Seven years ago, when we found out we were having twins, both M and me began to prepare in our own ways. I bought approximately four hundred blue and pink outfits. M bought a minivan for our (suddenly large) family.
With our two-year-old, our new colicky babies and our new van, we started a cycle: drive all over the city, eating snacks, changing diapers, breastfeeding, and collecting the six thousand little toys and art projects that kids produce every single day of their lives.
When we got home from our adventures, we would clean all the used diapers, mildewy bottles, uneaten Happy Meals, and armloads of paper out of the van.
Then, about every month, either M or I would crawl around in the back seat looking for a lost paci and we would see what was really going on in the back.
Pretty much a petri dish of bacteria projects, that’s what. We would freak out and make the kids scrub the van from top to bottom. “YOU HAVE BEEN COLLECTING APPLES UNDER YOUR SEAT?!” “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE SAVING THIS MILK FOR LATER?” and “WE DO NOT USE SHARPIES IN THE CAR! ESPECIALLY NOT ON THE SEAT!”
So, we would excavate the layers of stuck-on fruit snacks and volcano yogurt drinks from the carpet and walls. We would collect all the travel mugs from the under the front seat and sneak the sticky Happy Meal toys into the trash.
We would warn the kids, “The van is clean. If you eat something in the car, throw away your wrapper. And, for all that is good in this world, FINISH THE SNACK instead of stashing it under your car seat for later.”
The kids would act appropriately shamed and promise to do all those things. We would believe they would, until the next time we discovered what a wasteland the back had become.
This cycle continued for seven years.
Until this weekend.
That smelly, old minivan had 110,000 hard miles on it. These were miles transporting four small children and occasionally two smelly dogs, across bumpy city streets. It made strange noises, sagged in the middle, and blew out stinky exhaust. In car years, this van was a 75 year-old man.
When the CD player started sticking and the stupid AC wasn’t blowing cold air, M agreed it was time to trade the old guy in for a new van, one without seven years of gunk living in the carpet.
First task? Clean out the old van. Not the intermittent cleaning we’d been doing all these years, but real cleaning. Scrubbing and polishing to erase all those years of colicky babies spitting up and gum wedged in the carpet.
Gleefully, the kids and I headed out to the driveway to see how we could make our van shine and get those suckers at the dealership to give us real cash for it.
Then, I discovered.
I had been the sucker.
Even though I knew our minivan was normal, run-of-the-mill gross, I didn’t know it was a health hazard. When we really dug in, moved car seats and pulled up carpets, I discovered my kids had been riding around in the equivalent of a frat house. Sorry to offend fraternity members everywhere, who surely do not drink half a bottle of orange juice and then throw the bottle under their seat. TIMES SEVEN.
It was disgusting. I admit our vehicle had been a little scruffy; I did not know my kids were sitting on their own landfill. While Nate and Aunt Katie vacuumed up thousands of crusty hair ribbons, and Sam and Elisabeth scrubbed sticky brown residue from every single cup holder and surface, I pulled out armloads of trash.
Whatever you’re imagining, this was worse. Like science experiment worse. I suddenly understood why our dogs always want to hang out in the van. All this fermenting trash must have smelled wonderful to them.
I had believed a lie, that our van wasn’t that bad. Now that I saw the truth, I started to have second thoughts about buying a new van. Why buy my slobby kids a new car to trash? We didn’t deserve anything; we are Rosanne Barr and those bratty kids she used to have on her sit-com.
We are dirty.
BUT M had already agreed to the new van. And, I’m a shallow person who would rather drive a nice, clean van, even it meant buying one because we do not posses skills to keep our own cars clean.
The next day, after M had been at the dealership for several grueling hours, I walked outside to see this. A brand-new van.
A clean slate. A fresh chance.
So, you dirty kids, here’s your warning. Clean up your acts. Clean up your seats. And clean up your cup holders.
Otherwise, when you turn 16, this van will be yours.