In A (Mini) Van Down By The River

Remember that one time? When I mentioned that my kids weren’t interested in extracurricular activities? Well, they changed their minds. All of my kids. Changed their minds. All at the same time. My kids are doing all of the activities now. There are no activities left because my kids are doing them all.

Henry recently decided that Sports is his thing. It wasn’t for a long time. Now, it is. Doesn’t really matter which kind. He will gamely try them all – in a row. This past fall, sensing our reluctance to let him play tackle football, he asked if he could join a flag football league organized through the city’s rec department. We agreed that it was a good way for him to try the sport while not risking a traumatic head injury so we signed him up. The teams were well organized, the coach was super nice, and Henry really seemed to enjoy himself. I liked seeing him participate and try new things.

That’s how we added flag football to the schedule.

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When flag football wrapped up, I was looking forward to a long winter of sitting on my sofa in front of the fire not having to drive anyone anywhere. Then, Henry asked if he could try basketball. I explained that I felt like we had already sported so much and basketball overlapped a little with flag football and are you SURE you’re up for that commitment and it gets dark at, like, 4:30 in the afternoon now and there are so many good things on Netflix have you seen all of the good things on Netflix and even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see my future and it did not involve my sofa.

That’s how we added basketball to the flag football.

Charlie wanted to participate in flag football this past fall because Henry wanted to participate in flag football this past fall. Why not, we thought. In for a penny, in for a pound! Charlie doesn’t share Henry’s passion for the more technical aspects of the game though and was mostly in it for the shenanigans. Namely, chasing the other players around on the field without grabbing anyone’s flag. Which, as Charlie’s coach was apt to point out, WAS NOT THE POINT OF THE GAME, CHARLIE.

Shortly after Charlie’s stint as troublemaking team member began, it became clear that sports was maybe not the right match for his skill set. Around that same time, Charlie found out that a bunch of his buddies were in Cub Scouts. Much like tackle football, we had some reservations. But, since Charlie basically spends all of his free time each weekend hiking, fishing, hunting, and carving those statues of bears out of tree trunks with a chainsaw in the garage, we thought, hmmm, some sort of outdoor-centric club might be just the ticket for this kid.

That’s how we added Cub Scouts to the basketball and to the flag football.

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Millie had talked about taking gymnastics classes with enthusiasm for awhile but we had always discouraged her from pursuing her dreams because it seemed like it would really add to our workload. I mean, at this point, we had gone from zero (0) activities to four (4) activities. Where would this fresh hell fit in? When we discovered her in the basement one afternoon, constructing her own balance beam out of half-empty paint cans and a discarded two by four, we decided we had better enroll her in some sort of tumbling program. We can still really play up her hardscrabble beginning with the paint cans though when she films her Olympic team intro video.

That’s how we added gymnastics to the Cub Scouts and to the basketball and to the flag football.

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I feel like I haven’t sat down since September. Unless you count sitting in my minivan as sitting. Then, I’ve sat a lot since September. In my minivan. While I wait for my kids to do their things. I wrote this entire essay on my laptop from the confines of the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey. I basically live here now. I’ve got blankets and canned goods and extra power ports. I just drive from one parking lot to another. If the weather were nicer, I’d set one of those pop-up canopies down and chat with other parents who are also waiting aimlessly in parking lots.

In fact, I had to drive Henry to a neighboring town for a practice this week and my friend happens to live close by and I thought to myself, I should tell my friend to meet me in the parking lot, where I’m sitting in my minivan and we could catch up. She also has three kids in activities and even though I bet you’re thinking it would be weird to hang out with your friend in their minivan, she would absolutely not think it was weird. She gets it. I was disappointed when I hadn’t thought to bring a little wine or maybe some snack cheese.

I suggested to Bob that we get one of those gas tanks installed on our property – like the ones they have on farms – so we don’t have to worry about where and when to fill up our car’s constantly empty tank but he didn’t think that was a wise use of money. Whatever. That idea has legs for sure.

I have no succinct way to wrap this up other than Henry is done with practice in about ten minutes and then I have to drive my minivan home and look longingly at my sofa on my way to bed. If you need me for any reason in the coming months, just come find my minivan. Basketball is done in February – I think.

Wait, what comes after basketball season?

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Not This Year, Satan

One of the great things about our school district is the delayed start time for middle and high school students. The older kids start AFTER the elementary kids. Instead of being the first ones on the bus, they are the last ones on the bus. I’m pretty sure the school district’s scheduling decisions were based on lots of science and not, say, an unmitigated fear of what teenagers are like when they’ve had to rise before the sun. Little kids usually wake first while big kids tend to sleep in. It’s all very logical and makes sense and I think it would work really well for families with kids that aren’t broken like mine. Because mine are broken and this setup has been terrible for us.

My two youngest, elementary-aged children would sleep until the average Sunday brunch time each and every day if I would let them. They are both extremely difficult to motivate in the early morning hours. Simply raising their heads off of their pillows seems like a monumental task, so crushing are their grade school responsibilities. Meanwhile, my oldest child, my middle schooler, could watch the director’s cut of “Titanic” in the free time he has each day between when he’s ready for school and when he has to leave to catch the bus. He has so many minutes to burn that he actually gets bored, inevitably following me from room to room trying to discuss some sports thing as I’m deep-breathing my way through my first cup of coffee while simultaneously packing lunches, trying to find PE-approved shoes, stuffing the green folder in backpacks, and imploring his younger siblings to please, for the love, JUST GET OUT OF BED.

Anyway, in summary, I spent most of last school year trying unsuccessfully to wake Charlie and Millie up while pretending to listen to Henry talk about football. It was just as much fun as it seems! If you’re guessing that there was a lot of rage involved in our morning routine, you are guessing correctly.

And, let it be known that I tried really, really hard last year to be kind and gentle and loving and patient and to not say the really bad curse words before 7:00 a.m. I had Waffle Wednesdays and French Toast Fridays and special lunch box treats and hugs and kisses and all manner of gentle encouragement to get those two little kids up and out the door. Morning after endless morning, it did not work.

None of it worked. I always ended up yelling. Every time. So much yelling.

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I vowed, Scarlett O’Hara-style, that this school year would be different. Because, I simply cannot have another year full of red hot rage over having to doula my children through their before school routines. I just cannot. I need greater independence from my perfectly capable children.

Last year, we tried out alarm clocks but it went poorly. In an era when you can, essentially, just yell commands in the direction of your phone or your Echo or your iPad or your mother, the complicated multi-step process of setting alarm clocks proved problematic for the youngest of our household. Each morning, Millie would turn her bleeping alarm clock off by… unplugging it. Effective, yes, but also not very efficient. That meant, each evening, we’d have to sit down and reset the time and then the alarms and also the snooze capabilities confused each of them and we basically abandoned the alarm clocks pretty early on in the school year.

This year, I procured a Google Home Mini for Charlie. Voice commands make it easy for him to set the alarm and also, as a bonus, I can always tell when he’s awake in the morning because I can hear him yelling from his bed at the top of his lungs, “HEY GOOGLE STOP STOP GOOGLE STOP.” Millie is still using an old-school alarm clock for now because her bedroom most closely resembles our local landfill and I’m using the Google Mini as the dangling carrot in my cleanup scheme. She’s only unplugged her alarm twice this year (so far) so I can confidently claim that we seem to have rounded that learning curve.

In an effort to further streamline our morning routine, I also bought these great dry-erase charts that I hung on the back of the kids’ bedroom doors outlining what they need to do every day. These charts are working great in that Charlie and Millie remember to ignore them almost every day.

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However, laying out the next day’s outfit the night before is critical for Millie since she is forever picking things to wear to school that she actually can’t wear to school. She always picks a miniskirt and sandals on gym days or wants to wear her gymnastics leotard on library days. Laying out her outfit the night before means I can fight with her about her clothing choices at the end of the day when I’m exhausted instead of fighting with her first thing in the morning when I’m also exhausted. The whole process is very frustrating but also adorable in that Millie literally lays out her outfits.

The charts are colorful and cute and all but I’m actually thinking about just laminating instructional signs and hanging them all over my house instead. Every morning is this hamster wheel exercise in asking my kids over and over and over again if they have their shoes or their library books or their sweatshirts or asking if they’ve brushed their hair and washed their faces. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. Signs would make this way easier. Want to know what to pack in your lunch? There’s a sign for that! Asking me repeatedly what you need for flag football practice? Reference the sign! Curious how you can brush your teeth without leaving the bathroom looking like someone was murdered with Crest? I have a sign for that!

It wouldn’t be pretty to look at but at least any houseguests we may have would know how to pour themselves their own bowl of cereal in five easy steps.

I don’t want to seem overly confident or anything and I know we’re not that deep into the school year yet but I have super high hopes for less rage this year with our charts and our instructional signs and our more advanced alarm clocks. Last year was so endlessly frustrating that I think it can only get better from here, right? I mean, even if this year still proves maddening, I can always look forward to the middle and high school years with their later start times. That’s only – let me check my math here – FIVE YEARS AWAY.

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Assumptions I Make About Other Honda Odyssey Drivers Based On Model Year

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2018

Fully loaded: Our first baby is on the way! We are just SO excited to become parents. This is such a magical time! We finished the nursery this past weekend. Have I shown you pictures yet? No? Hold on. Let me get my phone.

Base model: Peed on a pregnancy test at 4:45 a.m. and discovered we’re going to have a third kid. I don’t even know how to break the news to my spouse. I was at the dealership before they even opened because this is absolutely a panic purchase. I’m sure I’ll have regrets and if I’m being honest right now, I’m not sure if I’m talking about the minivan or the third kid.

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2017

I haven’t slept through the night in 18 months and I can’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth. I’m only out driving around right now because we sprung for the fancy integrated DVD player and it’s the one thing that makes the baby stop crying.

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2016

I have an infant and a toddler and probably a preschooler, too, and I have to lug them in and out of this car an unbelievable number of times each day and do you know how heavy that bucket car seat is so you can pry my sliding passenger doors from my cold, dead hands. Andy! Help me get the double stroller loaded in the back of the van!

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2015

These spill-proof sippy cups really aren’t spill-proof. How can they even claim they’re spill-proof? They totally spill! The label should read, will do a pretty okay job of not spilling. Related, do you smell something weird in here? I definitely smell something weird in here. This van is starting to smell weird.

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2014

Yes! Sure! I can totally drive us all. Give me a minute though. I just want to get some blankets from the back to cover up all of the seats. I would hate for you to get a stain on your pants or something.

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2013

With clean rims: We refuse to give up on a life of order and cleanliness even though we are drowning in kids and their detritus.

With filthy rims: We have completely given up on a life of order and cleanliness because we are drowning in kids and their detritus. Park the van outside the garage so it will get clean the next time it rains.

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2012

I drive approximately 750 miles each week hauling my kids to all of their places. We LIVE out of this car. I could cook a three-course meal for our entire soccer team out of the back. I even rigged a Keurig to run off of the cigarette lighter. Oh, is that a bug bite on your arm? Let me see if I’ve got something in the trunk for that.

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2011

This car has seen some shit. Specifically from that one road trip back home from the beach when two of the three kids had a stomach bug. We’re DEFINITELY leasing next time. No question.

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2010

We are only two years away from being DONE with car seats and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go buy a brand new vehicle just to put booster seats in it again. I don’t know what that light is that just came on on the dashboard but I don’t care. I am limping across the finish line with this minivan, crevices full of Lego pieces and Cheetos and that stain that looks like blood but is probably just a melted lollipop from the doctor’s office.

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2009

Both sliding doors on this thing broke two years ago but it’s okay because the kids are old enough to just climb in and out through the back hatch. And, it’s a good thing that back hatch still works because I’m not spending a penny more fixing this minivan if what we’re fixing isn’t absolutely essential to the operation of the vehicle.

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2008

I can haul anything you need hauled. Need me to take that old dishwasher to the dump? Sure! That sofa you bought on Craigslist? Let me grab some bungee cords! A dozen ferrets not in cages? Not a problem! My minivan is so destroyed from a decade of kids that nothing could possibly make it grosser. Let me help you with that mulch!

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2007

We had to send our kid to private school for Reasons and even though we were totally going to get a new car this year, the tuition is killing us so we’re going to wait for a bit.

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2006

Our teenager is driving now so we handed this down to them but I’m deeply conflicted because while there’s nothing even remotely attractive about driving a minivan, I’m very aware that there’s a whoooooooole lot of room in the back when that third row is folded flat.

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2005

This van just sits in our driveway for long stretches and the air conditioning no longer works but we’re keeping it around specifically to haul the kids and their crap to and from college. Have you seen how much stuff fits in the back of this thing when the third row is folded flat?

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2004

If I park my minivan underneath this obviously diseased tree and a big storm comes through…

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2003 or earlier

I basically discovered minivans before minivans were a Thing. Have I told you how many miles I’ve logged with this baby? I mean, I didn’t even change the timing belt until 205K. Are you on any of the Ody Club forum web pages? No? Just in case, I’ll give you my handle.

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Anyone driving a Honda Pilot, regardless of model year

We’re not really “Minivan People,” per se. That’s why we drive an SUV. Even though our SUV is, like, two feet of cargo space away from literally being a minivan. But, it’s not a minivan. It’s an SUV. Because we’re cool.