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Living the Minivan Life

The upside to being the designated driver

I didn’t pick the name for this column, but it’s kind of grown on me over the last 10 months. I do, after all, drive a minivan, and I drive it a lot. In fact, I’ve driven almost 4,000 miles in the last two months, soaring gas prices or not.

It would be exciting if I were driving to the beach every weekend, or combing yard sales near and far for exotic finds, or even getting paid to drive some celebrity around. But no, I am just driving kids from Kensington to Bethesda to Silver Spring to Germantown, to D.C. on occasion, and sometimes even crossing the river into Virginia.

Early in the morning, I’m usually driving in my pajamas, praying that no one hits me and I’ll have to get out of the car. Sometimes it's all day in my workout clothes, hoping I don’t run into a high school friend looking like a gym rat. On a nice day, you might hear me blasting my '80s music out the windows and sunroof. On an especially long day of driving, I sometimes emerge from the car bent in the shape of a car seat. 

Why, you may ask, do I drive so much? Why don’t my kids take the bus, hitch a ride with someone else, ride their bikes or, heaven forbid, walk? Well, they do some of those things some of the time, but the truth is that I just like to drive my kids and their friends. 

I like knowing they’re buckled in a seat belt. I like listening to them chat and sing. I’m happy to drive the soccer team to practice, the kids home from play rehearsal, and the neighborhood friends to the movies. I almost always have snacks available. I especially like the opportunities to talk about their day or a problem or their plans for the weekend, and I don’t even mind the rides in silence, as I like to provide that quiet space that we all need sometimes.

If you’ve seen the current Atlantic Magazine article circulating the web and morning talk shows this week, which proposes that our current parenting style removes opportunities for kids to take some hard knocks in life as an important lesson, you might think this need to drive is more about me than them.

Perhaps you’re right. It’s possible I’m doing my children a huge disservice by always being the available driver. You never know what will emerge as that terrible thing you did to your kids to land them in therapy years later, but the fact is that my time in this role is limited. With all of them in high school or college, my services will not be needed for much longer. If I’ve hovered too close with the engine running, I accept that guilt.

In the hours that I’m in the car without them — no doubt running errands that involve locating a certain dress, or a book for a class, or poster board for a project — I am thinking about what else I want to do with my life once I hang up the chauffeur’s hat. And I’m starting to think about what kind of car I will drive next.  Will it be sporty, classic, economical?

Or maybe a new minivan? After all, I may need it for when I take up yard sale shopping.

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