I never wanted to be a minivan-mom. I only succumbed to its siren-song after I totaled my Jeep Liberty in an accident when my oldest was around 18 months old. She and I were driving to a baby music class, and I needed to make a left turn onto our insanely busy road. I waited for the school bus to pass, made the left and all of a sudden found myself on the other side of the road, on the grass. Turns out I did not see the van behind that bus; he admitted he was following too closely, and when he tried to stop he just clipped me. Thankfully we were all okay, and even though I made the left turn at a stop sign and was technically at fault, the guy was really nice. As was the sheriff, who said, “That’s why they call them accidents.” The insurance company declared the car totaled, and put the remaining value toward the next car I needed to buy.
I wept for days. I loved that SUV. It was the first car I ever owned. It was cobalt blue, and I special ordered it with white leather interior because the Florida sun is hot. I bought it when I got a full-time job at our local university teaching first-year-writing. I’d named it Liberty, and to me it really did symbolize the freedom of being an adult with a full-time, hopefully-permanent job, settling into the home we’d just purchased. I wrote my dissertation in my head while driving that SUV. To be honest, I’ve never stopped thinking about it; I even made it a character in my yes-I-still-am-working-on-editing-it fantasy novel.
I could have gotten another Liberty. They were still making them then. But with only two rows, and knowing I wanted to have at least two kids, it seemed to be the right time to get the van. In essence, I gave up the SUV for the same reason I left my tenure-track job–to do what I felt was best for my family. People were supportive. My father-in-law told me how great it would be to have all that space. My sister-in-law said that I didn’t know how much easier life would be with a van. My husband just wanted me to be happy. The insurance company–I kid you not–lowered my insurance rate because the Honda Odyssey was a so much safer vehicle than a Jeep.
And honestly, that silver van was pretty tricked out. It had sliding back doors and a trunk that opened with the touch of a button on the key fob. It had a sun roof and a built-in entertainment system with headphones. It had a navigation screen. My friend called it “The Starship Masiello” and the name stuck. I took my kids to hundreds of baby classes and play groups in that van. I drove both girls to and from school from preschool through 9th grade. We listened to all the Vacation Bible School, Wiggles, Kindermusik, Gymboree, and Disney songs. The van was the impromptu background for those “Oh shoot I didn’t get a photo of you before we left the house” moments. I remember bringing both girls grocery shopping, and when we headed back to the parking lot I would open the sliding doors with my key fob and yell “Put away the most important packages first!” as they’d run to the van, laughing. I carted around Girl Scout cookies and crafting supplies, after-school snacks and, eventually, my daughters’ friends. It finally started to show its age after around eight years of pretty hard driving to Disney, my mom’s house in Sarasota, the Disney Cruise line port, and in all our suburban stop-and-go traffic. So in 2013 it was time for a replacement. My eldest was ten and my youngest was eight. Life wasn’t going to change much, so just got another silver Odyssey.
When Publix shopping associates would help wheel my groceries to the parking lot while the kids were at school, I’d say, “In what I’m sure will be incredibly surprising to you, we’re headed to a silver Honda Odyssey. The key is to find which one is mine.” My ride was not unique. It wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t fun. It was basically like me–comfortable, stable, and safe. No surprises. Reliable. Always there, waiting to be needed. The year after I got the second Odyssey, my girls changed schools. While once they had attended classes fifteen minutes down the road, they began going to a school over 45 minutes and a highway drive away. Over the past seven years I have racked up 120,000 miles on that van. I dropped off and picked up carpools. I sat in the van for hours, sometimes, waiting for the kids to get out of some extra-curricular activity or friends’ party that was too short to justify a trip home and back again. I never regretted getting the second van. I was able to drive everyone to everything–the kids, my husband, my mom and her partner, my father-in-law, friends . . . the van seated seven comfortably, eight safe as sardines.
Last year my eldest got her driver’s license and eventually felt comfortable driving herself and her sister down that highway to school. We bought her a used Hyundai Santa Fe through Carvana. The purchase experience was like a dream. Order car. Car is delivered. Drive car for a week to see if it suits. Buy car. My husband was so thrilled to not have to walk into a car dealership that when his Prius kind of exploded–I have never seen all the lights on a dashboard light up at once–he got a Nissan Rogue through Carvana. Both of their vehicles have the auto-drive thing that will keep them in their lane, tell them if anyone is behind or to the side of them, slow down if they get too close to the car in front of them . . . the cars practically drive themselves. I hate that. I am a control freak. I can’t stand it when the car acts like it’s smarter than me, even if it is. I watch enough Dr. Who to know that if we let our cars start driving for us they’ll eventually turn on us. No thank you.
Yet, for the past year, my husband has been offering to get me a new vehicle. “I feel bad your daughter and I have these new, safe, modern, technologically advanced SUVs and you’re driving around in the old van.”
“I’m fine with the old van.”
“But you deserve something new…or new-ish.”
“I don’t need anything new. The van is fine.”
“The van seriously has over 120,000 miles on it. Let’s trade it in and get you something else. Something you’ll LOVE.”
“There is only one vehicle I want, and they don’t make it any more. They stopped making Jeep Libertys in, like, 2010.”
“Does it have to be a Liberty?”
“No, but that’s the only thing I can think of.”
Then, on Wednesday, my husband sent me a text with a link to Carvana. It wasn’t a Liberty, but as I looked at it I realized it was something that would make me happy. We figured out the trade-in on my van, and we agreed this was both desirable and doable. Then, on Sunday, Shawn from Carvana brought me my new ride:
Yes, my friends, it is a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and I love it. It’s silver with a black interior. I think of it as Liberty, grown up. I like the silver because it holds on to some of what the van once was. I’m okay with the dark interior because I’m used to the Florida sun and the steering wheel feels like butter. I’m worried about it only seating five because letting go of the ability to cart everyone I love around town is hard. But taking multiple vehicles will allow us a certain degree of flexibility to arrive when we want, leave when we want, travel as we wish. We can be a little more independent of each other. It’s a wonderful transition car–big enough to move my kid into a dorm a year from now, small enough to drive away and not feel like the seats are far too empty. And it has a fabulous sound system, well-equipped to play my new Spotify playlist: Two Decades of Car Songs–without a single Wiggles tune in the mix.