The Velveteen Van: How My Minivan Became Real

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

-From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

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The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a kid. As a devoted stuffed animal lover, I totally related to the message that love takes a toll on the beloved. Balding fur, eyeballs hanging on by a thread, and deflated stuffing are simply signs of how much something has meant to you.

As an adult, this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit still rings true. Now when I read these words I nod my head in agreement, wipe a tear from my eye, and think of…

My minivan.

My minivan has been puked on. And not in a contained way. Puke has found its way into the crevice between the seats that fold down for extra storage, and into the seatbelt buckle. There is that space where you insert the metal part of the seatbelt so that it makes that satisfying clicking sound. There has been puke in that thing.

My kids are older now, but my minivan had car seats strapped into it for so many years that there are lines in the seats that can never be erased. Those lines are like lines on a map, charting my kids’ journeys from babyhood to adolescence.

Before we moved back to our hometown of Austin, our van used to carry the five of us across the country twice a year so that we could visit family. During those epic drives our van was like a little house on wheels where we would watch movies, eat meals, sleep, yell at each other, change diapers, and where I would unsuccessfully try to nurse babies who were strapped into a car seat. Those of you who can do that are my heroes.

Now our minivan carries us back and forth to muddy soccer games, tennis lessons, basketball games, high school carpool, camping trips, garden workdays, and sweaty workouts. On a good day our dog gets to come along for the ride.

Feed a wet dog a bunch of chocolate ice cream, then when he pukes it up, bake everything in the 108-degree Texas heat and you get the idea of what our minivan smells like. I try to do something about the smell sometimes. I stuck an almost-used-up volcano candle in the floor storage compartment to try to trick people into thinking our minivan was actually Anthropologie.

There are layers of smells in there is what I am trying to say. And maybe I’m also complain bragging a little about my floor storage compartment. Sorry. But it is pretty cool.

We have shared countless meals in the van, dropped sippy cups of milk that rolled under the seat to be found six months later. There are lights that come unhinged when I open the back, dangling there like dead bodies.

Recently we considered trading in our van for something a little snazzier. I couldn’t bear the thought of buying yet another minivan as I have been driving a van for 10 years now. I didn’t want to drive a huge SUV because I think it would just make me feel like I was in a drug cartel or the secret service. Also because the environment. When you have three kids who like to go places with their friends, that pretty much requires that you need either a minivan or a giant SUV or one of those shuttles you take to the remote parking lot in the airport.

Thinking about trading in my car for a new, shinier thing sounded like a dream come true at first, but ultimately I decided that, while others might not get it, I love my minivan. It will be paid off soon. All those memories and smells, I’ll be driving those around for free.

We can take that money we save on a car payment and put it toward college, which is coming in less than four years. I have a feeling the closer college gets, the less I will mind my stinky, well-worn ride, which is becoming less minivan and more time-capsule as the years pile up.

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Maybe there’s still a sippy cup trapped somewhere in that thing. If I’m lucky.


Like a Mother

When I had my first child, I remember it hitting me for the first time that everyone had come into the world a helpless, adorable baby. And that everyone had a mama who went through nine months of body-morphing, magical weirdness and the pain of childbirth in order to bring that person into the world. I know it’s sad that it took having a baby of my own for this to dawn on me, but I can be slow and a little self-absorbed.

After my daughter was born, I couldn’t pass a homeless person without thinking about that person as a baby–a baby with a mama who had probably loved him or her dearly and fiercely at one point.

I couldn’t stand in line at Starbucks without seeing the baby-ness in everyone. Once you start seeing people this way, those crazy specific drink orders seem less annoying in their toddler-like pickiness, and become more endearing.

Everyone becomes more endearing if you search for their baby-ness—that fragile infant inside of them who is scared and needy and so hungry for food and love and acceptance…and could probably use a nap.

When I went back to work after nine years of being at home with my kids, my boss figured out what made me tick pretty quickly. I was overwhelmed by the job I had been tasked with, which required that I project manage the publishing of twenty-something online educational modules. Each module was in a different stage of development and there were a million details to remember. It felt like I was solely responsible for remembering each and every one. I must have looked at my boss with big eyes one day. Sensing my anxiety, she told me something that has always stayed with me. She said that I needed to think about those modules as my babies. Each one was on a different schedule and each one needed different things at different times, but she knew that I could handle it. She knew I would be okay because I knew how to be a mama. All I needed to do was be a mama to those modules.

I know that sounds weird, but for someone who felt insecure in the workplace, but totally confident in my ability to be a mom, that advice really resonated. I mommed those modules so hard. I got on top of that job and convinced our agency that we needed another person to help because the amount of work it took to be a good mama to those modules was not a part-time job by any stretch. Those modules needed two mamas. So we hired another person and together we took very good care of our module babies.

Mamas are heroic. Mamas get their hands dirty. They get up before everyone and are wiping down counters and prepping for tomorrow when everyone else is done for the day. They drive forgotten lunches to school. They know when someone hasn’t really washed their hands in the bathroom. They can sense when someone has had a bad day the minute they walk off the bus. Mamas can’t sleep if one of their babies is hurting or sick. They have a Spidey sense that jolts them awake the second a baby cries out in the night.

We are able to do all this stuff not because we are superhuman, but because we care so much. The heroic things we do to care for our families are just a by-product of the intense love we feel. We can’t help it.

My challenge for myself and anyone reading this (whether you are a mama or not) is to apply those mama superpowers to everything–everyone you encounter and the work you do in the world. Care so much that you can’t look the other way when someone is hurting. Care so much that you simply have to stop what you are doing and help someone in need. Care so much that you can’t not march at that rally, cheer at your friend’s race, volunteer to help kids learn to read, teach that Sunday School class, bring someone a meal. Do it because you love the world too much not to.

Be a mama to everything. Be a mama to yourself. Have you eaten any vegetables today? Do you need to get some rest? Are you hustling too much to please others and forgetting to fill your own cup? There is a baby inside of you too and that baby needs rest and food and a little tucking in. Caring for others when you are not caring for yourself is like taking a tired, hungry toddler to Target—you could do it, but it probably won’t go well.

Are you anxious? Stressed? Stretched too thin? Worried? Feeling shame about that thing you said or didn’t say, or that thing you ate or didn’t eat? Try to imagine what you would say to your own baby girl if she felt those things. You are okay. You are more than okay, you are amazing! Look at all the things you do so well. You are so much more than this thing you are focusing on. You are valuable and worthy of all the love and kindness in the world. Stop beating yourself up, baby girl. Now, say those things to yourself.

Our world is a mess. It needs us to love on it and clean it up. Our world needs one of those crazy cleaning sessions you do when company is coming in an hour and you are suddenly a force of cleaning wizardry. It needs us to smile at strangers and look at them with light and joy in our eyes, to let that person with his blinker on merge. For the love of God, let the people merge! It needs us to pay for the coffee of the person in line behind us, to feed someone who is hungry, to walk with someone who is hurting, to listen to someone who needs to talk.

Be a mama to everything. And let others be a mama to you. See how it changes you and filters everything you see through a curtain of gauzy love that brings you to tears with how much goodness there is in the world, how much kindness and humor and joy.

In some ways the world is a place only a mother could love. So let’s go love it. Like a mother.


Goals Part 2: What’s on your life list?

 

My friend Meredith is such an inspiration to me in so many ways. One way I want to be more like her is to be the kind of person who gets up early and journals. Meredith gets up early every day and writes all of her prayers, her worries, her goals in one place. It’s more than a habit for her. It’s a daily spiritual practice that sets her compass on the things that matter most to her.

Recently I was talking to her about some worry I was having about one of my kids. I think it was something silly like a standardized test score, but at the time it was feeling like a big deal. She gently reminded me that everything she has heard me say about parenting rejects the idea of reducing kids’ achievements to how they perform on a test on a certain day. She reminded me of a Facebook picture I had posted recently of my boys hugging each other goodbye before one of them went away to camp.

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“That’s what you care about,” she said. “That picture. That’s who you are raising.”

Oh yeah. I forgot. She’s totally right.

But if Meredith hadn’t reminded me I might have spun myself into a little shame cyclone, and you know my kids would have had to bear the brunt of all that craziness. I mean, I had already gone out that day and bought a workbook. Who knows what other tiger mom shenanigans I was capable of if left to my own spinning, anxiety-fueled thoughts? Instead, Meredith was able to help me steer my rudder back to what I actually care about–raising loving kids who love each other–and focus on that.

She told me that on the inside cover of her journal she always writes a list of what she hopes to accomplish. These aren’t goals that you cross off of a to-do list. Meredith’s list is basically a catalog of what she values above all else, so that when she gets herself worked up about something and feels lost, she can go back to her list and see clearly again. She can remember, oh right, this is what I care about.

Here is Meredith’s journal that she very kindly shared with me and gave me permission to share with you.

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I am calling this a “life list” because I want to distinguish it from just a normal to-do list.

I love this list so much. I want to steal all of Meredith’s things because they are what I want too, but I feel like this would be cheating, so I decided to create my own life list. Like Meredith I am starting each sentence with “I want.”

My life list:

  1. I want to make the people around me feel safe and loved exactly as they are.
  2. I want to show the love and grace God has shown to me to others.
  3. I want to connect with nature by gardening, hiking, trail running, and being outside as much as possible.
  4. I want to take care of my body by eating foods that fuel me and by exercising regularly.
  5. I want to use my love for writing to connect with other people and feel known.
  6. I want to raise children who know they are loved by their parents and by God no matter what they achieve, or do, or don’t do.
  7. I want to raise children who love their neighbors as themselves and who use their gifts to make the world better than they found it.
  8. I want my actions to reflect that God is at the center of my life.

Now the nerd in me really wants to make an algorithm out of this list. Something with lots of boxes and arrows that I can pull out whenever I want to take on a new goal. But Teddy is waiting for me to finish this post so we can go to the library. I will have to geek out another time.

But I would encourage you to make your own life list. These are the big things you want to accomplish with your life. The values you care about most. Not to be morbid, but think of this as a list of what you will care about most when you are taking your last breaths.

Eek. Pretty heavy stuff. But I did say you should always start at the end when making a new goal, right? 

When you want to start on the journey towards accomplishing a new goal, first check that this goal aligns with what you truly value and what you want your life to be about. Because what’s the point of chasing a dream that in the end doesn’t line up with who you want to be?

Ok, off to the library now.

Please share your life list with me! I would love to be inspired by you! You can comment below or on my facebook page.

Happy list-making!

Love,
Elizabeth