The Purge: Cleaning out the Big Van

As a family of 7, with 3 kids in sports and dance, 4 kids in school and a husband who coaches college football, we are in the Big Van a lot. I used to watch those mamas who were running from one practice to another and talking about being a taxi driver and think “why would you do that?” Oh. Because if you have more than one kid or more than one interest, or heaven forbid more than one kid with more than one interest, getting the kids to and from things ends up becoming your life. I love my life. I do not love spending it in the van. And every time we are going in the van it seems like each kid has a bag to bring with them. Even the littlest ones, who are just going to be spectators, have a bag of entertainment and a few stuffed animals to carry.

For dance night the girls each have a duffel bag to haul in their dance shoes and goodness knows what else (usually books, mismatched socks, special rocks they found…just the essentials). For softball they have bat bags and cleats. My son plays catcher, so he has another bag filled with catcher’s gear…and sunflower seeds…and a giant water bottle in case he gets stranded at the ball diamonds for a week or so and needs to avoid dehydration. School bags, church bags, and 1 million crayons round out the kids stuff.

My haul isn’t any smaller. I have a Yeti for my coffee, a Yeti for my water (can you tell our Birmingham Bowl gifts had a theme this year?), a camp chair for the sidelines, a book (hahahahahah….why do I keep bringing books along like I’m going to have uninterrupted peace and silence to read….hahahahha), you get the picture. So we shuttle all of our belongings into the back of the big van. Oh! And SNACKS! So many snacks! I have a backpack cooler stocked with non-perishable goodies like applesauce and granola bars and somehow, by a magic I don’t want to investigate, yogurts that never have to be refrigerated.

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I have a bag of blankets in the back of the van…on top of the blankets are sunscreen and bug spray and of course hats and sunglasses. Last week we literally had snow in the morning one day and warm sunshine to watch a baseball game in the afternoon. It is impossible to prepare for all weather in the spring in North Carolina. But I sure try!

So we travel to and from all the things with all the people and all the stuff and then we get home. It’s late. The kids are tired. The mom is tired. And inevitably my arms are carrying in crabby kids and leaving behind things I brought with me. The kids undress in the car it seems, by the number of socks and sweatshirts (and even toddler underwear!!) you’d expect my kids to be emerging in their birthday suits.  And the car gets more and more and more full. The piles in the van are like the Onceler in The Lorax: they keep “biggering and biggering and biggering!” The car gets messier, the things get harder to find, and my patience gets thin.

Yesterday I had finally had enough. The kitchen remodel is working its way to an end…so we are down to drywall patching, painting, and tile. We had a man working on patching the ceiling yesterday. It was a perfect reason to avoid the house and to face the mess. My little guy played in the driveway and occasionally helped. And I put my head down and started cleaning. I found one billion broken crayons, snack wrappers, water bottles, and two stray Cheetos from a bag that had been purchased in an attempt at bribery on the long trip to the beach.  If we had encountered a blizzard, the whole family could have kept warm under the blankets and sweatshirts and extra coats in the rows. I cannot estimate the arts and crafts items strewn between the seats. (But all in all, it was not the worst I have seen. That would be the year we investigated the back of the minivan and found a petrified breakfast sandwich that had been abandoned in a side compartment by my oldest daughter who defended the decision with “I thought I might want more later”!)

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It’s a delicate balance, emptying the Big Van. If you don’t get enough junk out you are wasting your time, but if you remove too much you find yourself at a baseball game with no snacks and no blankets and an inevitable meltdown waiting to happen. I vacuumed, because grown ups have to do such things, and I thought of my parents’ neighbor. Once a week she would have her car in the driveway with all the doors open, and she would clean and vacuum it from top to bottom. I guarantee it still had that new car smell 10 years after she bought it because she worked to keep it pristine! I will settle for “not vomit-inducing.” It’s a small goal, but it’s mine.

When I picked the kids up from school after a successful Ice Cream Battle of the Books celebration (you know I wouldn’t miss a party with ice cream and books in the title!) the kids even noticed how clean the van looked. And today when I got the oil changed I could look the technician in the eye without shame of the chaos that lurked in the back seats. I’d like to tell you that we are turning over a new leaf and the Big Van will stay spotless from now on, but that would be a lie. We are going to keep living life, keep driving carpools, keep taking road trips and the van is going to keep filling up with unnecessary items…but we are going to fight the good fight. And today. Today the van is clean.

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