By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I’ve always embraced the role of minivan driver.
It never cramped my style, and whenever our lease neared its end, I’d realize with incredulity that there wasn’t a car I’d prefer driving over my precious, if unoriginal, black Honda Odyssey, peppered with the occasional scratch and proudly sporting every imaginable decal of any establishment, school, and camp my kids ever attended.
The way I saw it was that no other car, no matter how pretty, would serve the same purpose and solid functionality that my minivan did.
I’d spy other women in the carpool line jumping out of their sleek Infinitis and Yukons and other fancy SUVs as their kids bounded out of school, rearranging seats and trunk space to accommodate their group.
I’d sit there watching and laughing to myself. “She wouldn’t need to do that with a minivan,” I’d think smugly.
My van took a good beating over the years, too.
I tried reasoning with the kids that I had just gotten a car wash and would love some time with a clean car instead of trying to unearth that mysteriously overripe unpleasant smell emanating from somewhere in the car.
You’ve all been there, minivan or not.
As the years passed, the Honda came out with cool features—a little fridge box in the middle of the front seats and a vacuum that we never even attempted to use, as it was way more fun collecting hot bottles of old water and soda that would make their way under the seats at some point, rolling around as you used the brake to slow down at a red light.
It would slowly drive you nuts as you tried keeping your eyes on the road at the same time as stretching your arm a bit too far to grab hold of it on its way back to you but then inadvertently touching something else that wasn’t a water bottle.
Ew. What. Is. That.
The once-clean carpet was littered with wrappers and abandoned Dixie plates from a breakfast your kid was eating a few days ago after waking up too late to make the bus. It all eventually would be shoved in some pocket, in an attempt to “clean” before carpools, so as not to scare the neighbors’ kids entering our car on early Sunday mornings.
Because if a middle-school-age boy who counts rolling around in mud as a favorite pastime thinks your car is messy, you’re in trouble.
You’ve officially crossed the line from cluttered to biohazard.
There was usually a garbage bag or two of clothes to take to Bnei Tzedakah that would hang out there, forgotten, until you needed the trunk to store the hundreds of grocery bags on the biweekly shopping trips to attempt to keep up with the kids’ favorite pastime: eating you out of house and home.
OK, no room in the trunk, so we’ll just open the sliding doors (my favorite feature on the minivan) and place the bags on the floor of the … oh my.
What did the kids EAT back here?
Whatever it once was melted and required the Goo Gone that’s a cult favorite in any homes that have toddlers living there.
There have been times that I’ve mistakenly opened the door to the wrong Honda Odyssey in the grocery store parking lot. This happens because in the Five Towns, we don’t always lock our car doors. (Unless, dear reader, you are a car thief. In that case, we always lock them, and they have good alarms, too.)
Actually, the smell is probably a better deterrent than an alarm.
The real reason we (maybe) don’t lock our doors, though, is because our arms are usually filled with babies, bags, or our kids’ stuff that they can’t carry because “it’s too heavy.”
Who’s got time to start fishing around for car keys in your bag?
So it’s a very common oversight to let yourself into someone else’s car when there’s literally a line of the same car parked in a parking lot.
I’d make my way into the car and instantly realize something was amiss—firstly, the car would be clean.
There’d be one of those pleasant-smelling diffusers hanging from the mirror, probably purchased during one of the monthly car washes. Fancy.
But the most glaring differences between your car and this one would be the collection of intact CDs all housed in one of those organizers, to ensure that the music wouldn’t stop in the middle due to the drool from your baby that prevented the CD from actually working.
I’d quickly realize I was in the clean organized version of a Honda Odyssey and look out the windows, making sure the owner wasn’t standing outside, confused as to why some other woman was trying to start her car.
Having a minivan with ample space is like having a garage or a storage facility to store your stuff. You take advantage and become the opposite of a minimalist because of the amount of space afforded to you. You start thinking about ways to fill up the space because that’s what humans do.
The solution? Getting a two-door Mustang convertible, of course. Like, the opposite of an Odyssey. Try fitting seven people in that car. Virtually impossible.
In all seriousness, we got the car because it brings us joy. And that’s not a small thing.
Sure, it’s not for carpools. There’s a strict no-food policy in there (fret not, my car is still open season for smorgasbords), but mostly it serves a different purpose.
The same way I get a bit nostalgic when I get into a minivan and recall my late husband Moshe expertly diapering a baby in the spacious trunk while we were shopping in Boro Park is the way I feel about the joy that’s been sparked from my little men now that they’re the kids who get picked up from school in a white convertible with the top down.
They’re chapters in the same book of life and we’ve started a new one.
One with new opportunities at happiness, no matter what the reason is.
I’ll always look back fondly at the life I had while carting around half of my household to make sure I had anything we might want or need on hand.
But sometimes change has to happen, maybe even before you’re ready for it. The good news is that the memories can stay with you for life. And these are the things I think about whenever I pass a Honda Odyssey—the mess, the joy, the happiness, and the fullness of living a life every day, even when the unpredictable happens or changes occur.
It’s a snapshot of a time that will be cherished forever, even as I cruise past it in my sweet new wheels.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.