It’s not about the minivan…

I felt bad for the car salesman. He was so new to the dealership that he didn’t even have business cards yet and I was sitting across from him having a full-blown identity crisis. He definitely wasn’t trained for what I was experiencing.

The day had started very differently. We have a new driver in our house and my husband had suggested that I look at some used cars in town. I’d walked into the dealership, practically crowing, “I don’t need a minivan anymore. I’m here to test drive something smaller!”

Part of me was excited to downsize. I’m back to driving just two kids around now that the teenagers are both driving. I thought that would feel like freedom. It didn’t. It felt a little like grief.

For the past ten years, we’ve been a family of six. For most of those years, we’d pull up to church or swim team or school and all four kids would spill out of my minivan. The doors would open and kids and shoes and coloring books and sippy cups would all fall out into the parking lot.

Our car was a mess. We were a mess. We matched our car. That’s who we were.

That’s not who we are anymore, though. 

It happened gradually. It happened overnight.

We used to cause a scene buying school supplies, with folders flying and me yelling, “No more markers!” Last year, I gave Caroline my debit card and the big kids went shopping on their own. 

The same thing is happening now with the dentist and youth group and team practices and the pool. We’re not all loading up and going anywhere hardly ever anymore.

None of this is a tragedy. It’s right and good that the big kids are independent and capable. It’s just different.

In my head, I’ve known that my big kids will both leave for college in the next two years.

My heart didn’t know it, though, until I test drove a smaller car and then sat across from the car salesman. I was trying not to cry and he was trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Finally, I said, “This is why people keep buying minivans, even after their kids start to move out.” 

“Is there a word for that?” I continued.”The tendency to not accept that your family has drastically changed.”

“Do you mean, like a syndrome?” he said, looking very confused and uncomfortable. 

“No, more like a specific kind of heartache,” I said. “Sitting here, realizing that I don’t have young kids anymore, is actually painful. Here’s my husband’s number. Call him.”

I ran to my minivan and sobbed all the way home.

I don’t need a minivan anymore, I kept thinking. We used to be a family bursting in our togetherness and now we are starting to spread out. Instead of chaos in my minivan, I usually just have the twins. Sometimes, I’m actually alone.

The crazy part is that I don’t want more kids and I don’t want the kids I have to be little again. I don’t even want a do-over. I just needed a second for my heart and my head and my car to all get on the same page.

The next day, we went back and bought the zippy little wagon that I test drove. It suits our changing family. It’s just right for who we are, right now. 

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  • I waited a little longer than you did, but I test drove an SUV the other day. Our youngest is getting the minivan to drive out to Colorado for a year with Americorp. I hope I will enjoy having a new car one day but I’ll have to get over this last departure first. I’m right there with you, sister!

  • I totally get where you are. My youngest is 17 and got a car last year. This will be the first time in 17 years that I haven’t driven a girl to school on her first day. That is making me really sad, even though it gives me a little extra time and less hassle. Yes, these are normal, joyful transitions, but they are not without grief.