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We Work It All Out in the Van

This is my disgusting van.  It smells like a mixture of hot, smooshed banana and pee from 2007.  Sometimes I find dried boogers on the arms of the seats, and there are gas receipts that have been in the center console so long they’ve faded in the Georgia sun.  My hubby went through a Babybel cheese phase and the little red wax wrappers have melted into the cup holders and every day my coffee sloshes another ring at the bottom of the holder closest to me.

I love our van.  It feels like another room in our house, a room that never, ever gets cleaned.  I remember going on my Very First Mom Date Ever and seeing the inside of my new friend’s van.  It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, and me with my three-month-old baby couldn’t fathom what could cause that level of grossness.

Oh.  One million blown out diapers and three billion baggies of cereal later, I understand.  Six years later, I am proud to drive my sticky Petri Dish of Love around town.

Maybe you’re not as gross as I am.  It’s okay.  We can’t all share my high tolerance for goo.  But our vans, clean or dirty, are so much more than simple modes of transportation, aren’t they?

Our minivans are where we work out the stuff of life with our mini-mes.

It’s where we have a captive, government-mandated, restrained audience, buckled in their seats and boosters.  We drive, they ride, and we work it out.  We work it all out in the van.

The minivan is holy ground.

This is the view that the teachers have every morning when I drop off the kids for those few short hours that fly by while I sit at this computer.  We are apparently The Only family with old school doors.  The precious teachers who unload hundreds of minivans a day with automatic doors do not know what to do with our door.  It sticks.  It practically rips your arm off.  It feels like you’re breaking it when you try to close it, and many of them give up and walk away, which gives me a chance to get out of the car in my jammies in front of all the other moms.

There’s a baggie of Chex cereal on the floor from um, well, a long time ago because I can’t even remember.  My daughter’s seat has two sippy cups and a juice box in the cup holders.  None of these drinks are potable, because they’ve been boiling in the heat all week long, forming a syrupy sludge at the bottom of the cups.

There is a one-foot space between these two seats.  It is just large enough to keep my kids from killing each other and just small enough that they can annoy the crap out of each other.  The Crap.  I’m sure your kids are perfectly behaved.  I’m sure this is only my stuff.  My kids are always coming up with brilliant new ideas to destroy each other in a non-lethal way.  They are diabolical.

This is my seat.

That’s the steering wheel that I grip when I’m beyond frustrated and the gum that I use to teach my kids about using good manners and that’s the pile of random papers and receipts and the candy wrappers from our last trip to the bank and the raisins and cereal in baggies from last week when they took too long getting ready for school and had to eat breakfast in the van.  If I am a pastor to my kids, then that seat is my pulpit where I do my preachin.’

In the van, we drive, and we drive each other crazy.  My kids fight from their booster seats like a 3D version of Pong.  Back and forth, back and forth.

So many mornings as they drag out their routine until we’re rushed and late, I start that harping, nagging thing that of course you never do, just me, and I get them in the van in time but at a price.

And in our minivan on holy ground I teach them that it’s okay to say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness.  So many days, strapped into our seats, the van becomes the place of deep forgiveness and teaching my kids how to talk to God.

One day when I asked, my son said he had to think about it.  He got out of the van, walked away, and my heart tore as it stretched out of the van after him.  When I returned a few hours later, he sighed, looked at me, and said, “Mommy, I forgive you.”  My van hydroplaned on the torrent of relief that washed over me.

The more I apologize and ask for forgiveness, the easier it gets.  And I hope I’m raising kids who see that if Mommy can humble herself and say sorry, then they can, too.

Every morning on the way to school, I pray for them.  Sometimes they pray, too.  And lately I’ve started praying for myself, too.

I let my kids hear me asking God to help make me a better mom.  I need them to know that they can ask for help.  I need them to know that I can’t do this alone and neither can they.

We pray for sick classmates to feel better and for orphans to come home to their families and for all the kids in the world to be able to attend school like we do.

And my daughter learns how to control her inner rage monster and my son learns how to wrangle his emotions, and we do this exhausting, hard work in the van.  This smelly sanctuary is our padded room, our straight jacket of togetherness.

There is no escaping our forced family time, and now the CD player is broken.