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Jewish World ReviewDec. 10, 1999 /1 Teves, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Buying a minivan and tossing the SUV -- THE NUMBER ONE response you get when you tell people you're buying a minivan for the first time is consolation.

They tell you that the one you've chosen is really, truly, one of the better looking ones. (Please note: They all look exactly alike.) They tell you what a practical decision you've made. (Please note again: "Practical" is never, ever a compliment.) Then they get into their huge sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and drive away, secretly snickering at you for having something the world has universally declared to be totally "un-hip."

I know all about it. I've never had a huge SUV. Just a mid-sized one. But I've been a consoler for a couple of years now. Only, I can't avoid it anymore --- my third little one has turned me into a consolee.

The minivan was invented in the early 1980s, and it quickly became a huge seller --- even as it broadcast to the world that the driver's most frequented restaurant was probably Chuck E. Cheese's. The salesmen will point to the various amenities of minivans as the reason for their early and enduring popularity. But I myself think it was all those seats. Parents had finally realized that each and every kid needed to be strapped in. Before this newly raised consciousness about actually seeking to preserve a child's life in the case of a car accident, whole neighborhoods full of children would be tossed into the typical suburban station wagon.

The youngest of five children, I myself well remember quite happily bouncing around the cargo area of my family's wagon for days at a time on cross country trips. (At least one of our wagons did have some sort of a collapsible third seat, but we never used it.)

On the home front, I often got to sit in the front passenger seat, not knowing that the only thing between me and that steel dashboard was mom's arm swinging out like a gate in the case of a quick stop. So who needed three-point seat belts and air bags? Ah well, now we know that every little darling needs his or her own secure seat. But they can't sit in the front anymore until they are practically teenagers. It turns out that that marvelous mandated safety feature, the airbag, could kill them. So one quickly does the math and finds out that with three kids, a third row of seating is needed.

Yes, technically three can sit in the second row, or back seat, of a mid-sized SUV. At least that's what they told me when I bought the SUV I have now. (I was just about to get a minivan then but at the last minute chickened out.) At the time I was only contemplating a third child.

But now that child is here. And to get all three of them in with a couple of car seats requires the older two sucking in their little body parts while I quickly shut the door, sort of like I might close an overstuffed suitcase. But the "suitcase" is about ready to pop. So, I recently went out looking to upgrade to an SUV with third row seating. The only problem is that the few I found in my price range drove like egg beaters. It was when I was disoriented from having been bumped around so much during one such test drive that I asked to take out a minivan I saw on the lot.

Well that was it. These things have huge interiors. "Captains chairs" in the second row provide a big space between those two seats, meaning a demilitarized zone for the kids. My children can easily get in and out --- and all the way to the back row of seats --- and they drive like cars, not kitchen appliances. Plus they have about seventeen thousand cup holders. So there will soon be one in my driveway.

Now I know that all those snobby SUV drivers will look down on me, literally and figuratively, when they see me on the road. Even after they've made their kids climb up seven feet and do gymnastics to get into the back seat of their cramped little interior, they'll think that I'm the one who has made the big compromise while they held out for style. Well I've got news for such folks: This may come as a shock, but have you noticed that all SUVs look exactly alike?

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

©1999, Scripps Howard News Service