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Farewell, Stow ‘N Go

And just like that, it was gone. The silver, 7-seater 2008 Grand Caravan that had been parked in our driveway and part of our family for the past decade slowly backed out onto the street, shifted gears, and drove away to live out the twilight of its life registered under the name of a grateful new owner.

No comforting hugs or firm handshakes. No floral arrangements delivered courtesy of long-lost friends and distant family members. No eulogies or photo boards or virtual guest books. All that remained was a Kijiji ad that would be taken down within the hour and an insurance policy that would be amended with neither pomp nor ceremony.

A couple of weeks ago, when the first of many potential buyers was on the way to take a look at our minivan, I grabbed a container of all-purpose wipes and the old vacuum we keep in the garage for cleaning vehicles and I got to work. I started by taking out the winter floor mats that I never bother removing thanks to the amount of dirt that accumulates over the summer months courtesy of clay-crusted baseball cleats and mud-covered work boots. Then it was the glove box, home to just about everything but gloves, including not a few ancient, sticky packs of Heinz ketchup stored there “just in case.” In the end, I had gathered three bags full of who-knows-what that I’ll either sort through this week or (more likely) shove into a corner somewhere and deal with next spring.

It was just an ordinary cleaning job until half-way through the course of vacuuming when Melissa came out and offered to help. There was nothing unusual about the offer itself, especially given the fact that our potential buyer was on his way and we needed to get the job done quickly, but as soon as I passed the vacuum hose through the interior of the van and into the hands of my wife, we looked at each other and both realized that something much more significant was at play here under this late August afternoon sun.

It was the Victoria Day weekend in 2003, when a much younger version of this same vehicle-cleaning duo packed up their suitcases and two particularly young children, hopped in their white, two-door Ford Escort, and drove to the picturesque town of Gananoque for a wedding. The Escort was their first car and had served them as well as they could have hoped until that fateful moment at a rest stop on the 401 somewhere around the midpoint of their journey home, when they found themselves struggling to get their wailing three-month old daughter out of her car seat for an emergency feeding. Two-door cars are simply not designed for either maneuvering car seats or arranging roadside feeding sessions, and it was in that moment that a firm decision was made: “We need a minivan!”

To be sure, the Grand Caravan that backed out of our driveway the other day was not the same minivan that was purchased in response to our 401 breastfeeding dilemma. That was going on twenty years ago, and there just aren’t many vehicles that allow you to measure their longevity in decades anymore. We drove that first minivan for nine years, then purchased another new-to-us van, which has since carried us for another ten years and an additional 240,000 kilometres. 

But our season of minivan ownership has now come to an end, which was precisely the thought that struck both Melissa and I as she received the vacuum hose from my hand and began to suck up the dust and debris from the floor of the last decade of our lives.

Minivans are fantastic. So much room, so much space, so many seats! Over the years, we soaked in the best that our Grand Caravan had to offer, including multiple trips to Florida and other southern destinations to escape the frigid Canadian winters, and during the rest of the year, untold mileage piled on, driving back and forth to ball diamonds and hotels all over the province. We packed that thing full of hockey gear, sleeping bags, and middle-school friends, and every first weekend of December, we strapped a Christmas tree to the roof rack and brought it home to officially launch the holiday season.

All of these memories and so many more belong to what we are now coming to realize is a defined season of life—a season that, like our minivan ownership, is drawing to a close. 

I know that sounds dramatic, and it may appear that I’m laying it on a bit thick, but when your oldest child is starting a Masters program, your middle child is attending O-week events to kick off her undergrad, and your youngest is about to begin the fall as Co-Mayor of his highschool, well it’s not dramatic at all…it’s just reality.

In many ways, we’ve done this same kind of letting-go thing before. There was a day when we bought the last jar of baby food, a day when we packed up a playpen for the last time, and a day when we purchased our last pair of kids’ sized shoes. Each of those days marked the end of something, the end of some kind of season or another, but somehow this one feels different. And I think it’s because the minivan-era spans almost the entire length of our parenting years to date and both includes and surpasses the baby food era, the playpen era, and the kids’ sized shoes era.

My experience is that, when you’re in the thick of parenting young children, you can’t wait to get to the next stage, because life is so chaotic and you never get a good night’s sleep and you just want to spend some time with people whose prefrontal cortexes have developed, already. And so it is that we wish one season away to embrace the next, only to wish that season away in its own time. But then time has a funny way of changing the things that we wish for, doesn’t it?

We have some close, longtime friends who are walking this same journey with us, and while they have yet to let go of their minivan, an increasing number of our conversations centre on the new world of life and parenting that we are entering into. Both of our families are shifting and changing and we are talking quite seriously about how there is a very real chance that we could be “empty nesters” by this time next year, or almost certainly within two years. But we’re so young! How could this be?!

Now, I can almost hear the voices of those who are further along on the parenting journey laughing at these words: “Just you wait,” I hear them saying, “They’ll be back!”

And that very well may be the case. But then again it may not be.

Not long after our wailing three-month old daughter forced us off the 401, I laid on the loveseat in the living room of our semi-detached home with her sleeping soundly on my chest. I had a feeling—no, it was something more like a premonition—that this may be the last time she fell asleep like this. I summoned all of my mental energy and even begged God to permanently etch the moment into my memory. Even then I was starting to understand something about how fast life passes us by and how easy it is for the things that make up our days to fade out of existence. The result of that momentary focus and that desperate, fatherly prayer is that I can still feel the warmth of her little body curled up on my chest, my lungs expanding to gently lift her up and then contracting to set her back down again. The smell of her hair. The adorable noises of her own breathing.

Of course I knew the day would eventually come when we would say our goodbyes to the minivan stage of life, but now that we’re there, I’m finding it difficult to believe. So I’m trying to do the same kind of thing as I did all those years ago—summon that mental energy, utter those prayers—in order to be fully present to this moment, which, in its own way, will come and go and never return in quite the same way again. 

“It’s been good to us,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of good years with this van.”

“We sure have.”


Comments

  1. Yes, seasons sure do pass too quickly, Brandon! Just an FYI... ours never came back (well ok, Trev did for a few months at one point). My biggest gotcha was when Leah went off to school in Toronto. Mary had also started back at working and there I was... home alone! It wasn't long after we got a furry child to ease the pain!

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    1. Well, I suppose only time will tell. I once joked that when everyone moves out of the house, then I will get a dog. That didn't sit too well with certain family members who would like us to get one now—ha!

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