I open the sliding door to my minivan and catch the well-chewed board book that instantly tumbles out onto my friend’s driveway.
“Don’t look!” I cry, half-jokingly, as I reach over the mess on the minivan floor to retrieve the borrowed item I’m trying to return to her. “It’s a biohazard in here.”
It’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could find something lurking in the van’s nooks and crannies — underneath a car seat, probably — that qualifies as toxic waste. A forgotten water bottle breeding slime. A gnarly crust of bread way past stale. A dropped grape, squashed and fermenting. A half-unwrapped piece of candy melting in a back row cup holder.
And that’s just the formerly-edible stuff. Don’t get me started on everything else that calls our minivan home: books and magazines, take-and-toss plastic snack cups, baby toys no one plays with anymore, cheap birthday party favors, beach pails and shovels, a backup change of clothes for each kid, winter hats and baseball caps, sunscreen and bug spray, hand sanitizing wipes, individual socks (no, I don’t know why, either).
Then there’s the dirt. I can’t leave out the dirt, in all its shapes and forms, from all seasons. Sand in the summer. Mud in the spring. Leaves in the fall. Dry, yellow grass in the winter. We play outside in every kind of weather and the floor of our minivan shows it.
Basically, I drive a garbage can on wheels. And that used to drive me crazy, but I don’t care anymore. In fact, I’m embracing it.
I have three boys. We homeschool. We go hiking. We take art lessons and nature classes. We visit grandparents and meet for play dates. We pick up books from the library and return them again. We window shop at the pet store on rainy days. We run to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for boredom-relieving muffins or cookies. Our life is busy and messy and chaotic. It’s okay if a peek inside our minivan tells you that.
I have a to-do list that’s roughly two miles long. Cleaning out the minivan? It’s at the very bottom of that list.
For me, it all comes down to priorities. I have a to-do list that’s roughly two miles long and includes things I will never, ever get around to (hey, I can dream). Cleaning out the minivan? It’s at the very bottom of that list. It’s a project. I need an entire afternoon to do the job. I need decent weather because we don’t have a garage. I need to drag the shop vac and the heavy-duty extension cord up from the basement. I need to be able to uninstall the car seats and reinstall them again — correctly.
Honestly, it’s a lot of effort for something that won’t last. The minute my kids walk out our back door and into the van, they will have tracked in the dirt du jour. The first time we have to spend snack time in the car, driving to an appointment or school drop-off, they will drop Cheerios in the impossible-to-reach cracks between the seats. The first time we go to the beach in the summer or sledding in the winter, we’ll load a bunch of stuff into the van that seems pointless to take out when we get home (we’re going back again soon anyway, right?).
This is the truth of our life and I’m okay with that. We make big messes, but we have a lot of fun doing it. As a young, busy family of five, our minivan is an extension of our house and the life we live there. If it looks like we’re drowning in crackers and juice boxes, well, that’s because we are.
One day, we won’t be. Our kids are little now, but someday they will grow up. They won’t go places with me as often. They won’t ask for a snack for the road. They won’t need me to buckle them into their seats or perform acrobatic feats of flexibility at stop lights to pick a dropped toy up off the floor.
One day, I’ll get behind the wheel, check my rearview mirror, and see empty seats instead of three blond heads. I might realize, in that moment, that I can finally sell our old garbage can on wheels. The truth of our lives will be that we won’t need it anymore. And when that happens, I’m pretty sure I’ll be glad that I spent more time hanging out with my kids and less time cleaning the minivan.
In the meantime, though, do me a favor: Don’t look.