Take Pride In Your Vehicle
Cars are the ultimate fashion accessory. As much as anyone attests that books can be judged only by their contents, not by exterior wrappings, there's still a level of congruity between an auto and its inhabitant. We make certain assumptions about the lady behind the wheel of a Subaru Outback, and they're different from the conclusions we draw about the driver of a Mazda Miata. That's just the way it is. I remember back in my single days, when my beloved convertible was in the shop and I was forced to drive a loaner -- an ugly, beat-up tin can that felt more suited for Disneyland's Tomorrowland Autopia than for the wicked freeways of the San Francisco Bay Area. I wouldn't have been surprised if a strong wind -- courtesy of El Nino -- had swept me off the road.
While driving that fuel-efficient Japanese import, I felt out of sorts. Yes, it had four wheels and got me from Point A to Point B, but just as I'd feel uncomfortable wearing someone else's clothing, this car didn't match my concept of myself. I was sleek, white sports car, not powder-blue economy. I acted like I had to make excuses. "My car's in the shop," I explained to the gas station attendant. "This is just a loaner." Suddenly I understood those license plate holders that proclaim, "My other car is a (fill in the blank.)" I was ashamed of my embarrassment. Was I really that shallow? After all, it was just a car, right? But all the same, it wasn't my car. For all my kvetching, I made it through the hours without my convertible. And then, a year later, I had a baby. Upon hearing about my impending motherhood, my first thought was that I'd keep my car, of course. I could easily imagine my son and me zipping around in the summer sunshine, top down, wind blowing through our hair, sunglasses on, Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" blasting on the stereo.
I hadn't counted on the Protection Hormone. You know, the one causing extreme sensitivity to the slightest threat to your child's health and safety. The one that makes you do things like spend the whole night crouched next to his crib, hand hovering over his mouth and nose to make sure he's still breathing, or go head-to-head with the 6-year-old on the opposing soccer team who slide-tackled your daughter in the last minutes of the game, leaving her muddied and bruised.
With these kinds of maternal chemicals coursing through my veins, putting my child in a soft-top vehicle would have been akin to setting up his playpen in the middle of the highway during rush-hour traffic. I immediately told my husband we needed a new car and went out shopping. Days later, I bid a sad farewell to my darling convertible and strapped Benjamin into his car seat in the back of my black four-door sedan.
"At least it isn't a station wagon," I sneered, shuddering with horror at the thought of cruising, Carol Brady-like, in a fake wood-paneled boat. Benjamin and I zipped around town, squeezing into parking spots the monster SUVs didn't look twice at, pausing only to fill our gas tank every few weeks. It wasn't a convertible, but it did have a nifty sunroof and pale gray leather interior.
Three years later, that sunroof is rarely opened ("It makes my ears hurt, Mama!") and the leather interior is now a speckled with apple juice, graham crackers, and muddy footprints. The trunk is crammed with a double stroller, diaper bag and assorted toys. The high-performance stereo system plays only Barney and Raffi cassettes. And the backseat barely holds two car seats, let alone the 10 bags of groceries I routinely transport. It's time to upgrade.
So we're out looking at SUVs. Yes, those gas-guzzling, space-hogging Suburban Assault Vehicles, as I called them in my single-baby days. Little did I know how important a few extra inches of leg room and storage space are when you're toting around a week's supply of Pampers and Juicy Juice, not to mention that double stroller.
Looking back over the timeline of cars I've known and loved, their variations trace my evolution as a parent as well as anything. I may still feel like that free-wheeling, fun-loving, convertible-driving chick of 25, but for now, I'm stuck with the SUV. I'm a Jennifer Lopez in a Carol Brady body. I suppose it could be worse, though. At least it's not a station wagon.