When I was about ten weeks pregnant with our second child, my husband and I decided it was time to look for another family car. Currently, I drove a 2005 Toyota Camry, a reliable vehicle perfectly suited for driving my 4 year old to and from preschool, but my husband drove a 1998 Honda Prelude, an entirely unacceptable means of transportation for two young children. We arrived at the special car lot that our credit union worked with, populated with an appealing sample of quality pre-owned vehicles. Our intention was to leave with a sporty, family-friendly SUV, likely a Toyota RAV-4 or a Honda Pilot, potentially even the more expensive Highlander. We were a coolsoon to be family of 4, we thought confidently.
We had test driven three or four vehicles and were on our way home to process our options. Then he said it. “Do you have any minivans?” my husband inquired casually. Rolling my eyes, I shook my head with exasperated forbearance, but indulged him in checking out ALL our options. We dutifully followed the salesman out to the lot where a 2010 Toyota Sienna had just rolled in. It was a striking dark blue, and sparkled with all the promise of the idyllic family vehicle we awaited.
Selling Point #1: The doors open automatically. Come on, folks. That’s worth something. I envisioned myself a year later, hefting a baby on one hip and a sack of groceries on the other. Click! The doors slide open.
Selling Point #2: We had been a bit concerned about leg room in the SUVs, picturing years of being kicked in the back by our restless offspring. The Sienna offered ample leg room for one and all.
Selling Point #3: With two full rows of seating, we could easily squeeze Grammy and Papa into our car and avoid lugging an extra vehicle on extended family excursions.
Selling Point #4: It had plenty of room for convenient storage of my instruments, as teaching music class daily was an integral part of our hypothetical vehicle’s function.
Selling Point #5: Our four year old loved it.
Ready to drive it off the lot!

And so, with a sense of resignation, I took it for a test drive. It had to be me, as I would be the primary driver. I was certain that once I awkwardly took the wheel, feeling much like a bus driver, the deal would be sunk. I was wrong. I felt such uncharacteristic ease as I maneuvered the glorious Sienna around the suburban streets of Lakewood! I loved it. Sold.

My confidence in our decision to become minivan owners was cemented several months later after our secondcar accident since driving it off the lot. I was 12 weeks pregnant when we were rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light, and 20 weeks pregnant when a 65 year old woman driving a ridiculously oversized truck blew through her red light and nearly T-boned us. Fortunately, I saw her coming, slammed on my brakes, and the force was relegated to the front end rather than my door. As a strange sidenote, the only times I have been involved in car accidents were during my pregnancies: I was rear-ended when 24 weeks pregnant with my oldest child as well. It is almost enough to completely deter me from having a third child. (Well, that and the sleep-deprivation. And the legitimate fear that next time I may really never get my figure back.)
The belly and our heroic minivan

During both accidents in the Sienna, our beloved minivan absorbed the impact beautifully. We didn’t even fix the damage from being rear-ended, as it was nearly imperceptible. More importantly, our Sienna protected my growing baby, with a little help from the sheltered cushioning of my womb. In both cases, my daughter was in the car with me (let me tell you what a horrible bit of bad luck that is) and we were both free of any injuries. Our new van proved its worth in the safety department. As chance would have it, we had the same paramedics in each accident, and we were well-cared for by the police officers and firefighters that appeared with a teddy bear for my rattled preschooler.

In a demonstration very unlike my true nature, I reacted with utter calm and levelheadedness each time. There was no yelling or hysterics whatsoever, at least not from me. I did have the untimely task of informing the 911 dispatcher that I was pregnant, which immediately resulted in my always-aware daughter inquiring, “Is there a baby in your tummy?” Not exactly the way I imagined telling her. After the second accident, my eerie composure disintegrated several days later, and I found myself panicking when getting behind the wheel. Still, I was so grateful I had been driving our minivan and not our Camry, which may not have fared so well.
The sheer volume of crap accommodated is impressive

It goes without saying that minivans are terribly useful when traveling with children. It is infinitely easier to put a child in his/her carseat when not leaning over a sedan. Each child has their own seat, again with plenty of leg room, and there is an overwhelming amount of space for toting piles of unnecessary crap.  Sure, we end up storing a preposterous amount of art supplies, (word to the wise- never leave unattended crayons in a car on a sunny day) and our van is the place where goldfish crackers go to die, but my husband is fairly vigilant in his efforts to keep our Sienna tidy and free of mysterious odors. 

During the last month of my pregnancy, I had one of those “viewing yourself as though from above” moments. You know, one of those surreal moments of objective self-observation. I was dropping my daughter off at kindergarten, and as I waddled back to the parking lot and climbed up in the driver’s seat, I caught a glimpse of myself. Clad in my black velour maternity track suit (my uniform during those last weeks) and flip flops, dropping my kid off at school in my minivan. I was that mom. I flashed myself a smile in the rear-view mirror. I was only the slightest bit rueful, but mostly just a proud mother and minivan owner. Go ahead- mock away, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In case you are not convinced by my coolness, check out the Swagger Wagon video. True awesomeness.
The Toyota Sienna: your passage to family fun

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