Last week, I said goodbye to my minivan. After 14 years, it was donated to a charitable organization and towed away. This marks a major transition for me. It may seem odd, but over the course of its life, my minivan—which racked up 202,823 miles—became like a reliable old friend.
When my children were 5, 8, and 11, my husband and I decided it was time to take the plunge and get the quintessential family vehicle. But instead of dreading the prospect of driving a cliché “mom” minivan like other parents out there, I couldn’t have been more excited. I relished the chance for theater-style seating where kids could easily get to that third row. I insisted on the version with automatic doors, so I could easily open and close that sliding door for every carpool pickup.
We got our teal Honda Odyssey minivan in August of 2003. It became our mode of transport throughout our children’s school age years. With three children in every sort of activity, it never ceased to be on the go. That sliding door feature was used so often that we wore out one of the existing electronic parts and it required a replacement later in the car’s life. There were soccer carpools where my daughter and her friends would run in, exhilarated from winning a big game. It took us to tennis matches all over the Midwest for my son. And for my oldest, the car became the focal point for music, as we carted her—and sometimes other members of her jazz combo—to various performing venues, at one point fitting the giant bass of a fellow musician in the back.
As my children grew older and I remained their chauffeur just before they learned how to drive, those carpools became my window into their world. The kids and their friends didn’t hesitate to dish about their teachers or problems they were having with their peers. I seemed to be invisible to them. I would sit silently, eavesdropping to learn a bit more about them than I could ever glean from a typical dinner conversation.
Then there were the long-distance road trips. Our minivan took us from our Michigan home to cities throughout the Midwest and East Coast. I insisted on getting a DVD player with an extra-large screen well before individual tablets were the norm. That system tended to break down mid-way through every trip, but for those first few hours, it was sheer bliss for my husband and I to listen to our music while the kids were happily entertained watching a movie. My husband routinely logged 10 to 12 hours without stopping for anything besides gas and a quick meal. Though the kids occasionally grew tired of sitting, the car provided them enough comfort to minimize their complaints. The Odyssey could always accommodate the massive amount of gear our family of five required. The kids may have been sandwiched between beach chairs, suitcases, and a giant cooler, but we always fit everything we needed.
As our children grew older and headed to college, I often entertained the idea of parting with the minivan. “Just one more year,” I would say. As it crossed the 100,000 mile mark and beyond, there were numerous hefty expenses to repair aging parts. But it seemed worth it to keep the Odyssey going. “It’s still less than a car payment,” I would say, a dozen years after we had paid it off. And my youngest still preferred this mode of transportation, even when my husband got a new sedan. “It’s way more comfortable than dad’s small car,” she said.
The minivan continued to serve us well when we started to transport our kids to college. Every inch of space used for dorm room essentials, from packages of ramen noodles to twin-sized extra long sheets. I placed a bumper sticker from each of their schools on the van, and now there are three adorning the rear. This van had carried all of my kids along their journey to adulthood, from when they were just young children learning about the world to adults ready to venture out on their own.
Just a few weeks ago, I thought we would take one more road trip when two of our children would be in town. But as the car surpassed 200,000 miles, it began to heave as it accelerated. I worried it would no longer be dependable. It was then that we decided to finally pull the trigger and purchase a sport utility vehicle.
As I cleaned out the Odyssey, the items I found reminded me of the many experiences we shared in our van. Buried in one of the storage compartments was a cassette tape of music that my oldest daughter composed when she was in middle school, a well-worn Shrek CD, a smiley face fleece blanket, and a Canadian coin from our trip to Toronto.
Later, at the Subaru dealer, I found myself becoming teary at the prospect of parting, as I looked at the minivan in the parking lot. It got me to one final place before retiring, faithful as ever. When I texted my oldest daughter the news, she texted back, “Sad to see the van go, of course. So loyal!” My youngest wanted to make sure she had the chance to say goodbye.
It may seem silly to become attached to a piece of sheet metal. But this minivan was always more than just a way to get from one place to another. It was a big part of a larger journey. As I removed the minivan keys from my key chain, I realized that with my children now adults, that chapter of the five of us, traveling together as a young and growing family, was finally coming to an end. I’m sure we’ll forge different types of memories in our new Subaru Forester, which has lots of cool bells and whistles that my old car lacked. But they won’t be the same. Those 14 years behind the wheel flew by. I’m so grateful we had them.