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Our first car was a four door navy blue Chevy Nova, more tin can than car. We learned later that no va in Spanish means, “it does not go,” which in hindsight is probably not the most auspicious name for a new car whose intended use is to take you places. Urban legend had it that because of the ill-advised name, Chevy had trouble offloading Novas in South America, which is perhaps how we got it at a reasonable price. Despite its name, the Nova took us where we needed to go, cumbersomely, noisily and with the pick up of a sloth, but we were young, newly married and on the move. The world was our oyster and we were free to traverse it at our leisure.

It was in that Nova that we drove our first baby home from the hospital in a rear facing car seat that had taken my husband hours to install. It took even longer to situate the infant child in the car seat which was done with a tentativeness that would, in time, be replaced by surer hands. I sat in the back with the new baby while my husband drove slowly, terrified at every bump that our newest family member would shatter into a million pieces.

As parents of a young child, safety became our priority and so it was that we bought our first real family car, a forest green Ford Taurus station wagon. When we bought the Taurus the salesman asked us if we wanted to pay extra for a rear facing jump seat in the way back. We didn’t think we would ever need it, but being in expansion mode, we hedged our bets and splurged on the jump seat. By the time our oldest son was in kindergarten, we had a second son and a carpool in which two kids needed to sit in the back jump seat every day.

I worried about the safety of the little people in the back of the wagon so we began to shop for a more appropriate family car. Thus began what I will call, “the minivan era.” I was never one to balk at a minivan, even when other moms lamented the fact that they were simply too cool for a minivan. Au contraire, I loved the ease and convenience of the minivan and as the years went by two more vans followed the first, each with some new bells and whistles that any mom would covet. The doors became automatic, first just on one side and then on both. What a delight it was to push a button and have everyone pile in.

During the minivan era my husband drove an impeccable sedan and repeatedly complained about the perpetually disgusting state of my car. I never worried about getting stranded somewhere and going hungry because we could have easily survived on half eaten cookies and carelessly tossed goldfish for at least three months. When the stench grew unbearable I would get down on the floor in the back and look under the seats where I would invariably find half-finished bottles and sippy cups with curdled milk or juice.

During those minivan years, rear facing infant car seats were followed by toddler booster seats and then by small backless booster seats for the preschool set. The car was almost always full and the decibel level was often deafening. The sound system was tuned to the children’s soundtrack du jour and the same songs would play in an agonizingly endless loop. I drove throngs of children some of whom I can no longer even remember.

Five years ago, we replaced the van with an SUV and vacillated for a while between a five seater and a seven seater. It was still useful to have the extra seating capacity for the days when my son would approach my car at pick up asking if this one, that one and the other one could come over or get a ride home. Five years ago, the younger kids could still squeeze themselves into the third row which was only intended for very, very small people.

The time has come once again to make a change. The minivan era is solidly behind us and so is the need for a seven seater. My car is still a mess but I have only myself to blame. There are no longer empty sippy cups and no more curdled milk. Long gone are the babies who arch their backs and stiffen their little bodies when placed in car seats. Gone are the recalcitrant children who won’t buckle themselves in, and the tweens who bicker endlessly about who gets to sit in the coveted passenger seat. Also gone is the little girl whose mother drove so little of the time in the carpool that the child started referring to me as “the driver.”  Rafi’s “Baby Beluga” and Barney’s “I Love You” have been silenced in favor of my preferred radio station which plays softly in the background.

We are in contraction mode; we don’t need a third row. My older boys drive; in fact, they’re better drivers than I am and the younger one will get his driving permit next year. 

We haven’t yet chosen our next vehicle but it will surely take us where we need to go and I’m excited to see exactly where that will be. Soon the world will be our oyster again and we will be free to traverse it at our leisure.

Helene Wingens

Mother of 3 boys, wife, daughter, friend - sometimes writer, retired lawyer. 50 is in the rear view mirror. Trying to figure out if there is a second act and if so, what is it? Part of that effort includes blogging at https://helenew123.wordpress.com/ . Her writing can be found on a number of online publications including scarymommy.com, The Forward, betterafter50.com, Club Mid, bonbonbreak.com, tentotwenty.com, midlifeboulevard.com, grownandflown.com, blogher.com and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (humorwriters.org)

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