Last week, the lease on our trusty old minivan was coming to an end. Not being a heartless derelict, I wanted to spruce up the old gal for her final days before turning her back in. Give her a makeover and make her feel somewhat pretty again. It was the least I could do, really. She served us incredibly well for five years and gave up her youth in the process. We had long ago sucked the inherent beauty and life out of her; that is what three kids and 65,000 miles through the Grind will do to a new vehicle. She was never much of a looker to begin with, mind you, even in the beginning. But she was clean. And she didn’t smell like a thousand-year old casserole.
So I lugged out the high-powered Shop-Vac and all sorts of cleaning supplies and was ready to get to work. But I quickly realized that a high-powered Shop-Vac and cleaning supplies were completely useless. Not having cleaned it for quite some time, it became very apparent that far too much time had passed; I needed a shovel and the cleansing power of fire. I needed Mr. Wolf from “Pulp Fiction.” I needed a plan. That is how much trash and socks and mulch and Legos and mystery goop and French fries and melted crayons had accumulated, among other horrific things, between cleanings.
Back in the dark recesses of the third-row seats, though—far from the peering eyes of mom—that is where it was the worst. Cutting through the dense brush with an old-timey machete, I found plates with I-don’t-know-what crusted all over them. And not paper plates either. But, like, our good plates from our kitchen cabinets. Except they were no longer “good” in the typical sense of the word. They looked like they were recovered from the Titanic.
There were also tufts of hay for some reason and a thousand candy wrappers and a gross nest of some sort along the banks of a babbling creek of old yogurt. There were visible fumes emanating from beneath the second row of seats. No wonder my kids are always sick. The air quality back there was less than ideal, truth be told—about on par with a Chinese mercury mine. It felt unhealthy. (Take that, my family’s respiratory systems! BLACK LUNG IS THE NEW ORANGETHEORY!)
Up front was hardly any better. My wife has the habit of stuffing everything she’s ever touched into the center console until it’s compacted into a neat, 400-pound cube of STUFF. Shoes … purses … broken sunglasses … mail … patio furniture coverings … a caulk gun … critical paperwork from our house-closing ten months ago, etc. The other 35 nooks and crannies around the driver’s seat were stuffed with all kinds of lip glosses, receipts, leaky bottles of hand sanitizer, and Starbucks straw wrappers with discarded wads of gum in them. God it was a mess. I should’ve just rolled the thing into a canyon.
But I didn’t. I cleaned it out over the course of six hours, murmuring curses under my breath and also very loudly so that everyone could plainly sense my displeasure. It was awful. I probably got rabies from the ordeal. Cleaning out the grocery-getter has all the rotten ingredients of the most dreaded #DadChores in the land: it’s time-consuming, back-wrenching grossness that won’t improve anything, per se, but rather brings something back from the edge of neglect. It’s like cleaning the gutters. Or doing laundry. Only worse!
And this isn’t some metaphor for “cleaning out the dirty Russians from Washington” or “behind the shiny, waxed exterior of our lives lies FILTHY CHAOS,” it is neither of those things—or any other analogous thing. It is simply this:
Kids tend to ruin everything, including your vehicles and dreams and such, that is the point here. So whenever you see a Swagger Wagon or the like on the road—the ones where you can see “Peppa Pig” playing on the flip down screen—just know that inside lurks a squalor so foul and filthy and filled with moldy Cheerios that it should probably be condemned with a sand-blaster. As parents, though, we have come to accept it, more or less. It takes too much time and energy not to.
Writer’s note: We at the Dadball Era wanted to wish friend-of-the-program Derek Schultz a heartfelt congratulations on becoming a dad for the first time last week! Enjoy the rich tapestry of fatherhood, Derek, there is nothing like it!