Woman no longer weeps for car, and the youth it symbolized

Friday, January 8, 2010; B02

In my single days, the first car I drove was a cute, zippy red Plymouth Colt. Six years later, it was hit by an eighteen-wheeler on the highway and wasn't so zippy anymore. So, I sold it. It felt like I had deleted all traces of my cute and zippy past, only to be replaced with a reliable beige Camry.

"Is life going to be sensible and beige now?" I asked my new husband.

I loved that Camry for eight years before I replaced it with a, gulp, minivan. I'd sworn I would never buy one; it was just one step away from my foot being in the grave. Sure, it had more room for our two young children, and it would make long rides more comfortable, but, ugh, a minivan?

What happened to my cute and zippy past when my biggest decisions hinged on what restaurant to eat in or what party to attend? How did real time become, turning 40-ish, two children and a minivan?

About four hours after we drove the new van home, I looked at my husband, pointed to our wedding picture on the mantel and reverently asked, "Who are those people?

"I'll tell you who they are," I snapped. "They are the suckers who just bought themselves a big ole minivan!"

To make matters worse, we had not sold our Camry. As it bravely stood next to its replacement in our driveway, it reminded me of the older woman who gets jilted for the newer model. Now we had to drive the Camry and the van to the used-car lot. I chose to drive the Camry. I needed to say goodbye. When I pulled into the lot, my husband noticed my red-rimmed eyes.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," I managed to squeak. "It's just that . . . I'll miss my car."

"You're kidding, right?" he asked. "This is so unlike you."

"I know," I agreed. "But I can't help it." My voice was shaking, and the words began spilling out. "I was young . . . and skinny in this car. We brought our babies home in this car, and now my life is over!"

I was unabashedly crying.

"You know, when we got married, it didn't really faze me. When we bought our house, it took some time, but I grew into it. When we had kids, I knew my life was on a different track. But honey . . . I'm driving a minivan! Do you even understand the implications? I have officially hit middle age soccer mom status, and our kids don't even play soccer!"

The next morning, I spotted 10 new gray hairs. My minivan had aged me overnight. "Oh, get over it," I mumbled. But I couldn't. All I wanted to do was selfishly lament.

After all, that Camry represented a good chunk of my happy, pre-middle age adult past, and now it was gone.

I got back into bed and pulled the covers over my throbbing head. I wanted to forget about the present.

At that moment, I didn't want to be a mother of two, age 40-ish, with a minivan. I didn't want to have bags under my eyes or gray hairs, and I didn't want to be the sleep-deprived woman who had recently placed a box of Cascade in the refrigerator.

I was tired of being a grown-up, and the minivan was just a painful reminder that I had life membership in Club Adulthood.

Two minutes later, my kids bounded into the room and hurled themselves onto my bed. As we lay there giggling amid a tangle of wiggly arms and legs, thoughts of my cute and zippy past began to fade and my present came into clearer focus. All the other events in my past had brought to me to this moment, and this was exactly where I wanted to be.

-- Rachel Packer, Olney

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