Oh happy day! This morning's car wash was one step in taking control of the kiddy cluttered chaos on wheels that is my 2005 Camry.
Oh happy day! This morning’s car wash was one step forward in taking back control of the kiddo-cluttered-chaos-on-wheels that is my 2005 Camry.

Once upon a time, I was the driver who kept my car spotless. From a dust-free dashboard to floormats that effused a factory-new freshness, my car was “Cleanliness is next to godliness” – just on wheels.

Riding with others, whose front passenger seats were usually littered with CD jewel cases, hairbrushes, plastic grocery bags and the like made my insides ache. The drivers always apologized.

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” I’d involuntarily lie, in the way we proper Southern belles are taught almost never to say what we actually mean – at least when we mean something other than gracious approval. Internally I was horrified, making a mental note that I’d fake having to run an errand during our next lunch outing for the precise reason of avoiding another ride in my coworker’s cesspool on wheels.

These were my pre-Mommy days. My better-rested, everything is in its place, never heard of The Backyardigans days. This was also when I first encountered the term dink.

“Double income, no kids,” said the frenemy, in a tone that was equal parts informative and accusatory. I suppose we were an easy target for our circle of procreating acquaintances, given that we pushed the five-year mark before there was even a whisper of words like ovulation, dilation and sleep deprivation.

And the other day, as I sat in the Self-Serve Car Wash lot, contorting my body to twist the vacuum at just the right angle to extract a pale pink Gerber yogurt melt from its happy perch in the tracks under my front passenger seat, I thought again about that term – dink.

Although people who used the word often included snarky overtones, I must admit, dink status is not without its perks.

If I wanted to sleep late, I did.

When I wanted to take a marathon shopping trip (no babe, I didn’t buy out the *entire* store), I did.

If I got a wild notion to repaint the master bedroom closet at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night, by golly, I could grab that can of Benjamin Moore Historical Color #31 and set my overachieving little butt to work.

Through scrupulous saving and careful planning, we also extended our dink-y-dom to see as much of this world as our collective wallet could afford.

It began on the West Coast, where my husband shot one of his best rounds at Pebble Beach. We pretended to be serious art collectors in the pretentious galleries along Carmel’s Ocean Avenue. (The fact that they didn’t laugh us out of each and every place is a credit to the local tourism bureau). We even danced to “Sweet Home Alabama” in the middle of Monterey’s Cannery Row.

Piggybacking on my work trips to Europe, we crossed the Atlantic as often as we could, paying our respects at the Memorial in Normandy, ice skating in Covent Garden and sipping wine under an idyllic midnight sky from the sparkling grounds of the Eiffel Tower.

After a few years, we cultured up enough to realize that the cleverest wine labels are not, in fact, indicative of their quality, and drank in all the knowledge we could along Napa’s Silverado Trail.

We tried (and liked) sushi for the first time ever, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, of all places.

But, to quote Toby Keith, after awhile, you “ooo-ooo, gotta getcha some – babies!” So we did. Not because Toby Keith said so, but because Rett didn’t want to be the only dad on Medicare at the kids’ high school graduation.

And so, we forever surrendered our dink status for the chaotic and completely life-changing roles of Mommy and Daddy.

Nowadays, instead of asking the hubs, “Do you like my new shoes?” I spout off phrases like “Don’t eat your boogers” and “Who put this French fry in my flip flop?”

And my car. Oh, my poor sweet car. It dog-cusses me from the driveway. It tells the other cars I am a traitor. We are no longer on speaking terms. I am dead to it.

Nothing like discovering a little Frosty-encrusted spare change to take one off her ivory tower of clean car judgment. Half-eaten Cheerios. Miniscule orange flecks that, in a past life, might have been Goldfish. Partially-gnawed crayons I probably pried out of the baby’s jaws, just in time to stop the toddler from shoving up her nose whatever hunk of plastic they have the audacity to call a toy, from a long since digested Happy Meal. But my car shouldn’t feel too bad. After all, I’ve changed, too.

Sometimes I find myself an embarrassing 20 miles into my morning commute, the kids long ago dropped off at daycare, before I realize I’m still listening to preschool music drivel. “I like checking out charts, in chart school! Charts are a handy, dandy scientific tool!”

Gone from my refrigerator are pictures of our last kid-free vacation to New York, or my girls’ trip to St. Thomas. In their place are various incarnations of my toddler’s Crayola scribbles and a sheet of pink “Potty Star!” stickers.

Now, I’m the one sheepishly apologizing to anyone who draws the short straw of riding shotgun in my Mama-mobile. It’s cluttered with papers and plastic straw wrappings and God knows what else (car wash day discoveries have yet to disappoint).

Yes, it’s cramped with car seats and blankets and lovies and what-nots, and, on any given day, it will probably smell faintly like stale crackers and baby wipes. But you know what? I wouldn’t change a single thing.

No dinkin’ way.

Originally published in B-Metro magazine.