Voices | Bella English

A Mom-mobile driver no more

By Bella English
October 12, 2009

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My 1999 Plymouth Voyager minivan had maternal instincts. She was bigger than a barge, the better to protect the children inside. She had lots of seats for kids and dogs - and no leather for the same reason. For 10 years the Mom-mobile faithfully did her duty. She took us on family vacations. She got the kids to and from school, sports practices and games, dance lessons, and parties. When the kids were older, she took them on college tours. Loaded down, she did several move-ins: to camp, to college dorms, and recently to a first apartment.

To me, she was a partner in parenthood. To the children, she became a source of embarrassment, a big, clunky old thing with dings and dents and a persistent rumble. Sure, she had a breakdown or two, and there was the time she left my daughter and me at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. But that was the fault of the hapless driver (my husband).

It was on the same New Jersey Turnpike that the Mom-mobile decided she’d had enough. We had just taken our youngest to college and were driving back to Boston in a miserable mood. Two days earlier we’d left home, the car stuffed with suitcases, a mini-fridge, lamp, bedding, plastic storage bins, a case of Gatorade, and a 17-year-old son. Now, the Mom-mobile was empty except for two grieving adults. It was raining. We went through a toll, and the Mom-mobile sputtered and lurched. Then she died, right there on the turnpike. AAA came and towed us to a garage. The mechanic took a look and said, “You might not want to put that much money into this vehicle.’’

He was right.

With a busted transmission and 135,000 miles, the car had had enough. The timing was ironic: The Mom-mobile had just delivered our last child safely to college. Anyone who thinks this is pure coincidence has never loved a car.

We removed the papers, maps, jumper cables, and ice scraper from the Mom-mobile. We cut down the wooden fish dangling from the rearview mirror that my son had carved years earlier. I took a last glance at the worn carpet and stained seats. How many juice boxes and milkshakes had been spilled over the years? Dog hair was everywhere: Our mutt adored the Mom-mobile and always rode shotgun. Reaching under the seats, I found old Skittles, M&Ms, and Burger King bags.

I asked the garage owner to take one last photo of me standing in front of the Mom-mobile. My hand is over my heart.

Soon, we had a brand-new car, a Toyota Corolla. Unlike the Mom-mobile, the Corolla is zippy. It gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway. It still has that new-car smell. It has half the passenger room of my minivan. I feel like a giant in it.

In other words, it is the perfect post-kid car. I appreciate it, I really do. It’s just that mothers tend to get attached to things like cars and houses that played a prominent role during their child-rearing years. When her youngest left for college, my neighbor Jane donated her ancient station wagon to a charity - and videotaped every second of it being towed away.

The Mom-mobile hauled our Christmas trees every season, with pine needles scattered in the back for the rest of the year. It had mattresses tied to the roof, bicycles strapped to the back. The conversations that took place in that car are vintage parent-child: There’s something about having a captive ear but no eye contact that eases sore subjects.

I called car czar Ernie Boch Jr. to ask him what one’s car says about a person. “A minivan means you’ve got kids. My wife fought it tooth and nail, but I brought one home and she loved it,’’ says Boch, who is 51 and has two children.

“A 6-series BMW says, ‘Get out of my way; I’m successful.’ ’’

“If you see a woman driving a convertible, she’s a player.’’

“Ferraris and Maseratis are the classic midlife crisis car. Those cars come with a built-in affair.’’

And a Toyota Corolla?

“That would be a middle-aged or older person who says, ‘This is the best transportation for the money. I don’t give a damn what I look like.’ ’’

That would be me. Mom-mobile, R.I.P.