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Hart: The end of an era -- more precisely, my minivan phase

Hart: The end of an era -- more precisely, my minivan phase

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Years ago -- in 1999, to be exact -- I wrote that I had given up on being "hip" when it came to cars. Though I had previously declared I would rather have a root canal without the benefit of anesthesia than be caught even test-driving a minivan, the birth of my third child that spring meant destiny had taken a hand. I gave in, and slunk into my first van after all. A Honda Odyssey.

"Growing Family Finally Drives Her to a Minivan" was one headline for that column.

And I loved it. So much so that a few years later, after baby No. 4 had arrived, I did it again. This time it was a Toyota Sienna, with all the bells and whistles. It had a remote operating rear hatch, a novelty at the time, that put me over the edge and into that make and model. All that room, all those cup holders, again being able to punch a button from anywhere and open a side door for myself or one of my then-young kids. And this car had a DVD player to keep my little ones occupied. I was giddy.

My love showed. One paper titled a column I wrote about it, "Life Support: Affair with a Minivan (a remote control opens the door to her heart.)" Cute. And correct.

A few years later, when major American carmakers announced that they were discontinuing their minivan lines because buyers considered them so uncool, I wrote that I knew they were uncool -- and didn't care!

Well, 10 years after that second minivan purchase, it's finally time to get a new vehicle. I admit that I was leaning toward another minivan. But my children staged an intervention: I just could not do such a thing again, they said. Apparently they care about cool even if I don't. But the fact is, they are right that we just don't need a minivan anymore. We're talking SUV.

My children -- now almost 19 down to almost 12, which means a couple of new drivers in the mix -- are thrilled. Me? Not so much. Not just because I'll miss the sliding doors and all that room, which I will, but because I realize I'll miss this particular minivan. Ten years is quite a life span in a family.

I remember the many road trips in it to camp in Missouri, friends in Wisconsin, family in Indiana. The Christmas trees brought home in that van. The arguments between the children. The endless car pools.

This was the very car that brought us from Virginia to our new home in the Chicago area after we so unexpectedly became a single-parent family in 2004. In fact, we had that car for less than a year before it became just the five of us. But now the stick-figure decals on the back, featuring a mom juggling a soccer ball, briefcase and frying pan, a boy and three girls, one dog and two cats, are beginning to fade and peel.

I guess, in a way, with my new husband and our new life, it really is time for new wheels.

It's just that, for me, letting go of that van has become a metaphor for letting go of my life with young children, and all the chaos and wonder that came with it. I admit that's hard, and find myself delaying the transition a bit. Especially after I cleaned the car up for sale. I hadn't seen it without crumbs for a long time.

So I began rationalizing to myself that maybe no huge maintenance expenses are looming. (Actually, they are.) Who really needs four-wheel drive in the Chicago area, anyway? (Everyone.) Most important, surely a 10-year-old car can be just as safe as a much newer one for my teen drivers. (It can't.)

Of course, the rationalizations don't work for long. And now it's on to a new car, and goodbye to the minivan and my minivan phase, after all.

Yes, there is excitement for the things ahead.

Still, minivan, you are not cool -- but you will be missed.

Betsy Hart's latest book, "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)," has just been newly revised. Email


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