26 April 2010

Good-bye to all that

Shortly after Sacha was born, a friend stopped by with dinner, and upon seeing a shiny new car in the driveway said, "I don't know what's more surprising, that you have three kids, or a minivan."

Me and the minivan never got along. I drove it for four years, and enjoyed doing so for one billing cycle, which is about the length of time it took for the novelty of automatic sliding doors to wear off.

I'd like to say it's nothing personal, but really, it is. There's nothing materially wrong with a minivan. I have dear friends who not only do not mind, but enjoy, driving one.

I am just not one of them. I have a long list of grievances against it, both ridiculous — I found it  intimidating to drive a car that was taller than me —  and legitimate — the second row sliding doors stick in weather below freezing, forcing passengers to enter and exit via the passenger front door and climb about the cabin in order to get to their seats.

If you are in the business of shepherding a flock of children about, the minivan performs the job with distinction. Designed with family convenience in mind, it has many handy storage compartments. There is a built-in slot for everything from cups to eyeglasses to toys, which makes it not unlike traveling aboard a houseboat. I would not at all be surprised to learn that there are hidden compartments, a-la-Nancy Drew, that I never discovered.

And therein, at least in part, lies the problem. The minivan's commodiousness — it's raison d'etre — overwhelmed me. Perhaps I wasn't woman enough for it. I found driving it not unlike piloting a small boat on dry land. It has the turning radius of a straight edge. In order to avoid hitting a curb, I had to swing so wide that when the front end rounded the bend, the back was left stranded in another municipality.

Behind the wheel I felt like I was in an airplane cockpit, isolated from, yet responsible for the safety of my passengers. The acoustics are terrible, which made it difficult to hear my kids. While this may sound like heaven, it put me in an awkward position. I could pretend to hear them, and thus risk agreeing to something to which I would never acquiesce. Otherwise, I could request that they speak up, but as I spend a considerable amount of time telling them to lower their voices, this is something I never, ever want to do.

But the worst thing about driving a minivan was the filth. The chasm between the first and third row — the children's domain — is large, and it did not take long before the back of the van began to resemble the Collyer brothers' brownstone. Being orderly and controlling, the very thought of going back there made me shudder. If you recall the experience of being many months pregnant, and then getting an unexpected glimpse of your inaccessible lower half, you know what I'm talking about.

The dreaded back row attracted an assortment of items including: books, notepads, writing implements, stickers, sample paint chips, spare change, action figures, matchbox cars, legos. My fatwa against bringing food into the car was difficult to enforce, so at any given time there could be chip wrappers, melted and re-solidified chocolate, snack containers, straws, and beverages in various stages of completion strewn about. And then there were the collections of twigs, rocks, and leaves that children seem to attract, which combined with the cookie crumbs to form a thin layer of humus.

My conviction that the car has a blind spot on the front passenger side of the bumper was validated by a survey of Toyota Siennas in any parking lot, which frequently bore similar patterns of nicks and dents. Our bumper was already in need of repair before I had a fender bender in March, and we were waiting until right before our lease terminated to fix it to avoid the possibility of incurring further damage.

The accident forced us to repair the bumper a few months earlier than planned, but we only had to shell out for our deductible. David and I resolved that when the car was repaired, because it would never again look this good, we had no choice but to get rid of it immediately.

When the body shop called sooner than expected to say the car was ready, I may or may not have replied, "Oh, shit." I disliked the minivan so much that I preferred the rental car, a decidedly unsexy Dodge Grand Caravan. Ambivalently reunited with my own car, I drove straight to a car dealership. Twenty-four hours later, we bid adieu to the minivan, and I drove home in a Mazda 5, which, because I am the zeitgeist, was profiled in the Sunday Times last week

The Mazda 5 is a micro-minivan; it's built on a car chassis, and is about two feet shorter and a half-ton lighter than a typical minivan. It has three rows of seats like a minivan, but seats one person fewer. The first time Sarah got in, she asked if it was a sports car. The experience of trading down to a smaller car has been exhilarating, like exchanging a septuagenarian for a teenage body. Things that were long impossible are now be done with ease. Three-point turns now contain only two points, and when I step out of the car at home, my feet are in my driveway, as opposed to my neighbor's garden. I no longer parallel park as much as glide into tight spaces with one hand on the wheel and my eyes closed.

Although I'm not much of a driver, I am delighting in the experience of being behind the wheel of this smaller, nimbler, and cleaner car. And while the honeymoon will end eventually, in the meantime, to maintain the illusion that the car is, and will forever remain brand new, I subject the children to mandatory disrobing and strigiling prior to entering the vehicle.

19 April 2010

a brief bringing up to date

1. We postponed a spring break road trip to Boston because I am suffering from a combination of cold and allergies.

2. We got a new car last week, and turned our old, much hated car in today. Despite our fears, we incurred no additional fees for abuse to our much abused old vehicle. Good riddance! I will have more to say about this shortly.

3. I quite like Parks and Recreation; do you?

4. Lately I'm on a roll with the Negroni, which is composed of equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. I would like to say it combines three of my favorite things, until I actually thought about it and realized it's not at all true as only Campari is one of my favorite things, and I could take or leave the gin and vermouth. So really, it's more a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

I was mixing up a couple tonight when David walked into the kitchen and said, "You MEASURE?!" A martini drinker, he added, "I never measure."  I was mildly embarrassed to be caught in the act; as one who has a more improvisatory nature, measuring carefully is out of character for me. And yet, I stand by my ritual, as it makes a damn fine drink. I've only this a handful of times, and don't yet have an intuitive feel for it, and I want the proportions to be perfect. Above all else, it amuses me, and puts my scale to good use. I enjoy placing the cocktail shaker on the scale and then hitting the zero button. A Negroni is nothing more than of 1-1/2 ounces each of gin, vermouth and Campari, stirred, and poured over ice and garnished with thin, thin slices of orange, although it strikes me that a slice of cucumber might also be nice. I find it slightly bracing, and quite tasty. Try it, and let me know what you think.

5. Because I am slightly under the weather, Sarah and Gabriel have promised me a breakfast in bed of scrambled eggs and toast tomorrow. Although it sounds promising, I am a little scared about this. I like
my eggs runny, and Sarah prefers hers more resembling steel wool in texture. It's entirely possible they may forget about this in the morning, though I doubt it. In the event that they do not, my controlling nature will be battling hers, even if I am nowhere near the kitchen, and I will have to do my best to convey how sublime the eggs are, which they will be, even if I don't like them one bit.

07 April 2010


Today is significant because you turned eleven, and although it is your day, the fact of your birth marks the day that I became both your mother, and a mother.

Soon after you were born, as your father and I admired you, we agreed that we wanted to raise a strong-willed girl. In that, we have succeeded in spades. You are so effortlessly authoritative that on occasion I have found myself responding to direction from you before I remember that I am the mother, and I give the orders around here. And though we'd like to take credit for the manifold ways in which you know, and express your heart and mind, the credit belongs to you.

Your kindness, maturity, humor and conscience are wise beyond your years, and often leave me speechless. I thoroughly enjoyed your last parent-teacher conference, which was less a critical assessment than a forum in which your teachers and I swapped stories about about your many forms of awesomeness. I left with a shit-eating grin on my face that did not subside until sometime after I fell asleep.

I know it's hard to comprehend that your birthday is not a national holiday, and it was only because you were sick that you got your wish to take the day off from school. And while it is disappointing to be sick on your birthday, I think we had a pretty good, albeit ordinary day knocking about together. I think you are well on your way to learning, at a far younger age than I ever understood, that try as we may to manufacture memories, they fail in comparison to the way in which the mundane is sacred, and the best moments often arise unbidden, in the crevices between running the vacuum, and throwing another load of laundry in the dryer.   

You are remarkable beyond my wildest expectations, and I am forever grateful for the privilege of being your mother.

Happy birthday, beauty; I owe you some macaroni and cheese.