Making Nice

Son the younger’s preschool didn’t quite work out, so he’s on vacation until we try again in the fall. What this means is what I’ve been trying to avoid all along: I’ll have to be nice.
Misanthrope and mommy are two words that just don’t go together. Son the younger does need playmates, and since at two he doesn’t quite know how to make phone calls and set up playdates or even get to the park himself (although now that I think of it, maybe he does and I’m just holding him back), I the mommy have to step in. (When son the elder was a baby I was lucky. We found a playgroup, serendipitously and somewhat pathetically, thanks to my parents. They, friendly people that they are, were pushing the stroller in our new neighborhood one day and picked up a mommy for me, and then I did manage to take it from there.)
There’s lots of things mommies (and daddies of course have their own stereotypes) are supposed to be: nice and friendly, even outgoing, at least if the kid wants some friends. When sand toys come out at the playground, it’s gotta be “share, share, share,” not “hoard away, kid,” even though, Enron guys’ recent comeuppance aside, selfishness seems like a pretty successful adaptive trait nowadays. And “hit them before they hit you,” just is not going to cut it, despite its foreign policy use.
Unstated expectations pervade the mom image: Pregnancy books never bother to warn against unprotected sex with strangers. Mommybloggers who use curse words are playing against type.
Someone even thought it was newsworthy recently that not all mommy animals have what humans think of as a maternal instinct. (In other stereotype-busting news the seahorse always gets trotted out because it’s the daddy seahorse that gives birth. As if this odd sea creature might make people consider variations in human parenting roles. “Gee, think about the seahorse. Maybe we should offer paternity leave.”)
Obviously it’s good for mothers to be friendly and promote positive traits in their kids, and do much of the other good stuff you hope for from mothers. (And how wonderful that kids can help their parents be better in certain ways.) It’s good, just don’t take it for granted, OK?

Au Revoir Mon Minivan

Dear reader, please forgive my reddened eyes, my tear tracks, my sighs. it’s just that we’ve decided to sell the minivan.
A suburban mom without a minivan is like a knight without his steed, a snail without its shell, a mail carrier without her bag, a fast food joint without its garbage cans; she is lost, vulnerable, defenseless, reduced to only what she can carry in her hands and stuff in the basket under the stroller, she is without a base, without a trusty friend, she is, in short – an SUV driver.
No, no, not that, I assure you, my friends. Although many suburban families do believe they somehow increase their coolness factor by driving an overpriced, ill-famed hunk of monster metal so they can pretend they off-road through ecologically sensitive desert terrain, instead of driving the ever-useful and often-humble minivan, we’re not going that route.
No, we’re giving up my mother’s little helper because we’re moving to Spain. While it’s relatively inexpensive to ship a car there, there are apparently quite a few hassles getting it through customs and adapted to EU car standards. But mostly, we’re not sure if it will be useful. If we live in its natural habitat, a suburb, of course it will fit right in; but if we live in the city or even a village, with street construction a carryover from foot and horsie days, then, well, the poor thing might have to be shot when it gets stuck trying to turn a corner somewhere. Or abandoned when it knocks down a few pillars in a city parking garage designed for Matchbox-sized cars. And that’s possible even though it’s on the smaller end of minivans. So we’re leaving it behind.
I’ve never cared about cars, or even liked them much, but, ah, my minivan. The thing is, it’s not a car, it’s more like a really big tote bag on wheels. With room for the kids, of course. And it helps uphold the U.S. competitive advantage in number of cup holders per vehicle. With the kids’ car seats we have nine individual places for drinks. Take that, you scooter-riding Euros. Sure, you look great in your miniskirts and your leather jackets whizzing around on your Vespas, but where do you keep your Big Gulps? Huh? Ha! You don’t, do you? You stop at cafes when you need something to drink. And where’s the efficiency in that? Ha! Over here, we even have cup holders in our ride-on mowers. Now that can make you think of some fun ways to spend a Saturday. Top that!
But of course, now we’re off to Vespa-land, or the dinky little sedan equivalent. Europeans drive cars that a Hummer wouldn’t even consider a worthy snack. Yes, you know, there’s that much more expensive gas thing and there’s the shorter distances thing and there’s the everything is more smooshed together over there thing, and there’s also that decent public transportation thing, so Euros seem quite happy with their cute little cars, and subways and trains and buses and trams.
Like many people I had to overcome the initial recoil from buying a minivan. No one wants to think of herself as a boring, clichéd suburban mother carpooling around in her minivan. But then I got in, and I found I had more parity with the big beasts on the highway, I saw the nets and the hooks and the drawers and the cubbies, and the extra room to sit even with the car seats in, and I decided I still don’t need to be defined by what I drive. And it’s not like all Minivan Moms sweetly tool around in them with a sedate, earth mother generosity. Plus, I figure if a red sports car is the ultimate cop magnet, a white (safety color!) minivan is just the opposite. So you do not want to get in my way when I’m late for a kindergarten pickup.
Disagree with me? Come say that standing right here in front of my bumper, buddy. Oh, forgive me, I’m just a little upset these days – we’ve decided to sell the minivan.