2018-04-11 / Opinions & Letters

Fish out of water

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

My daughter Liz drives a dark grey minivan. It is a vehicle identical to the thousands of similar-looking minivans daily clogging the roads of Fairfax County, Va. And so this was the vehicle entrusted to Deb and me to chauffer our three grandchildren to school, softball, soccer and the birthday parties that filled each day the parents were recently away.

If AARP issued badges like the Girl and Boy Scouts, the grandparenting badges one could earn would surely include some merit award for just finding the soccer field behind the IHOP on the other side of the turnpike. Don’t ask Google maps, because, trust me, it doesn’t know.

The van is wide and the garage door is narrow and so there was a little drama to begin with on the maiden voyage. Pulling the side mirrors to rest mode was quite helpful in that matter. Narrow, too, are Virginia roads, two-lane ribbons that snake through the hills and vales of that particular topography. Driving a vehicle the size of a small studio apartment is comfortable, for certain, but it sure takes constant proper placement within the bright yellow pavement lines.

We found the school ok that first morning, but also found ourselves a tad too early to part with our charges. And so we found our answer at Dunkin Donuts for a quick breakfast treat. After that nice sugar buzz, we took our place in the long, long, highly regulated, sternly directed, student drop-off line in back of school. Older kids in neon vests and stern adults looking very authoritative manned the seamless orchestration of cars pulling forward, passenger doors flung open, children reaching terra firma, and cars easing back into traffic. Our turn eventually came. The side van door slid wide open, three children, three backpacks, three lunches and three water bottles disembarked and I slowly pulled away. The only problem was I had no idea how to remotely close the side van door, the huge gaping open door, as we eased back into traffic.

Oh well.

Had I left the van door open the entire time, at least I could have better differentiated from the others which gray van I was supposed to navigate. At soccer practice on Saturday I managed to slow down our arrival by going the opposite direction of our destination. So when I parked the van, it was in a hurry. When soccer was over and we were to leave, the parking lot seemed to have a large, gray minivan with Virginia plates in every other parking spot. There were nine gray vans in our section alone. I counted each of them while I determined one-by-one that they were not ours to take home.

After baseball practice I was certain I spied our van as I clicked the doors open and opened the side door for the kids to climb in. I ignored the chorus yelling “that’s not our van,” as I went to get in the driver’s seat, joined at my side by the rightful owner of the van who had parked right in front of the one I had driven. Apparently she clicked her door open at the same time I pretended to do so - thus the simultaneous attempt to gain the driver’s seat.

Whereas minivans appear interchangeable in the land of young families, the children remain so amazingly unique as to marvel at the wonder of life itself.

What a treat it is to see children on their own turf. Our visit was a peek at piano lessons, play-dates, sleep-overs, sports practice, sporting games, homework and reading as well as sibling scrapping and sparring.

While we were fish out of water, the kids were little experts on their home turf.

“Turn here,” and “this looks familiar” and “we’re at the wrong field,” were all uttered by each, at one time or another.

When it came time to hand in my van keys, I breathed a sigh of relief. And when I did so, I gave the key ring on which they came, my first studied look. That’s when I realized that all the time I thought I had been remotely locking the van, I was actually triggering the Ford SUV still parked back in the garage.

Proof positive, finally, that I should have just left that van side door open for the entire trip.

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