Our daughter had just turned 4, and I was pregnant with our oldest son when we bought our four-door, five-passenger sedan.
The car had been in a rental fleet, so the price was right. And it had high safety ratings and a reputation of being reliable. But with a tan exterior and interior, let’s face it: She couldn’t have been any more plain Jane.
One of our first outings was to a well-child exam for our daughter, who insisted we put the “Little Mermaid” sticker from her doctor on the visor, right next to the manufacturer’s caution sticker about air bags.
That’s the very moment my affordable “let’s never eat or drink in this new-to-me commuter car” was transformed into the Mom Car.
OK, don’t take this the wrong way, but here’s what I know about Mom Cars, based on the ones I’ve owned: They get spilled in, puked in and become this belt-squealing, brake-squeaking vehicle that’s usually running late and low on fuel.
They get tailgated by Dad Trucks and sneered at by perfect-looking non-moms who drive sports cars and wear makeup and cute outfits during the middle of the week, when everyone knows the female dress code should really be yoga pants, hoodie sweatshirts and ponytails.
Mom Cars don’t go through car washes as often as they should because that’s money that needs to be used for more important things such as presents and coffee – so that you don’t crash from sleep deprivation while schlepping kids to birthday parties all weekend.
In addition, Mom Cars always have dings from shopping carts, permanent marker stains on the vinyl doors (discovered after you decided the kids seemed too quiet), and a rotten food smell that gets worse if the outside temperature gets above 70 degrees. (The odor is usually caused by things such as half-eaten apples that were brought home from football camp.)
Our youngest son was born about two and a half years after we bought the Mom Car, and we were overjoyed to discover that two full-size car seats and a toddler booster seat fit in the backseat.
Of course, we later learned that our new double-stroller that matched the infant carrier and car seat didn’t fit in the trunk. But we eventually figured out it worked out if we took the stroller apart, tilted the passenger seat all the way back, and left my husband at home for mall-walking or other outings that required the double stroller.
OK, by then, we probably should have upsized to a minivan or mid-size sport utility vehicle. But to be honest, we couldn’t afford it.
Both boys were in diapers, and all three were in child care. I was barely making enough money to afford the Mom Car payment. Plus, we were on the bubble as to whether I’d continue working full-time, and we didn’t want to get trapped in a situation where I was basically working for a new car payment.
Besides, Mom Car was still going strong. By then, the inside of her back windows were also decorated with lots of doctor office stickers, mostly ones with unicorns and puppies, and a few monster truck ones our daughter picked out for her brothers. Fingerprints covered the outside of the windows, remnants of when my kids drew hearts and pictures for me while waiting for the car to warm up in the driveway.
The only thing missing was the “My kid is a Star Reader” bumper sticker, and that’s because my husband slapped the one we got from school on his pickup truck.
I always was impressed by Mom Car’s ability to hold so many toys, pieces of clothing and, well, fast-food wrappers and other garbage. I never needed to worry about my kids having an accident and needing a new outfit because Mom Car always had plenty of spare clothes in the trunk. She also had endless supplies of sun block, snack crackers, first aid supplies, blankets, Kleenex and water bottles. There were times Mom Car was like a giant diaper bag. She had everything we needed for survival.
We paid off our loan about a year early in 2008, and vowed to drive Mom Car for as long as possible. That’s exactly what we did.
As the kids got bigger, fitting all three in the backseat wasn’t easy. In fact, most road trips ended with drama from not having enough room back there. Also, Mom Car had traveled 150,000 miles, and it felt like we were on the verge of a major repair for something.
A few weeks ago, I cleaned out Mom Car one final time, tossing out sticks and rocks the boys had accumulated during the summer, packing up garbage bags of toys and clothes, and searching through eight years of important paperwork inside the glove box.
There was a lump in my throat as I thought about all of the trips we’d taken in Mom Car – to the ocean, over the mountains and to visit family in Oregon several times. We had made so many memories together. She might not have been the most fashionable vehicle, but she kept us safe and had never broken down.
I felt a little guilty knowing I was about to trade her in on another vehicle, one that was newer, with a third-row seat, better cup holders and, I hoped, a prettier color.
I carefully peeled away the much-faded “Little Mermaid” sticker from the visor, and said goodbye to an old friend.Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama, raising three children while working as a reporter at The Olympian. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.