Ten Years in the Minivan

What’s the matter with the car I’m driving?
“Can’t you tell that it’s out of style?”
Should I get a set of white wall tires?
“Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?

Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental

…but the minivan was my signature. I didn’t need the school sticker on my bumper or my carpool number on the dashboard, because everyone knew the red minivan in carpool line was me.

Yesterday we traded it in, and my husband’s car became mine. It’s a much better, safer, cooler car. But I still feel a little sentimental, a need to record and preserve the memories made during the last ten years. Almost exactly. We bought it a few weeks before our third son was born. “We need a bigger car.” And he turns ten next month.


….those early days when I had to pin him down like we were wrestling to get him in his car seat? Him screaming? Writhing? Me wondering if I was going to get arrested for child abuse?

….or the time the car smelled so bad even after we had it detailed, and it ended up that some breakfast sausage links I carried with me for toddler snacks had slid between the seats weeks before?

….the time I drove home from a ski weekend in below zero, snowy weather, and our middle son puked all over the back seat? I pulled over at that abandoned-for-the-winter sleepaway camp and changed him out of his gross wet clothes, both of us crying, sure he was going to get pneumonia.

….or a few years later, when he puked all over his friend on the way up to the mountains?

What about the time our youngest decorated his “happy place” by using a sharpie to draw a pirate scene in the third row seat? And then got mad at me because I scrubbed it off?

….or when his brother’s friends laughed so hard at the story that he did it again?!

….or when one of the few girls to ever get in my car climbed in, and after a quick look stated, “Wow! Your car is dirtier than ours.”

Remember the minivan caravan to Mount Rushmore? The camping trips? The embarrassment of swiping another mom’s car mirror in carpool line? The fights over who had to sit in the seat with goo stuck to it?

The day our oldest first rode in the front seat? Or our dog refusing to give it up?

Her nose smudges and dirty paw scratches on the windows, because, barking in my ear, blocking my view of the road, she tried to get at every truck that passed us by?

What about waiting for dad to pick us up at the airport one night? The boys spotted it in the dark distance because, “Mom, it’s the only minivan in the world that goes 90 miles an hour.”

The racing red minivan. A little sticky in places. A lot of dirt. Stories that make us laugh now. It was “still rock in roll to me.”

Independence is Good, Mom

My friend moved back into the neighborhood where we met more than 40 years ago, and recently described how the quiet streets where we roamed have opened up a new-found independence for her daughters too. Her girls ride their bikes to the pool like we did, walk to restaurants for lunch, stop in at the grocery store for snacks like we did, and sometimes don’t come home until after 10 at night. It’s summer after all. And she is excited for them, because she remembers how much fun we had at their age.

Soon after, my sisters were re-telling a story about a funny walk home from the same grocery store, now remodeled and shinier. We laugh every time we remember it, and top that one with other oft-remembered suburban adventures with each other and our friends.

But our mom worries that too many of our stories were unbeknownst to her. She wonders aloud, in fact, if she was the engaged, good mother she thought she was.

Silly wonderings of every mom – jennswonderings  – as our children grow up. Was I a good mom? Did I guide them well? Did they know how much I loved them?

What she forgets, as she worries, is that our stories are happy ones. That we look back on our childhoods with humor. That as sisters, our stories were shared ones in which we all played a part for much longer than most.

Our mom trusted us to go out into the world and play. So, she missed a few things. That, at some point, was her job.

My hope for my kids is supposed to be that as I let them loose to play in the world, they will have fun stories that I won’t remember because I wasn’t there. Yet such letting go breaks my heart. I want to be part of their days, laughing, listening.

And I worry that as they collect their own stories, my stories will be less … less everything… because three sweet boys are not always in them.

Passing Down Our Stories

A question a few weeks ago, and then again this weekend with Dad. So I thought I should write something.

“Tell us a story about when you were a kid.”

“Let me think,” I responded slowly, as all three boys waited.

“Or when Dad was a kid. You guys never talk about your childhoods.”

We don’t? How can that be? I am sure I’ve told every story a hundred times.

“Like the school camping trip when I scored a touchdown?”

“You told us that one.”

“My first bad word when your great-grandmother came to visit and I was 2?”

“That one too.”

“When I ate the icing off my birthday cake right before….”

Swimming back from the Annapolis rope swing in a thunderstorm. Looking out the car window for Rudolph’s red nose on Christmas Eve. Cookies and coke after “Scenes!” for next week’s Little House on the Prairie. Fireworks thrown in the phone-booth at Shakey’s Pizza. The 8th grade Mafia. Skipping the funny lines when we did Annie Get Your Gun at the National Theater, because I was the supposed to be Head of Costumes.

Slumber parties on the screened-in porch. Dance contests to ABBA, Billy Joel and the Monkeys. Shattering the overhead light with a celebratory fist-pump when I made a rare trashcan three-pointer. M&M soap operas on the environmental science trip. A great seaweed battle on the Brewster beach and reenacting Chariots of Fire when we ran.

Private-time walks. Kick the Can games on Hampden Lane. Lifeguarding at Edgemoor, and getting sprayed off the chair with a huge hose by the tennis crew. Winning team got Smarties, losing team got Dum-Dums, and wanting to throw the third grade spelling bee… just once.

The Passing Goddess on the road to Rehoboth and the Parking Goddess everywhere. Laughing so hard that we couldn’t carry the groceries home. Maggie watching out the window for us from the top of the dining room table, now covered in her sweet-dog scratches so we don’t forget her.

Just moments really. Each one not worthy of a story on its own. But together, they are me, their mom. So where to start?



Family of Filmmakers with a Mission

I know a family of very talented filmmakers who are dedicating themselves to making films for schools, arts organizations, hospitals, and other non-profits. They have created some thought-provoking pieces that really reflect the true mission of their client organizations, and as a result have translated into significant increases in fundraising capacity for those organizations.

So of course, I had to write about them. If interested, please read the article on Yahoo, and follow the link to a sampling of their films.


I’m Clearly Headed to the Nursing Home

My five year old brought home a wonderful sculpture he made out of multi-colored foam blocks. On one end of the board on which his sculpture sits is a small tower, mostly red but with one block each of yellow and blue. On the other side of the board is a tower three times the first one’s size. The second is mostly blue.

He likes red.

His teacher always writes the story behind the artwork in their own words:

“This is a big tower for the grownups. Outside is the kids’ area, so the kids don’t have to be bored with the grownups. They can have fun!”

A Page from My Son’s Book

Sometimes when my thoughts are spinning and I cannot settle on anything to write about, I listen to the stories my four year old tells me. Lately, his stories have revolved around a game his big brothers play on the iPad – DragonVale. Today, I am taking a page from his latest book.

“Then a sandstorm came. The Moon Dragon named Stella saved them. She was a baby, and it was her first time doing a great thing. All the dragons lifted her up, and then she got to go in a race. She took first place even though she was still a baby.”

The Flame Sword: A Story by My Four Year Old…Sort of

A few months ago, my four year old wrote a story called The Flame Sword. He worked silently, writing page after page in a loopy cursive-like script that said nothing anyone without an imagination could possibly read. He asked that I staple it together. Then we read it. He carried The Flame Sword with him around the house, and some nights, took it to bed with him. He was proud of his first book.

This morning, he brought it out again, and asked me to read it. Of course, I had forgotten the original version, so together, we came up with a new one. It went something like this:

“Once upon a time,” I read, “there was a brave boy named Jim.”

“No,” my son interrupted. “That wasn’t his name.”

“What was his name then?”

“Read it,” he advised, looking at me as if I had forgotten how.

“Once upon a time, there was a brave boy named Knight Dakota.” We just returned from South Dakota, so he was content with that one. “He had a flame sword that caught on fire whenever danger was near.”

“No, no, it was always on fire,” he corrected, pointing at his loopy writing.

“It was always on fire. And Knight Dakota went on an adventure. You see, there was really bad guy who all good guys in the whole kingdom wanted to put in jail.”

“No, he is going to stab him with his flame sword.”

“Yes that’s what it says. He planned to stab him with his flame sword, the most powerful weapon in the world. Knight Dakota heard that the bad guy was hiding in a cave at the very top of the highest mountain in the world. So even though he knew it was very dangerous, and there was a blizzard every night, he climbed with his horse, named Bluey.”

“No, he doesn’t have a horse. If he held his flame sword in front of him, it would kill his horse. So he couldn’t have a horse.”

“Okay, no horse. It took him three days and nights to reach the top of the mountain all alone.”

“His flame sword kept him warm,” added the author.

“But when he arrived at the cave at the very top of the snow-covered mountain, the bad guy was not there.”

“A bear was in the cave,” smiled the author, pointing again to the words on the page. “A good bear.”

“And the bear could talk,” I added. “He told Knight Dakota that the bad guy had been hiding there but had left the day before. And he was heading for the ocean. Knight Dakota didn’t even stop to rest. He headed down the mountain as fast as he could to the sea.”

“And the bear came with him.”

“Yes, the bear came with him, because the bad guy had been mean to him, and he wanted to get him too. They had to cross through a dense jungle in the middle of the darkest night, past wild animals like jaguars…”

“But they were good jaguars.”

“…and snakes.”

“Those were bad.”

“When they finally got to the ocean, they saw evidence that the bad guy had built himself a boat and sailed away. Luckily, Knight Dakota had worked as a ship builder before he became a knight, and he knew how to build the fastest boat in the world. It was a beautiful red boat.”

The four year old smiled, “Because both of their favorite colors was light red.”

“They caught up with the bad guy just as he landed on an island in the Bahamas, and they had a huge battle of swords.”

“The bad guy had a flame sword too,” read the author.

“But at first the bear could not help, because the bad guy sent a family of snakes to surround him and trap him.”

“They were bad snakes too.”

“And just as the bad snakes were about to bite the bear, Knight Dakota caught them on fire with his flame sword. And he and the bear fought the bad guy together.”

I turned another page, and the four year old pointed to the words at the top, “The bear scratched the bad guy down his face and across his belly. The scratch even covered his eye.”

My voice rose with the drama of the fight, “Then Knight Dakota finally slashed his leg with the flame sword and captured the bad guy. They brought him back to the king, who put him jail. And as a prize, he gave Knight Dakota and the bear a castle on the beach in the Bahamas.”

“And they lived happily ever after.”

“The End.”