I can't ever remember a time when I wanted to drive a van. I distinctly recall telling myself I would NEVER drive a van. I would be the cool mom in the SUV with the automatic doors. The mom with the Thirty-One bins, monogrammed in matching colors of course, neatly stacked on top of each other in the back of that SUV. Those sitting next to a nice travel system for the baby and that's it. Each child having their own little mesh hanging thing attached to the back of the driver and passenger seats, filled with a couple of their favorite coloring books and some crayons. Oh and I knew I wanted a dvd player in that SUV because how could we travel anywhere without a movie playing?? Black in color, maybe red even. Shiny and pretty and not a dent or smudge of bird poop to be found.
We purchased our first van when we had one child. ONE CHILD. I was only 27 and I felt like my years of youth were taken away from me. Like I was sacrificing my idea of what I thought was a cool mom right at the altar of mom shaming. It was all very spontaneous really. I came home with my baby, who was I don't know, under a year old, and said, "We've got to get a bigger car." The car seat, the diaper bag, the purse, and having the stroller took up about every inch in our car. I had to break my back to bend over to put the car seat in and out with an ever growing baby in it. "We NEED more room." So we hopped on the internet and before I knew it we were on our way to Etown to get us a van. We traded in our car, along with our dignity, and rode home feeling awkward. Aren't we too young to be driving this big thing?? How can you even see what's behind there? I wasn't even 30 yet, and here I was, riding high in the mom machine. The next morning I woke up and looked out in my driveway startled thinking, "Someone's here!" Nope. That was in fact my van parked at my house bought in our name.
Man if I could only go back and tell my hesitant self how awesome the van life would be. How there's so much ROOM! No more breaking of the back or squeezing everyone and everything in this little box. No, no. Now we have a rectangle on wheels! And we really know how to be fruitful in 5 years. Two more kiddos later and we are about to outgrow this van. I have really come to love our van. With a deep love. That thing has had so much life in and out of it. It has housed some wonderful memories as it's taken us to and fro. We've also invested a lot of money in this thing. It's had it's visits to the repair shop on a few occasions that left us grimacing as we wrote out a big check. But probably one of my most favorite things about our van is IT'S PAID OFF. That's right, no more payments for the beast, we just get to enjoy it until it craps out, and that we will.
Now, can't say much about the looks of it. Like I said, it's been in the repair shops here and there. The other day my co worker and great friend looked outside and said, "Felicia.." (hesitiates) "..your van." Yes, my van. My van is filthy from the inside out. The backseat is where the unknown is. I venture back there only when there's a spill I know of or a smell I can't figure out. My five year old has taken a crayon to the speakers and has put stickers on the back of the seat. Back in the summer, I used an entire can of Clorox wipes to scrub the melted, gooey, crayon, candy nastiness out of the cup holder. Kids are foul. The trunk of the van is probably worse. Under the stroller and whatever other toys Callie has thrown back there is candy/food wrappers, all kinds of little pieces of scrap paper that's been torn up, and some stale fries. The front bumper is slightly hanging off on one side, which we're reminded of when we park somewhere and it scrapes along the cement block. Oh, and my favorite, we now have a HUGE dent in the side of it as of recent because the mail lady ran into me. Busted rim all over the road, big scratch and dent and the cop says "They're not filing, so I wouldn't either." Gotta love Kentucky and their no fault law. Eye roll. So the long and short of it...this van is an eye sore. No, this van is ugly. A little busted up and the kids' hand prints in the dirt on the back of it is another reminder that I can't remember the last time I drove it through a car wash.
"Yeah, I know..." I said back to my friend. Sometimes when I'm walking towards it during lunch hour at work, I think how dirty it is or how ridiculous it looks. I think about how nice it would be to have a newer van with automatic sliding doors and one that's darker in color, because in case you're unaware, white shows everything. EVERYTHING. Ohhh or maybe one that has automatic start, wouldn't that be nice? I really only think about those things every now and then. Because what I think about the most when I see the beast isn't the dent. It's isn't the dirt and it isn't the bumper hanging on by a thread. I get in that van every morning after buckling three children in to the back of it. I see toys on the floor. I hear giggles and singing. I see beautiful little faces smiling back at me in the rearview mirror. When they aren't with me, I see three carseats and am reminded of the precious cargo this van carries day in and day out. I see my baby's sippy cup rolling around that she threw again. I see hair bows in the cup holders. I hear their favorite CD playing and I turn up the music.
How very much are we like my sorry looking van? Especially as mommas. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think "Yikes, hope I have time to put on makeup today" or "Man my hair is a mess" or the thing all of us women say most often, "I really need to lose that belly." Sometimes I feel like a walking tornado. My next thought is already ending before I can spout out the first one. I lay in bed each night and look at my reminders list- some things I got done, some were forgotten. I am constantly running on E in and out of the van. We have no groceries in my house. I have stopped at Mcdonalds one too many times this week just so my kids can get some breakfast because this work week has not allowed momma anytime to make it to the store. I have a stack of adoption papers that have been glaring at me for weeks sitting on my nightstand, begging me to fill them out and they keep getting covered by something else. I turned in my daughter's pizza fundraiser a day late because I refused to send her with nothing. Whoever has all their ducks in row all the time must be really close to losing their sanity. For the love of God, I don't even have ducks. I have two chihuahuas who need to be groomed and one keeps getting out of the fence. Sigh.
Just like my van, I can only see the chaotic at times. The unattractive. The mal-functioning. The hanging on by a thread parts of myself. The messy, the broken, the undesired. Just like I know someone else drives a nice car than me, I also know that someone else must be doing better than me at this mom thing. This wife thing. This employee thing. This homemaker (or home undoer) thing. This Jesus loving, faith living out thing. This everything. On a good day, when I feel on top of my game, I still would only give myself a C. But how I am reminded from our good God that there is beauty in the ashes. God takes my mess and makes is His mission. He uses my uselessness for His good. He see my weariness and reminds me it's ok to ask for help, a break, a breather. He reminds me that while I see a very unhinged mother in the mirror, that He's sees his child who is doing a great job.
So mommas, daddies, wives, husbands, friends, employers and employees, I want to pass along the same reminder. While you may resonate with my van and feel like you've been drug through the mud most days or have seen your share of repair shops, remember that God sees you as something great and has big plans for you. Even in your valleys, even in the dark, even in the mundane. You are doing a great job, despite feeling like you're drowning in check lists and school projects. So ride proud in that momma machine, with your head held high, knowing these are our years. The years we'll want back. One day I'll look into my rearview mirror and see an empty back seat, no toys and no sippys. Everything will smell clean and there will be no more candy wrappers on the floor. And I will probably cry, longing for these days right here. Let's ride in our beaten up, messy vans for as long as we can.