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.


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 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


Under Our Canopy

If You Loan a Writer a Car…




My kids are ridiculously athletic. Me, not so much…

Aside: Twenty years ago, my then-boyfriend, now-husband didn’t believe that I couldn’t ride a bike. While visiting his family in Wisconsin, he insisted that I borrow his sister’s bike for a spin around the neighborhood. I can “ride” in the sense that I can balance and push the pedals with my feet, so he was probably feeling quite smug as we coasted down his parents’ cul de sac onto a neighborhood street. He was likely basking in his victory when we turned left onto a street that actually connected to a street with real traffic. What he didn’t understand is that my brain freezes up when I am on a bike. When he hollered from behind that I should hang a left into the strip mall, he did not instruct me to yield to the on-coming car. Luckily, the car came to a dead stop; I did not.

I’m the only member of the family who doesn’t own a bike. It’s better that way. However, I do occasionally feel guilty about this parental shortcoming, which might explain why I suggested Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) as a family activity.

Like all of my ideas, this sounded great initially. The problem with kids is they actually listen when you wish they wouldn’t. Once the suggestion left my mouth, it was a pinky-promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye affair.

Aside: Brainstorming is a great practice for a writer. I can turn ideas out on the page, test drive them for a paragraph or so, and turn off the ignition. This post, for instance, could have been about my return trip to Costco, or any of the conversations that I had with friends last week while eating Mediterranean food, sipping mimosas, or inhaling Korean pastries. Coincidentally, my three friends are all Kristinas, or more accurately, Kristina, Kristina, and Christina. But alas, the subject is SUP….

I see fun family activities as a way to keep my children from beating the crap out of each other and as a means for me to earn parental currency. For example, the next time my daughter complains about going to church, I can remind her that we skipped one Sunday and went SUP-ing.

Aside: I realize that line could cause an epic backfire. I’ll make sure to assess the situation before I bust that out.

The impending SUP outing was a carrot to dangle in front of my children. It’s rough when Santa Claus is holed up at the North Pole making toys in June. Any good bribe/threat requires an immediacy factor. “Do I need to cancel that SUP lesson for Sunday?” I asked anytime my children looked at me the wrong way.

The problems didn’t really arise until Sunday morning when my son woke up everyone at 6 a.m. yelling, “SUP!?!?” My brain registered, “Holy shit this is really happening. What was I thinking?” Images of me falling into the lake filled my head. Embarrassing myself in front of my family was one thing, but the thought of making a buffoon out of myself in front of our neighbor, the SUP instructor, unsettled me. What a bad idea…

Aside: I feel this way at some point while drafting an essay, or this post. Writers often claim that a muse visits them. That’s bullshit. Part of the creative process involves self-loathing: stepping back from your creation with a critical eye as if to say, “What the fuck did I do?” In this way, writing and mothering are very similar.

I did what any good parent and writer would do: I bullied myself into following through. The kids will be so disappointed if you back out. Then I reassured myself: our SUP instructor also volunteers as a certified adaptive snowboard instructor. Maybe he’s had a skier whose artificial leg came off while attached to a board. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing to have your prosthesis slip away on a black diamond run?

Aside: No offense to those with physical challenges. I’d throw my own mother under the bus to make myself feel better. For my literary readers, please note how Flannery O’Connor likely influenced this rogue limb fantasy.

Thus fortified, I drove our family to the lesson and listened intently when Steve Gurney explained that kids get a kick out of seeing their parents fall into the water. I interrupted, “When do they do that? When they’re trying to stand up?” My neighbor/SUP instructor said, “No, it most often involves them trying to help one of their kids.” With that comment, he offered me the magic pill: don’t try to help your children.

During the 90-minute excursion, my motto became “Each person for herself.” The children had life vests. Steve hung back with my son. My husband stayed close to our daughter. I practiced knelling, standing, paddling and balancing enough to avoid a dip in a rather murky lake.

Aside: According to a fiction professor in my MFA program who adhered to Chekov’s rules for short stories, a writer cannot introduce a gun without having it go off before the end. Sometimes real life follows these rules for fiction writing, but mostly not. This is one of those rare instances.

As I climbed off my SUP and crossed the rocky beach on bare feet, I breathed a sigh of relief. Safely on land, I watched my son flailing in a shallow mix of water and mud near some cattails. Instead of playing the buffoon, I got to calmly wade in to extract him. Win-win.

Photo courtesy of Surf Reston.

Photo courtesy of Surf Reston.