I admit it, I'm a Minivan Mom. I live in suburbia and I drive everywhere, even to a friend's house three blocks away (hey, it's raining and I'm late....). What with the grocery runs and the ballet carpools and the dropoffs to soccer and basketball and skating and everything in between, sometimes I feel like I live in my minivan. Just like my real home, there's never enough space in it for all the things I want to keep in it, but there are certain things that I am willing to allot precious cargo space for. Here are ten things I try to make sure are safely in the van before I get into the driver's seat and buckle up:
10) Extra carseat
I started carrying an extra carseat in the back of my van when The Pea entered kindergarten -- when she started going on playdates and I started driving carpools for field trips. I figured it was worth investing $19.99 to be able to dispense with the hassle of arranging carseat dropoffs and pickups with other parents. Now that I have 3 kids in school, at pickup time there's always the chance that at least one of them will want to invite a friend over on an impromptu playdate. With that extra carseat in the back I get to be the cool mom and tell the friend's mother, "Sure, Billy can come home with us! I've got an extra carseat in the van so it's no problem".
Living as we do in sunny California, we take sun protection seriously. When we know we're going to outdoors for any length of time, we're pretty anal about slathering sunblock on our kids' faces, arms and legs before we even head out the door. But there are times when we're coming home from lunch at a restaurant and we decide on a whim to stop by the local playground on the way home. Or sometimes the indoor museum we're in turns out to have a pretty cool outdoor area. Or sometimes we're in a hurry and we forget. So it's nice to have a can of sunblock spray for the body and a tube of sunblock for the face (see, you never even have to get your hands all sticky). I just hope that leaving it in my closed, hot van doesn't cut the SPF level down to 2, or make the spray can explode.
Like I said, we're anal about the sun thing. But hats are also an easy, effective and stylish way to keep heads warm on cold, windy days (Alfie tells me that's one thing he's learned quickly now that there isn't much much hair left on his head).
7) Emergency gear
We've got enough emergency supplies in the van to prepare us in case our car battery dies (emergency jump starter), a natural disaster strikes (disaster relief kit), a snake sinks its fangs into one of our ankles, (first aid kit), a car windows shatters (the first aid kit has masking tape, and yes, this actually did happen to us once on our annual trip to Lake Tahoe), I accidentally eat shellfish (I put extra Benadryl in the first aid kit) or we get into a really, really bad traffic jam (and double-extra Tylenol).
Come to think of it, even though we have all the equipment to treat snake bites I'd still have to read the instructions on how to use it (giving the venom enough time to spread through the victim's arm and make it fall off or something). I don't know how to use the jump starter, either. And even if I did manage to figure it out there probably won't be enough power in it to jumpstart my dead cellphone, because you're supposed to charge the thing overnight every 3 months or so, and we charge it once a year, before the Tahoe trip. But illogically, it still makes me feel more secure having it there -- and if I'm not quite as prepared as I like to think, at least this stuff gives me peace of mind.
Diapers really ought to fall under the "emergency gear" category, because even though my kids have been potty trained for years, there are still times when they hold it in until they're about to explode -- and full bladder plus no bathroom equals emergency. There are places in this world with no trees or bushes to hide you, and there are no empty bottles to pee into, and you'd be surprised at how much liquid a size 5 diaper can hold.
5) Extra clothes
There are times when my kids are freezing and need an extra layer of clothing. And there are times when they find themselves wet or muddy or dirty, for some reason or another (like cutting it so close that there isn't time to fish out that size 5 diaper). Rather than let them into my nice, clean van or have to give up my own coat to keep them warm (why should I go cold when I told them and told them it was fifty degrees out yet they insisted on wearing shorts?), I just keep a permanent stash of extra clothes in the back.
4) Phone charger
I can never remember to charge my phone at night, so I frequently run around during the day with a dead cellphone in my purse. My car charger is my cell phone's primary source of power; without it "What good is having a cellphone if it's always dead?".
If I had my way I'd drive to the nearest Krispy Kreme or In-N-Out Burger every time my kids needed a snack, but because of those inconveniencies like cholesterol levels, fat and sugar content, I bow to the fact that they need healthy snacks. I like having a small stash of food in the car just in case I forget to bring snacks, or the snacks I've brought aren't enough, and no, I don't want to rely on the eat the month-old goldfish crackers wedged in the back seat. I have a feeling we'll need those for real emergencies -- no way my kids are going to eat that dried-up nutritional brick in our disaster relief kit.
I'm so happy I no longer have to carry around a basket filled with stuffed animals and duplicate lovie blankets and books and Happy Meal Toys. My kids are old enough to choose their own toys to amuse themselves on long car trips and bring them back into the house after our journey is over -- or suffer the consequences of boredom should they forget. But I do keep a notebook in the seat pocket and some colored pencils in one of the side compartments, and our center console is stuffed with assorted dvd's. Anyway, watching movies on car trips doesn't really count as tv time since it's more like a parental sanity-saving tool... right?
1) Baby wipes
I will leave the house on an empty gas tank before I leave without baby wipes, which in my opinion are God's Gift to Parents (after the babies themselves). I use baby wipes to clean everything, not just dirty bottoms and sticky hands. I use them to wipe the seats that the sticky little hands have touched before being wiped. I use them to mop up juice that has spilled on the floor. I use them to wipe off scuff marks from the floor and the backs of seats. I even use them to wipe birdshit off the windshield and the sides of the car. We park under a tree that hosts all the squirrels and birds in the neighborhood, and I don't have the time or the money to take my van to the carwash twice a week, so if it weren't for my baby wipe carwashes I'd be driving around looking like a tramp.
As you can see, that's a lot of stuff. But it's not so bad -- most of it fits in a large plastic bin that lives permanently in the back cargo area. And having these things around certainly makes mobile life more liveable. All I need now is a portable shower and I could really get comfy. Hang on, I've got an extra-large pack of baby wipes; who needs a shower?