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ParentingAn open letter to my best friend—my minivan

An open letter to my best friend—my minivan

When I first met you, I wanted nothing to do with you, the “family minivan.” My friends said you were the “dependable,” “reliable,” and “safe” choice.

I had spent my twenties living in Manhattan cultivating my independence and carefree persona. And just because I now lived in Tampa and turned thirty, I didn’t want to shed my spontaneity for safety and reliability. I had already sacrificed my waistline and manicured eyebrows—wasn’t that enough? So despite your slick exterior and fancy trimmings, I resisted you. Capitulating to your charms meant admitting that era of my life had passed—that I was no longer a unique woman in NYC but a generic woman living in the suburbs. There’d be no going back if I gave in to you. 

But once the salesman told me that in the event of an accident, you’d “puff” up like a marshmallow and wrap yourself around my children to keep them from harm, I knew I had to have you—not for myself, but for them. Weeks after we met, I took my newborn daughter home in your comforting arms, smushed between her two brothers. Three car seats in a row. Your doors opened with a push of a button. I marveled at how much easier you made my life.

Related: I swore I’d never say it, but here we are: I want a minivan

So began our journey into adulthood, motherhood, and beyond—the two of us wide-eyed, fresh and crisp, naïve to what lay ahead, flying over speed bumps and down the highway, with three children aged four and under tucked in their car seats, screaming and yelling so loudly we couldn’t even hear ourselves speak. Not that you ever spoke much anyway.

You never minded if you were dented or dirty. Once I spilled a whole gallon of chicken soup on your mats, the smell only recently dissipated, but you never complained. Not once. It’s never been your way. You, likewise, never minded if I was unraveled. With my husband traveling for work, I spent more time with you than anyone else, but I never had to wear red lipstick or cover-up to impress you.

When mothering left me raw, my hair unkept and my clothes wrinkled, your walls provided a judgment-free zone. There was never a need for any pomp or circumstance when I was behind your wheel. I could be my authentic self as I shuffled my children from one milestone to another, never feeling alone with you by my side.

I rode with my four-year-old son to the hospital with you guiding the way moments after his type 1 diabetes diagnosis, his body limp and the world seamlessly moving around us while ours spun out of control. My gaze fixed on his delicate frame in your rear-view mirror, his eyes closed, his face solemn, while you helped me effortlessly maneuver through highways and traffic to get him the care he needed. I didn’t think we’d survive that day, but we did.

One year, five days before Christmas, while sitting in your driver’s seat, I found out my father was killed. The words projected from your speakers that, after riding seventy miles through the mountains in his native El Salvador, a car hit him and he was gone. My fingers clutched around the steering wheel as I processed the news, my daughter screaming while I sobbed. When I stopped at a gas station, I couldn’t even open the door, my body instantly sliding down yours, crumbling into a ball at your feet. You would have hugged me if you could. I know you would have.

It was then we began to age, me sprouting a wrinkle across my forehead, your leather seats somehow cracking overnight. Sometimes you provided the only quiet space to reflect and digest the everyday world free from the distraction and obligation of motherhood constantly lurking at every turn. You were the only one who didn’t need me for anything. You were such a good friend. Reliable. Dependable. Just like you promised. 

Related: Grieving the loss of my father was complicated by motherhood

I healed with you. My children’s laughter echoed through your walls on road trips to Dairy Queen and Disney World while we played games of “What Begins with the Letter A.” You took us for family trips up to the beach, your seats and floors covered in sand and small bits of seashells. Someone always ended up vomiting during the journey, but you kept going, like all good mothers do. 

family minivan

After nine years together, with your air conditioning malfunctioning, your suspension jostling, and an odor most remanent of stale Doritos emitting from your pores, you began showing your age just as I began showing mine, my bones creaking at every turn, my hair greying. My friends changed their cars, but I never ever wanted to replace you. Not for one minute. Know in my heart that this is true. 

I took care of you the best I could, just like you did of me, changing your timing belt and installing new piston rings. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t? Then the other month, your dashboard flashed me multiple warning lights and your engine died as I pulled over to the side of the road. I cried uncontrollably, not because I was stranded with my children, but because I knew it was the beginning of the end. 

My husband said you were no longer the “safe” or “reliable” choice, but I resisted as much as I could. Having been broken, I could relate. Just like I originally fought against you, now I fought for you, our journeys are so connected, how could they pull us apart? Like every woman before you, you had served your purpose faithfully, showing up dutifully at every turn, I could not allow you to be discarded just because we had drained you of your value. Is that what would become of me as my miles added up?

“You can’t keep a car you can’t drive,” my husband said. But what did he know? He hadn’t been there with us. His body hadn’t aged from the weight of motherhood. His ceiling wasn’t painted in apple sauce from the time my son’s sugar was low and he refused to drink the pouch. He didn’t understand that when I let you go, that meant losing one more anchor to my children and their childhood. Another connection to my father and grandmother slipping away.

When we thought we’d have to sell you, I cleaned you up the best I could, removing years of gadgets and books tucked into your crevices, juice boxes and diabetic supplies hidden everywhere. The kids cleaned your windows and vacuumed your carpets. You looked beautiful, reminding me once again that something doesn’t have to be young to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be new to be valuable. You can be revived in midlife

And so when it came time, I couldn’t part with you, and I paid $1,300 to get you riding again. I don’t know how much longer I can protect you, but I’m fighting for you. You deserve that at least. I would keep you forever if I could, and live in the memories we made together my father’s wisdom sewn into the fabric of your seats, my grandmother’s laughter echoing against your walls, my children’s lives mapped out with your every mile. My father would say hija, let her go, you will get good trade for her still, but I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Try to hold on a bit longer dear friend. There’s still time for our second act. We aren’t done just yet.

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