Monday, October 22, 2012

The Three Kid Minivan Dilemma

One of the things that's really bothering me about adding a third to child to the family is the upgrade. By that I mean: I think going from 1 child to 2 children was relatively painless financially. But adding a third child is going to require some additional investment for us. And I'm not looking forward to it.

Part One, The Auto

The first and most pressing concern for us is that of transportation. Since Fritz and I got married (actually since before we got married), we've managed to have only one car between us. On a regular day, Fritz bikes and I use the car. It wasn't always this divide; there were some times in the past where I biked/walked and Fritz took the car. And still, occasionally, Fritz needs the car and the boys and I manage to get around just fine on bikes. We've purposefully chosen to live in locations where this is an option. We've turned down living in a great many neighborhoods in the last 8 years based upon their lack of accessibility. We've chosen to use local retailers and services. And we've consciously attempted to put less money into transportation costs. This summer Fritz actually wore a hole through the tire on his favorite commuting bike, leaving the inner tube exposed, and we toasted how economical and devoted we are to this whole biking thing. Then I took a photo, lest we forget.

And forget we may. Because the flip side of owning a single car for a family of four is that – um, it's a pain. Somedays, even the studded bike tires fail to overcome the elements, and then I'm the chaffeur for everyone. With three people (one little) it was okay. It's been mostly okay (and not so often a problem) with four people, two of whom are LITTLE. But now, little people are getting bigger. They have more complicated schedules and (well, this is trite, isn't it?) I feel like I'm running everybody everywhere. Distributing the driving load ("Hey Fritz, can you drop Noah off at school?") starts to sound like a very desirable thing. Especially looking at child number three. Two cars for our family? Sounds like the time has come. But what to do? A bigger family car for all of us? Or a smaller car for just Fritz?

Tied up in all of this is the issue of car seats. OMG this car seat thing is annoying me like nothing else. Because, really, I want to keep driving our little Jetta station wagon. And I want to haul around all the children in it. But you know what? I can't. Not with our current carseats, anyway. This weekend, we spent about two hours at The Giggling Green Bean in Lakewood trying to fit three Diono Radian carseats into the back of our Jetta (because the Giggling Green Bean is totally cool about letting you try these things.)

So the good news: YES! Three Diono Radians fit in the back of our 2009 Jetta Sportswagen. And you know what? These Diono Radians are great car seats. I wish I had known about them before I purchased our current carseats. (Hint: just buy Diono Radians when your kid outgrows the infant carseat.) I'm not going to try to sell them to you, because if you google them and read about their features; it's already easy to get a sense of how great their features are and how high their safety rating are and who knows why they aren't better marketed, because we ALL should own them.

What you won't find (so much) in the reviews: I put the Radian car seats in the car and suddenly, THERE WAS ALL THIS SPACE IN THE BACKSEAT OF THE CAR. Children could climb in and out with a fraction of the assistance that is now required! There was leg room! Nobody was bumping their head on the door jamb getting in and out of the carseat! It was miraculous. I want to buy these car seats regardless of our car situation just because THEY'RE SO MUCH BETTER.

Then I turned one of the Radians around to make it rear-facing and that's when I saw a problem: We will not be able to have a rear-facing Radian and still sit two adults in the front seat. There's just not room for the Radian to recline sufficiently. However, we did manage to fit a rear facing infant seat with a base in there. So, there's that. We can get through the first 15-18 months of child number 3 with the Jetta. And as any parent of a toddler knows - that stage between 1-2 years old - where the child is suppose to be rear-facing - HIGHLY, HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC for a variety of reasons - until, I do believe, car seats go through some serious design revision - clearly the APA's recommendation is still quite ahead of the manufacturers - yadda, yadda discussion for another time.

You might think that having discovered the good news that I can keep the Jetta and fit three kids in the back of it would be the end of this story. But that would be misjudging the degree to which I have been swayed by the social pressure to just-get-a-minivan. There's some small (medium-size?) part of me that's doubting the longevity of the Jetta Plan. How much more fighting and nagging and tousling will we have when all three children are in such close proximity? Or maybe it's just a matter of my expectations? If I expect the children to behave, they will behave (betterish). Ie, expecting them to fight in a Jetta could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?

Maybe we just need more space. If we're buying another car ANYWAY, maybe now is the time to make the jump into (gulp) something bigger. We have more people. More people getting bigger all the time. More stuff to haul around. I hate to do this: I hate to become this person who needs more and more things with more and more space for things. I hate to feel like I'm living excessively (although I am...thank you, First World problems). And I don't even LIKE minivans. If we get one (at this point) it won't be because I love it or because I want it, it will be because society told me that a family with three kids NEEDED one. Maybe society is right. I mean, all the people I know who have minivans, they don't seem crazy. They seem normal. They seem like they did their research. Still. This is the type of peer pressure that I not only try to avoid, but I resist it in my contrarian bones like a teenager with a chip on her shoulder ... so why am I still agonizing over it? I should just keep our Jetta, buy new Diono Radian car seats, and be done.

And then (says my little voice), the internet can all have the last laugh when you're 6 months into child number three and going crazy squeezing everything and everyone into the Jetta.


So, we also went car shopping this weekend. If you go gentle, very easy, no commitment type car shopping with a 5 year old and a 2 year old, you quickly realize what a profoundly bad idea it was to bring them. If only it weren't for child labour laws, car dealerships would quickly hire children to sell minivans. While Fritz and I kept swaying in the direction of slightly 'cooler,' third row SUV type things, the boys were going nuts over the minivans' sliding doors! and the ability to walk from one end of the minivan to the other! and copilot seats in the back! and little knobs! and cup holders! and storage compartments! and

"Mommy! What's this stuff coming out of the ceiling!?"

I tell them.

Mattias, earnestly: "This good car, Mommy."

I don't have any answers yet, just a lot of anxiety.

This is Part 1
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.


Swistle said...

FULL EMPATHY. I think the most stressful part of my entire third pregnancy was the car issue.

Anonymous said...

We somehow managed to drive an Audi A4 for more than year with three kids in the back seat, then switched to a VW Sharan while number four was on its way. I know what you mean with 'more and more things' - we will never again be able to move with just two trucks. That's just what you get when you live in a house with more space than you really need, but which is nice to have when visitors come. But then, on the other hand, one of my friends said once: 'I am not going to let the kind of car we drive limit my family planning'. They bought a VW Multivan and have five kids by now...isn't that a great perspective?

twisterfish said...

If you're the type to keep a car until it dies, that's another reason to get a minivan. It will come in extremely handy when you have teens and when you bring them to college. And yes, those sliding doors are the best thing ever. EVER. Our automatic sliding door broke after the warranty (of course) and it's too expensive to fix right now, and I miss it so very, very much.

Pregnantly Plump said...

We have the 3rd row SUV, because I did NOT want a minivan. It just seemed bigger, and I don't see myself as a minivan person. I regret it now. A minivan would make a lot more sense. It's hard to get Cheese Puff into his carseat base in the center of the back row. Little Elvis has issues buckling his seat belt when seated beside Cheese Puff. When we carpool, Little Elvis has to sit in the back, and he has to crawl out of the back hatch area, without dragging out my canvas bags. But, Cheese Puff loves having his brothers so close to him. It's nice for them to get his paci for him. Little Elvis did accidentally hit him in the head once, but that was a one time thing. I think the screaming baby scared Little Elvis.

Sara Struckman said...

Ugh cars. We had a two-door Civic when we had Benny. We bought a 10-year-old Volvo station wagon to putz around town. When Lila came, the Civic just wasn't an option. We ended up trading it in for a very good price for an SUV. I hate the SUV. I would prefer a mini-van. Better yet, I'd prefer a sedan. We do have some friends who are able to fit three car seats in their Toyota Matrix, but it looks pretty cramped!