver. She learned to command the road keeping the path straight in her own lane. She l
earned the meanings behind the stop lights. She learned pedestrians always have the right of way,
no matter how much bigger your vehicle is. She learned the only way you can learn the skill of
driving, she drove and drove and drove. And that mini-van with the unmatched door and
automatic sliding doors stayed with her, her constant companion on the highways and byways.

And finally the day came when she commandeered those roads that had for too long intimidated 
her. She became a driver. She was confident and skilled and drove with the ease of someone who 
had been through the trenches and had found their way back. 

Her 18th birthday was looming and she had been accepted to her favorite college, many miles 
away from us. The interstate leading to that college is nicknamed The Death Highway, thanks 
to the ominous number of fatal accidents that happen on its twisting narrow roadways.

This fact weighed heavily on my heart and I didn't realize My Hubby was filled with the same 
worry until the day he said, "Let's go car shopping. You know, just to take a look around."

We wandered around for awhile checking out various cars, but none of them gave me any sense 
of security or peace of mind. I just kept thinking about that Death Highway. 

But, then we passed by a dealership and saw this, up on a pedestal. 

My Hubby whipped into the parking lot. We spoke to the salesman and decided to take a test drive.
The minute we hit the road in that tank, I felt a sense of peace wash over me and I thought, "Now,
she will be safe."

After much haggling, (My Hubby is the king of the Haggle), we bought an FJ cruiser for our 
girl, her 18th birthday present. 

Of course, we are who we are, so we couldn't just drive up with a big old bow attached to its 

I'd been hinting around for weeks that a car just might be in her future. I informed her it would 
be something used and sensible, perhaps another minivan. At the mention of a mom cruiser, the 
light would fade from her face and she would ask if there was anyway we'd consider anything, 
anything else. 

The day of her birthday, I took her up to the car dealership where I told her, her dad was waiting 
with her new car. She peppered me with questions the whole way up there, but I professed 

What she didn't know was, per my request, the salesman had pulled a car from the used car lot— 
one that had just been brought in— one that hadn't even been cleaned. 

What she didn't know was, I had been to the dealership earlier to deliver the giant bow for her 
new car and to inspect the car we were going to torment her with. The salesman had a 94 
Toyota Corolla for me. I took one look at that car and said, "This is too nice! I want a 

When we arrived the salesman had delivered a genuine crapbucket. Sitting up front was a filthy 
1982 Aerostar Van. The entire sales team was in on the joke. I brought her up to the car and 
her dad stood there with his video camera, yelling "Surprise!"

I thought my girl would burst into tears. She whispered, "Mom, this is nice and all, but I think I'll 
stay with my van. It's . . . you know, a lot better."

I muttered to her, "Your father has spent his time and money to buy you this car, the least you 
can do is appreciate his effort." 

We are such awful parents. 

I went on and on, showing her the keypad on the driver's side door with the numbers completely 
rubbed off. The salesman was at my side telling her they didn't have the combo, but they could 
get a new one. I showed her the mottled, filthy seats, rubbing my hand across them, telling her, 
"Feel how soft they are. Your leather seats are so hard. They're not soft like these babies!"

We insisted she sit down to get a feel for her new crapbucket. She sat down and jumped right 
back up, as the salespeople grouped around ooohing and ahhing, telling her how lucky she was 
to have parents who would buy her such a nice driving machine. I told her not to worry, they 
would probably be able to get the puke smell out of the interior and glue back the roof fabric 
hanging down so low, it touched our heads . 

Our salesman told us he'd be right back with the keys and I turned to her and asked, "Isn't 
this exciting!" as she tried harder and harder not to burst into tears.

The salesman came back, driving her cruiser, with the big gold bow attached to the hood, 
honking the horn as the sales team burst into applause. 

It took her a minute. She thought we were still joking with her. We're not that mean.

And as for that vow of mine that I would never buy my children their first car? Well, I also took 
another vow, the day that little girl was placed in my arms. I vowed with every fibre of strength 
in my being to keep her safe. And that vow means more to me than any of the others. 

Because, sometimes girls look to the left and to the right, but then they forget to look back. 

This week, we sold the Odawg's minivan. When I called to tell her, she was quiet for a minute 
and then she said, "I'm sad." Her old friend, no matter how uncool and dumpy it was, had been 
her loyal companion, keeping her safe and helping her learn the rules of the road. No one forgets 
their first car. I'm glad hers' had automatic sliding doors and goldfish crushed into the seats. She 
will never forget.

Today's Definite Download: Of course, Dave Matthews, "Crash Into Me". I love that song. I 
will admit I'm not a Dave Matthews purist. There are many who feel his bigger hits are not 
indicative of the real Dave. I, for one, find those popular tunes, my favorites. Beautiful but to 
the point. His ten and twenty minute songs are not my bag. I know his ability to jam is what his 
diehard fans love the most about him, but I'm good on that. 

My sister went to one of his concerts and said she'd never go back because his two hour concert 
was composed of like four songs. Yeah, if I want that, I'll turn on my Grateful Dead channel on 
the satellite radio. I need to start smoking weed, (do they still call it pot or is there now a new 
moniker?), in order to really feel that kind of vibe. Crash Into Me-the not-extended version for 
the Odawg and her minivan.


Anonymous said...

I so look forward to reading your posts. Another wonderful story.

Aunt Becky said...

Aw, what a great story. My parents weren't nearly so invested in me. No, really, they didn't care that much about me.

They gave me a $200 Dodge Shadow that had faulty breaks. I nearly died.

Anonymous said...

You really should smoke some weed. My kids are all grown now and I don't really have a reason not to enjoy my days of mommy-retirement. Plus, it makes me feel super badass. Like Nancy Botwin on Weeds, but not quite as badass.

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