Last week, a 15 year long companionship came to an end. We had purchased the Honda Odyssey the year our daughter was born, and as we moved homes and states, the car remained a symbolic staple in our lives, capturing within its walls many happy memories of family times, laughter and joy.
As we bid adieu to this contraption that was as much utilitarian as it was exhilarating, I tried to understand my sense of loss. It took me down a memory lane that captures so much of who I have become as a person, and how we have morphed as a family.
I enjoy a smooth ride and loved the reckless driving of my youth, when zipping around the crowded and chaotic streets of Dhaka hardly ever carried the risk of a speeding ticket, especially when the person behind the wheel is a young girl. Sexist as it may sound, I'm quite comfortable with this reverse gender discrimination to my benefit, taking advantage of the rare occurrence of being a competent female driver on Dhaka streets in those days.
I was pulled over once, when trying to speed away from a police patrolman on a motorbike. Firmly entrenched in my prejudice that the police in Dhaka were incompetent buffoons, I was surprised to be quickly overpowered by his 1000+ CC ride. My 800 CC Subaru did not stand a chance. He pulled me over, looked at my papers and said "Tut tut, we want for you ladies to drive safely; what were you doing trying to get away from me?" I knew better than to say anything and he let me go with a warning to drive carefully. The reality was that I was driving perfectly fine, my papers were in order and I was pulled over because he wanted to see what woman was driving this car. So, just as much else in life, my gender gave me a free pass in many scenarios but also became the reason for me to be harassed in others.
DAC to AUS
As I transitioned into my life in the well-designed traffic patterns of Austin, Texas, driving soon became a chore. I went from driving being a discretionary pleasure that required an engaged mind to sidestep the plethora of rickshaws, trucks, buses, weird drivers and risk-loving pedestrians, to a mind-numbing everyday necessity, with no chauffeur to help with the upkeep of the car. The fear of getting tickets was real (I got one when driving an untested ride out in the boonies of West Texas, through a town that must have desperately needed money from the tickets they happily handed out).
Once my daughter came along a few years later, the Honda sedan soon seemed congested, especially when we had family in town. Within a few weeks, we invested in the Honda Odyssey, after we received the sage advice regarding a family car from a friend who said, "You really have two choices, the Toyota Sienna or the Honda Odyssey." Since we are like mice in a maze and were already familiar with the Honda, we just went with Honda. I wish our decision had been more scientific and more worthy of our superior analytical skills.
It didn't matter that I liked fast cars and powerful engines, motherhood defined what kind of a ride I should have. To add insult to injury, I came to learn that the colloquial term for a minivan is "Bimbo box". Without using my own words, I share the definition as it appears in the Urban dictionary:
"A vehicle, typically from a luxury marque such as Lexus or Mercedes, based on a car chassis, but presented as a utility vehicle. It complete lacks any off-road prowess. Typically driven by wealthy spouses and mistresses. The driver will frequently be on a cell phone while operating the vehicle.
Despite such a derogatory connotation, I couldn't deny the practicality of the car nor the comfort on my back as I lugged a car seat in and out of the car a zillion times, changed diapers, chauffeured visiting family with (a lot of) luggage, transported office furniture, went on long road trips with excess baggage and car pooled with swim buddies and more as the kids grew older.
I now understand why several of my professional female peers opted for a SUV over the bimbo box, but like many of my other hits in life, I learnt to wear this car as a badge of honor. I came to understand that the car could never define me and so what if degenerates decided to call it a bimbo box? They are probably jealous anyway.
Up in Flames
While I was still struggling to be as kind and generous with myself, and saw the minivan as a symbol of all the things that seemed to be holding me back as a woman and a professional, I toyed with the idea of licensing a concept to Honda and other minivan manufacturers. Surely I wasn't the only mother with this identity crisis. What if these companies offered a special paint job add-on that allowed customization of the external look without a stereotypical perception of this being a feminine car? I knew what I would want. I wanted a flame paint job and even looked into the idea of getting it done after market. Economics and body shop never aligned and I moved on to bettering my mindset over embellishing my car. I have not seen it in person, but a search gives me a picture of what I would have wanted done!
As I said earlier, I am not the only mother with such an identity crisis!!
We have covered a lot of ground with this Odyssey. In the early years of our business, as my husband traveled a lot, my daughter and I spent many hours discovering Austin. When he was in town, we often went on long road trips and have explored a lot of Texas and the Southwest, which gives me an appreciation of Americana in a way many immigrants may not have the privilege to experience.
When we moved to the Bay Area due to work, we left a lot of treasures in Texas. Lifelong friendships, a simple, down-to-earth way of life, my first house that we built into a home, the world's best BBQ, a beautiful topography with gentle hills and vibrant sunsets. One of the materialistic staples that came with us is the Odyssey. It just occupied a different driveway, but once inside the car, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was reminiscent of the times spent within from the beginning. I didn't have this sense of familiarity in my new home even though my belongings were the same. The aesthetics and scale of this home were different, and my spatial reasoning did not naturally extend to absorbing my physical space in the same way it did with my car.
Scars of Life
We went on many more road trips while we discovered the visual beauty that is Coastal California. Our family expanded and the car assimilated our growth effortlessly. A few years ago, we experienced one of our more harrowing brushes with life while in this car.
My husband turned the wheel in the wrong direction when backing out of a precarious parking spot at a remote park, and one of the wheels gave way to the side of the cliff, hanging over a ravine that was about a 200 ft drop from where we were. I shakily got out of the car, and managed to pull the kids out but my husband remained in there as the balancing weight so that the car would not topple. We had no cell reception, and about a 2 mile walk away from the nearest main road. I don't recall how long we waited but a kind stranger on a motorbike made a detour to the park ranger for us, and we finally had help.
Many thoughts flash through the head when something like this happens. Life had taught me panicking doesn't yield anything. I kept the kids busy and hydrated, and prayed that we would find a way out. Sometimes this strange calm within me puzzles me. I am uncertain as to whether it is the strength of faith or a numbness with life, but it is a weapon in times of distress. I was grateful that we remained safe, and then made myself busy with the daily rigors of life. Time doesn't stop as we internalize our experiences.
The Odyssey has been sputtering to its end for some time and it finally died a few months ago. It remained parked on the driveway while I parked my new ride on the street. For practical reasons, I am now driving a small sedan while I decide what I really want to drive next. Brand names or the status associated with them do not lure me. The Odyssey taught me that. I want a ride that is comfortable and will serve my needs for the next several years. The idea of leasing and changing cars every few years doesn't appeal to me. As a finance professional, I cannot compute my pleasure being greater than a perpetual financial drain. And I still like the idea of a bigger car that allows me to make space for family and friends when they visit.
Perhaps out of a desire to make it synonymous with the next stage of my life, I would like a SUV. It will have a similar utilitarian function but it will not hold the nostalgia of a car that held my babies and the many memories of their childhood. As they mature, I want for my spaces to mature so that I can internalize the distance that will inevitably come between mother and child.
You see, the Odyssey was never just a car. As it turned its final corner on my street, it took with it some of the best memories of my life. An exact replacement will not bring those memories back and it is time for me to learn to embrace new changes anyway. My husband suggested that getting rid of it could be seen as us purging our burdens and make room for the new.
May it be so.
- mh (c) 2020
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@ Article Copyright by mh./ [@entrespire, twitter].