Tales from the Dark Side of the Minivan: Learning from the Unexpected

Oh, the minivan. Among its many wonders, the minivan is king of devolving into a traveling version of a child’s unkept room, complete with spare clothes, mismatched shoes, and assorted outdoor treasures. They have endless nooks and crannies, much like historic homes, except filled with all manner of snacks and sticky things. Living in a tropical place, we have a bug or ten in ours, and there are at least five items I intend to return to people next time I see them. Even in an environment as unfortunate as this, there are some things you can’t prepare for.

We were recently celebrating the end of our homeschool year (not the completion of our actual school books, mind you, but the completion of my capacity for thinking clearly, therefore – break time! Woo!) I dropped off one child at a lesson, while the other two and I stopped at a taco stand for lunch. It was a glorious, clear day. I walked to the window to grab our order, and when I got back in the car I interrupted this conversation.

“It’s pee.”
“No, it’s soy sauce.”
“No, it’s pee.
“No, it’s soy sauce. That doesn’t look anything like pee.”
“Well, it’s old pee.”

At this moment, one of the kids reached from the back seat and stuck a container right under my nose, from which I got the unmistakable stench of urine. Oh yes, it’s definitely urine. I turned around to see a tupperware container, lip snapped back on, with the murky contents swirling around inside. And it wasn’t just any tupperware container, it was one I was returning to my friend, Bonnie. (Sorry Bonnie, on all accounts, because I think the tupperware is from Thanksgiving, 6 months ago.) I quickly took it outside and dropped it into a trash can.

Upon returning, I sat quietly for awhile, that eery kind of quiet that makes the kids wonder what’s about to happen. Probably not something jolly. I ask if anyone knows about the urine, not sure that I actually want to know. Then I get the story that (conveniently) the child who is not currently in the car was the perp.

At this time, I would like to point out that I don’t have any boys. And I don’t think I have to explain the fact that it would be hard for a grown woman to pee into tupperware neatly in an automobile, much less a child. I shudder to think.

A few minutes later, we took our food and set up a blanket at this picturesque spot (left). It’s an Instagram perfect moment, right? And now you know what happened right before.


This experience got me thinking about the surprises of parenthood, the moments that you say to yourself, “I neverthought I would do/say/cleanup/see THIS!” I expected spit-up and eye rolling. I expected tantrums and picky eating. Those were all in the parenting manual.

I was not expecting the complications, the ways that parenthood overlaps at times with fatigue, heartache, and marriage challenges. I was not expecting the special needs of one of our kids and how it impacts our family dynamic. I was not expecting to be so selfish, to feel so conflicted at times between my own desires and the laying down of my time and energy for these little people. I alternate from feeling like the luckiest person on earth to wanting to hire a surrogate mom to take over.

Who is doing the growing up here?

And despite the challenges that are thrown my way, my children need me to love unconditionally, to instruct, and to nurture them, even on their worst days and mine. That leaves me, the parent, with the heavy responsibility of changing, adapting, sacrificing.

I used to think the quality of our lives as parents was about our children, but it’s really all about us.  It’s about how we respond to the unexpected.

When we each face our pee pee tupperware moments, will we go to the dark side and react out of our own emotions? Or will we let these moments refine us into more compassionate, wiser people? Will we let the unexpected stresses of parenting bend and break us open so that we can grow and overcome our own immaturities? Or will we stiffen our necks and plow ahead as is, even when Parenting Plan A isn’t working?

The example I gave above might be the worst thing ever or no big deal to you, depending on where you’re coming from. It’s not at all appropriate in my book, but we are in a very difficult family season and have some special considerations. So I chose to take some time and try to figure out why it happened instead of going immediately into discipline mode.

The easier road is often the one that’s been pre-programmed. I find it’s easier to yell, bribe, or ignore a tough situation, when I really need to get to the heart of the matter. It’s usually better to pause, to pray, and to figure out my children’s needs behind their behavior.

Unfortunately, it’s not in those precious Instagram “I love being a mom” moments that most tough decisions are made. It’s in the trenches, late for an appointment, shoving them in the car, while spilling my coffee. These hundreds of small choices along the way determine the quality of our home life. Often we will mess up, occasionally we will be brilliant.

So, how do we grow?

We often know what is best, but it’s another thing to actually change. There are many resources for parenting, and I learn from a large variety of them. But I find that I am inspired most when I spend time with fellow parents who have a positive outlook. They are authentic, but they’re not doom and gloom like, “Just wait until your girls are all teenagers (head shaking)…” Life is hard enough without dreading the future!

The friends that I confide in about parenting are able to come alongside me with support and acceptance. They encourage my focus and purpose as a mom.

And, maybe most importantly, we can laugh our heads off when our kids do the unthinkable, knowing that even through our crazy seasons and imperfections, we are growing. We grow in community. And this makes the unexpected seasons of life much sweeter.

What is your biggest surprise of parenthood? And where do you find support?

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