It’s NOT a Minivan

Recently, my 6 y.o. son began complaining that we need a new car. He would prefer a minivan.

“We don’t need a new car,” I snarled, “this one’s only nine years old. It runs just fine.”

My defensiveness surprised me. I began appraising the situation through more critical eyes: the car has a certain musty smell; the leather upholstery is discolored; the floor mats haven’t seen a vacuum this decade. In truth, I’m too lazy to shop for one. My discomfort level hasn’t risen high enough yet. Also, the car has a history….

As my daughter’s first birthday approached, my sedan seemed to shrink. So did my hopes for finding lasting friendships with other stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood. My status as a part time graduate student/new mom put me on a lonely path. Buying a vehicle reflected my identity crisis.

Our suburban parking lots were populated with three vehicles: minivans, SUVs, and luxury SUVs. The luxury SUVs moms intimidated me. The minivan mammas and the SUVs were generally safe unless they displayed bumper stickers bragging about their children’s academic or fitness exploits or personalized license plates such as “TWINNSS.”

Aside: Yes, I have always been snarky. Previously, I was quieter about it.

For a while, a particular minivan made advances toward me with its power side windows. These weren’t the pop-out windows that reminded me of a blue and white Ford Econoline van that I’d once thrown up in as a child. “It looks more like a car,” I tried to convince myself.

I returned to my senses when I saw the new breed of vehicle – the Crossover. Only three car companies were manufacturing them at the time. Guilt-free SUV or stigma-free minivan might be the best description. “It’s like the compact version of a minivan on the interior, housed in the body of a SUV or a sporty station wagon,” I explained to someone who hadn’t seen one. I carefully avoided clichés like “the best of both worlds” or “a bit of heaven.”

Hop this Ride!

Hop this Ride!

An opportunity to be a trendsetter presented itself with the purchase. I could become the practical, yet sporty neighborhood mom: the one who shunned the warehouse shoppers’ dream vehicle, the one who cleverly avoided paying an extra 10K for the equivalent of a Tommy Hilfiger label slapped on my mother’s 1978 station wagon. I’d earn the envy of minivan moms and the praise of the hip Dual Income, No Kids (DINK) crowd consisting largely of my sister-in-law in Wisconsin and my newly married neighbors across the street.

I contemplated these potential accolades as I eyed the 2005 guide to buying new cars. I reassured myself that gaining stature in the community would reward my patience. And I knew that underneath the EPA’s estimated gas mileage and the racecar tires, I would essentially belong to the sisterhood of minivan mammas.

Aside: My SIL now has two kids and drives a minivan, as do many of my friends. The automaker no longer manufactures the model in our garage because better crossovers have edged it out. Nonetheless, come Saturday morning, I’ll be throwing my son’s soccer gear in the back end along with lawn chairs.

Things I Carried Home

Tuesday we returned from our 10-day journey to the West mostly intact. “Mostly” is the key word here.

Aside: Mostly, I held my shit together during the trip. There was that one incident when we finally arrived in a hotel room one block from Ogden City LDS Temple, and I started yelling expletives at my children as soon as the door slammed shut. They were fighting. We’d been in the car together for six hours, the rolling suitcase weighed 49.5 lbs. (my husband is a Boy Scout), and we were at day 5.

Hahn Vagabonds

Hahn Vagabonds

Unpacking our suitcases in the safety of my own home reminded me of a grad school writing assignment. The esteemed Alan Cheuse asked our class to describe a room, a person, or an object without including commentary. I’m sure there was a profound lesson in writing that I failed to grasp because I had to redo the assignment.

Aside: I’m a non-fiction writer; I thrive on navel-gazing. Also, my MFA diploma is safely on the wall, so I am I’m going to break the rules again, Alan.

Mixed in with the dirty laundry, these objects emerged: 

  • The Fault In Our Stars sounded like a quick read for a vacay, but I ended up reading by the bathroom light in the hotel room late one night and sobbing myself to sleep. My mother has congestive heart failure and pulmonary fibrosis, so a novel about a lung cancer patient probably wasn’t the best choice for this particular excursion that involved pushing Mom around in a wheelchair and changing oxygen tanks every two hours.  
  • Disposable booties from touring the Ogden City LDS Temple (disclaimer: I did not actually save these, but I wish I had because they were far more interesting than the tract I picked up during the tour). Growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon, the temple had an invisible DO NOT TRESPASS sign posted on it. Only Mormons in good standing can enter. The exception to this is during open houses for new or remodeled temples when the public can tour a temple before the consecration ceremony. Throughout my childhood, Mom did her best to convince me that these spaces were sinister. Nonetheless, I could not resist the invitation that coincided with our vacation. While I sat with my children and husband waiting for the tour to commence, I reminded myself to take deep breaths because I was good enough to be in God’s presence.
  • Receipt from Rooster Restaurant on 25th Street in Ogden, Utah. Back in the day, this particular street was associated with hookers and drug dealers; however, the downtown area has since undergone a revitalization. While walking to dinner with my best friend from high school, I passed an “adult” shop to have dinner at this hip watering hole. Utah has long boasted microbreweries and coffee shops as a certain counter-cultural badge of honor. Spending two hours with my wonderful friend provided so many chances to laugh and reflect on my rich life is as a mother, wife, and writer. The two vodka tonics also helped, which brings me to the item that should have come home in my suitcase:
  • Bottles of @FiveWivesVodka I’ll admit that I only ordered that brand for bragging rights, but damn if it wasn’t tasty. I’ve been lighting up twitter with my praises for the distillery in Ogden, Utah in hopes they’ll send me a case (or at least a bottle). A bottle could help relax the back spasms that started the morning after we returned home when I reached into the suitcases to sort dirty laundry.

Back to Zion

I’m out and about collecting material for future essays and blog posts. This involves a trip to the home where I grew up in Ogden, Utah…or at least the parts of it that are still standing.

Aside: My kids think they’re going to visit their grandma, but really we’re on an archeological dig to unearth my high school yearbooks and other incriminating material.

I have tickets to tour the Ogden City LDS Temple on Friday morning. IMAG0894While I’m busy, please check out Heather B. Armstrong’s (@dooce) piece When in Utah. She captures so many aspects of life in the Beehive State.

Aside: She also has at least 1.5 million twitter followers and makes a six-figure salary as a mommyblogger…not that I’m jealous or anything. She apparently isn’t afraid to offend her grandfather who follows her blog. (Hello, Grandpa. Thanks for the follow!)  

Aside to the Aside: Heather, in case you’re reading this, I need a literary agent for my memoir manuscript. Help a fellow Gentile out!

#TBT Puppy Love

Aside: It’s #TBT. My husband and I recently celebrated 19 years of wedded bliss, which made me reflect on our life together. According to Hallmark’s website, wood is the traditional gift for a 5th wedding anniversary. We took a slightly different road….

My husband and I felt prepared for puppy parenthood. Neither of us had previously owed a large-breed dog, nor did we know anyone with a Golden Retriever; nonetheless, we had fallen in love. Every anniversary up to that point, we had given each other cards with fuzzy, blond puppies – a short of promissory note for our future plans. By our fifth anniversary, we finally owned a house with a backyard – the time had come to take the next step. If we didn’t screw up a dog too badly, we reasoned, we’d be ready for kids in a couple of years.

Aside: No need for a cheeky aside here for those readers who have had dogs and/or kids. For those readers who haven’t, all I can say is it’s not the same at all.

Scouring the classifieds one morning, I reported, “They want $600 for a pure bred.”

“Wow, that much?” Pete remarked.

I located the “Golden Retriever mix” listings. Over the phone, the breeder touted her puppies as a marvel of genetic engineering: a black, male Labradoodle coupled with a female Golden Retriever.

“She has two male puppies that look just like Goldens,” I said, trying to sell Pete on driving out to see them.

“They sound like mutts,” he scoffed.

“They’re only $300,” I pleaded. “Besides, I told her we’d be there tonight.”

Aside: One secret to our happy marriage is that Pete humors me 95% of the time.

While Pete drove, I studied the labyrinth of country roads labeled with numbers on a Virginia map. At some point, I announced that we were lost.

Aside: GPS devises have saved our marriage on several occasions in more recent years.

Since we didn’t have a cell phone (it was 2000), Pete located a pay phone outside a decrepit roller skating rink and parked. Picking up the receiver, I dialed the number and placed it near my ear. Nothing.

Aside: I briefly considered returning to the car and making Pete go inside, but I am the one who takes care of these interactions. Besides, I needed to save face. The guilty need to correct errors may also be one of our secrets for marriage.

The painted cinder block walls and smell of sweaty socks wafting from the skate rental counter transported me back to fifth grade. A large, hairy, old man leaned on the lower half of a Dutch door. I informed him that the phone didn’t seem to work.

“Are you makin’ a long distance call or something?” the man eyed me.

“No, it’s a 703 number.”

“Lady, 703 is for Washington, D.C. This here’s 540 area code,” he announced as though we were in California rather than 50 miles outside of our nation’s capital.

I inhaled slowly thinking about how 703 actually belonged to Fairfax County, not D.C. Rather than pointing this out, I switched tactics, “Do you know where 255 Road is?”

“Sure. That’s way up past Dinosaurland and the Texaco station.”

I thanked him and returned to the car. Following a subsequent stop at a payphone that accepted 703 numbers, we found the breeder’s farm.

Aside: Marriage, like writing, requires frequent revisions. It’s pretty much trial and error.

When we arrived, an adult Golden Retriever herded puppies out of our path. One hyper, golden male crouched underneath Pete while his curly-haired, black sister gave me her belly to rub. Once we homed in on these two, the breeder instructed her husband to send the competition back to the kennel.

The female was obviously more submissive, but we had our hearts set on the golden fur. We chose the male despite the fact that we had witnessed him eating horse poop earlier.

Aside: We were smitten. We love a challenge. Enough said.

While Pete held the puppy, I wrote out the check, signed the sales agreement, and listened to all the vaccine information.

“He will probably have worms and fleas,” the breeder warned.

It was too late to be put off by this. He was ours, worms and all.

During the car ride home, I sat in the backseat stroking our puppy. Without my help navigating, Pete found the way home. Once we arrived, I remembered that we hadn’t read any of the chapters on puppy care.

Aside: It’s tempting to draw conclusions from this pattern of being lost, gaining clarity (or at least deluding ourselves into thinking we knew what we were doing), and becoming lost again. Marriage, like writing, isn’t that tidy though.

Henri (pronounced “ornery” when we wanted to be pretentious) kept us company for 11 of our 19 years as a couple. For the first two of those years, we patched drywall and wood trim around the house. Despite our failure to train Henri to heel during walks, we brought home a human baby girl to add to our brood. The dog was perfectly fine until we introduced a second child into the mix. At that point, he developed skin problems and began surfing the counters for bread products. He may have been allergic to our son.

Living up to his name

Living up to his name

Aside: Pete and I once agreed that there were about six good years during Henri’s life span, excluding the first two and the last three.

When it came time to say our goodbyes, we were sad. We loved our dog, but we loved each other and our kids more, which is why we don’t have any plans for a dog in the near future. Perhaps we’ll feel differently 19 years from now when we are empty-nesters, contemplating what to do with ourselves while our children make their way in the world.

Aside: Sometimes in a marriage, you have to know when to say “Mercy.”

Busy Signal

Aside: I’ve put 200 miles on my car this week chauffeuring kids to camps. In my spare time, I’ve been revising my memoir manuscript and shopping antiques with alexandradesignfinds.com. Yesterday my blog post deadline came and went. Trust me when I say that I’m collecting material for future posts, but for now, I’m exhausted. My blog stats and comments tell me that I’m trending with the retired women who know and love me, as well as with random people from Brazil, Ghana, and Italy who stumble upon this site using God-only-knows-what search terms. While it seems a little early in Off the Page’s life for this, I’m falling back on “Best of the Blog” in hopes that my readers will have some time to catch up on their job: namely reading, liking, and sharing my posts, so that I can become a famous writer whose inbox spills over with offers by literary agents for representation. Get to work, people!

Of Paint and Writing

Big Cheese

SUP?!?!

Under Our Canopy

If You Loan a Writer a Car…

phone