Sometimes something happens that seems like its not a big deal, but then it is. You find yourself crying in a high school parking lot behind the auto tech classroom wondering what the hell is going on.
You see, a couple of weeks ago the Big White Ford Tampon started acting weird. It got all jumpy. Then it got shaky - really shaky. It got to the point where the kids got scared when we drove out of the neighborhood. I had the Cap'n drive it and he was decisive: "The transmission is going out. We only have a few more weeks."
Part of me was happy enough to do the hammer dance (that is my dance of joy and celebration). I have been driving that van for 5 years and it's a piece of crap. I am so ready for something new and not smelly. But part of me was unhappy. The part that would have a new car payment. The part that would have to deal with the hassle of having to research, test drive and negotiate a good price on a replacement car.
Let me share with you some facts about the Big White Tampon: it's 9 years old, it has almost 100,000 miles on it, and it was used when we got it. Not only was it used - it was the courtesy shuttle at the dealership that we bought it from. It looks like it should say "Mt. Zion Church of Crappy, White Vehicles" on each side. We paid cash for it. It wasn't a lot of cash. In the past five years, there have been diaper explosions, car sickness, spilled milk boxes, dog hair, lost socks and granola bar crumbs ground into every fiber of the all-cloth interior of that van. No amount of vacuuming or shampooing or Febreze could possibly eradicate the pervasive funk.
We first bought it because we were going from having two kids to having four. My sister had just moved in with us to finish high school and I was 8 months pregnant with my third baby. My oldest was five. It was a crazy year. We were a crazy family. We really needed a Big White Ford Tampon.
So much has changed since then. The baby I was pregnant with is now learning to read. I started a blog with my friend Kate. My sister is now the mother of a toddler. My husband changed jobs. We bought a house. I went back to work. Everything is different.
The changes in my life are the most noticeable to me at preschool. There, I am a different person than I was when I first bought that car. These days at preschool drop-off, I'm usually calm and showered (or at least clean) and looking fairly respectable. On some days, I'm wearing gym clothes because I have actually been to the gym. On work days, I have blown out my hair and I'm wearing mascara. I mean - I'm still me. If you look hard enough, you're going to find a boob stain. But seriously me five years ago and me now? It's an enormous improvement. Like a before and after photo.
Back then, I looked at the bathed and blown-out moms (like stupid Kate in her Jimmy Choos) with awe. HOW DID THEY DO THAT? I was the most train-wreckish of them all. My pajamas were essentially the same as my clothes (yoga pants/v-neck shirt). I maybe showered 3 times a week. I was exhausted. I was not sleeping and I was breast feeding every two hours. I was a new parent to a teenager. And a newborn. My little kids were adjusting to those major life changes. My husband was working double shifts at the office and at home to keep us all together.
That first year was so hard.
But we all fit in the van. We took trips. We went to the zoo. We went to Starbucks (a major treat in those days). We rocked out to music and had epic car parties. It got surprisingly good gas mileage. It had a very powerful V-8 and nobody could mess with me on the interstate or at a stoplight. We took road trips. We went to Florida for Spring Break. It took me to Target 14,786 times. When it was time, it took my sister to the airport to go to college.
It did everything a van was supposed to do for a family and I was going to miss it, even if it was smelly and embarrassing.
A couple of days ago, I ran into a friend at Target and she congratulated me on getting rid of the BWT. She said: "It's time. Whenever I see you driving around in your old car, I always think - there goes a humble woman."
From someone else that might be a dig, but this friend is a Christian and very kind-hearted. If you are a nice Christian lady, "humble" is a very nice word. I know she meant it as a compliment. That unlike other people who felt they had to drive something fancy, or who lived above their means, that it spoke well of me that I didn't care about that and just drove a practical vehicle that met our needs.
Her comment stuck with me: There goes a humble woman, in a humble van.
For the past five years, I was that van. As the mother of three young children, it was my job (and looking back, my pleasure) to meet our family's needs in the most basic and important ways. KEEP THE YOUNGLINGS ALIVE. Feed them. Snuggle them. Bathe them. Wipe them. Buckle them. Smooch them. Find their tiny socks. Get them to the doctor. Take them to school. Sometimes that meant that I was unshowered, or had dog hair stuck to my pants. That's OK. It's a stage of life, and one that for me is now over because they're all big enough to wipe themselves. And I still have dog hair on my pants.
The BWT lasted as long as it could. It's transmission went out about the same time we really didn't need it anymore. Now I'm in a different stage of life that is slightly less basic and slightly more showered. I'm not the BWT anymore. I think I'm ready to be a Sienna. To some that's fairly ordinary but for me, comparatively, IT IS SUPER FANCY. It has systems. It has seat warmers. (Editor's note: I have actually heard you use some very "basic" four letter words while trying to figure out all the buttons and bells in your new van with me on speaker phone. I'm just sayin'. -Guru) I'm learning that to be a Sienna is great. It is also, however, much more complicated and much less basic.
As our patron saint Erma Bombeck once wrote, "the grass is always greener over the septic tank". There certainly is no faster way to become nostalgic for the simple and the basic than to have your life become more complicated.
I didn't really put any of this together until I was taking the van to it's final destination yesterday. I thought of all that it had done for us on that last drive, and how it was like The Giving Tree, and how it was the end of an era, and how I was a Sienna now, and I cried my eyes out. Yes. I cried over the smelly, embarrassing BWT like my heart was breaking.
We're donating it to a local high school with an auto tech program (because the poor van is literally not worth selling at this point). The students will overhaul the transmission and then the school district will donate it to a local charity. It would be a good next life for our old friend. It will deliver meals or drive volunteers where they need to go. It's a useful and humble van, after all, and that's what it was made to do.
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