Thursday, April 26, 2012

Because I Said So: Driving minivan full of kids no easy ride

When we first got our minivan I thought, just like the rest of you think, that I was too cool, too young and too hip to be driving a minivan, the chariot of the suburbs. But I was not, and neither are you. What I found when I mounted up was one of the smoothest rides I'd ever had, a comfortable armrest in my captain's chair and an impressive view of all around me. There was a DVD player built in and, as we drove to Georgia for Thanksgiving shortly after purchase, I was allowed the quietest eight hours I'd had in years as my kids sat slack-jawed and staring up at the little screen with oversized, cordless headphones.

Today's column is an ode to the minivan and a knowing wave to all of my brethren and sisterthren out there behind the wheel.

I've always appreciated the way that guys riding motorcycles will wave to each other as they pass on the street in a show of knowing macho brotherliness.

I saw two people in Jeeps do the same thing the other day while zooming down Poplar. With the roofs off, wind in their hair, sun glinting off their smiles, they acknowledged each others' carefree ways and devil-may-care attitudes.

You know who don't wave to each other? People driving minivans. You know why? Because we're too busy reaching back with our waving hand to snatch a sippy cup from our youngest as she threatens to pummel the oldest, or handing a bag of Cheerios put in the glove box during the second Bush administration back to a wailing son. Noses need to be wiped, carsickness tended to and shoes located.

Are we brothers and sisters, those of us who careen around town in minivans? Yes. More so even than the helmeted and anonymous and, dare I say, lonely dudes on motorcycles. The mother idling at the light next to me in her Honda Odyssey is just as likely as I am to be wondering what is that smell emanating from the far back seat (fermented chocolate milk) or what is the whirring from beneath the driver's seat (a McDonald's Happy Meal toy).

The dad in front of me will rest his elbow on the open window and try his best to appear coolly detached as a Barbie, thrown from behind, hits him in his head. No matter, I know from the sticker on the bumper of his Chrysler Town and Country that he's proud of that young hurler.

The easy rider days have passed me by. Or, I should say, the possibility of such a day. I never had a motorcycle. I never had a convertible. Now I have four kids and a vehicle with doors that open at the push of a button on my key chain. I have a DVD player mounted in the ceiling and a commanding 360-degree view.

A car seat won't even fit on a motorcycle, will it? I've never seen one other than in the film "Raising Arizona," and even as a childless 17-year-old I knew that Leonard Smalls was being far too reckless with that baby.

When we were first married, Kristy and I had a two-door Toyota that we traded in for a four-door Nissan when Calvin was born just so we could get the car seat into the back. Not even four-door drivers wave to each other on the streets.

Parenthood, for all the people living in one house and riding in one car, is a lonely traveling companion.
Parents have been otherwise occupied since the earliest days of car travel when a baby was carried on its mother's lap in Henry Ford's first Model T as the father steered with his knee and unwrapped a granola bar for the kid in the backseat.

Perhaps it's the innate need to protect our children that keeps us from waving to others in our tribe, the absolute imperative to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes forward as we navigate the Memphis traffic. It may be what I should do, but there are things within my vehicle that require immediate attention and leave me with precious little time to look cool, nod at passing motorists and imagine myself on a vehicle built for one. 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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