If Your Car Isn’t a Garbage Can, Are You Even a Parent?


When it comes to driving, I was a late bloomer. As a teenager and throughout my twenties, I had zero interest in owning a vehicle or even getting my driver’s license. I did get it eventually, but it mainly served as identification to get into bars (classy, I know). The subway was my best friend - even when it smelled vaguely of pee - and I was content to walk anywhere within a few kilometres of my home.

I was a 30-year-old mother-of-two when I reluctantly got my first vehicle. We’d moved from the city to the suburbs and suddenly, a car was necessary to get around. I’ve always looked at cars as a utilitarian device - nothing to spend a lot of money on or feel affection toward - so I drive a very practical crossover that was bought pre-owned from the dealer. It’s not a minivan, but close enough. It looks exactly like what every other suburban parent drives, minus those stick figures on the back window (I had to draw the line somewhere). It’s my mom car, it’s totally cliche in every way and somehow, I’ve grown to love it.

It’s also a garbage can on wheels.

I don’t mean that my car itself is garbage - it’s a decent car, relatively new and in good condition. What I mean is that my car is literally a garbage can for my family. I’m not proud of this, but as a mom with two young kids, I don’t think I’m alone.

Crumbs. Toys. Hats. Water bottles. Books. Mittens. Forms the teacher would like me to see and sign, if my kids would stop misplacing them WITHIN SECONDS. It all ends up in the back seat of my car, rolling around with some loose change and those sunglasses I’ve been looking for all week.

I’ve found socks in my car and wondered why anyone would enter my vehicle fully dressed and leave barefoot. I’ve found school crafts, glow sticks, paper planes, and a number of those plastic things that hold a ring pop. A bag of old files. There have been more Tupperwares lost in my car than I’d like to admit. I once found a small potted plant.

There are usually at least two bags of old clothes or toys in my trunk, destined for a donation centre but taking their sweet time getting there. If I’m the only mom who drives those bags around for weeks on end before actually dropping them off, please don’t tell me. Let me live with this lie, for I need it to be sane.

I have two separate seat organizers and a pop-up trash bin in my car at all times, and it still looks like the aftermath of a natural disaster or a robbery. If my car got broken into, I probably wouldn’t know unless a window was broken. Even then, I might question whether or not my kids did it. (They aren’t prone to vandalism, but they ARE great at breaking stuff.)

When I take a booster seat out of my car to vacuum, the amount of carbohydrate remnants that rains down is straight-up humiliating. There are enough banana bread crumbs in my car to reconstruct a full loaf and a dozen muffins. There are also miscellaneous wrappers, and if I’m being honest, the occasional remains of loot bag candy.

The glove box holds important papers but also napkins, baby wipes and a plethora of snacks for the kids. A few months ago, I got pulled over for not having a new sticker on my license plate (in my defense, I *had* bought one, so I was halfway there). The police officer asked for the usual ID and other documents, but I couldn’t get my ownership and insurance papers out because they were stuck behind a pile of granola bars and trail mix packages. I struggled for several minutes before admitting that I could only find half of what he’d asked for because the rest had been swallowed up by Clif Bars. Fortunately, sirens started ringing in the distance and the cop sped off to deal with bigger problems than my mess of a vehicle.

It’s not just the kids’ stuff, if I’m being completely honest. This may be shameful, but the amount of empty coffee cups in the front seat rivals the chaos in the back. THAT COFFEE IS MY FUEL, PEOPLE. Like my car needs gas to move, I need coffee to function. Also, I’m messy. You may have surmised this already. I’m sorry.

I loved my shiny new car. She was cute and lovely and fresh as a spring day. That didn’t last, but I know she’s under there somewhere, waiting for the day I’ll keep her clean for more than 48 hours.

That day will be when my kids are in college, I assume. Or never. Time will tell.

Until then, here’s to gas station vacuums and having very low standards for the interior of our cars. May both things serve us well.



Picture of Erin Pepler

Author: Erin Pepler

Erin Pepler is a freelance writer, mom, and reluctant suburbanite living outside of Toronto, Ontario. She is usually drinking a coffee, or thinking about getting one. Erin is prone to terrible language, though not in front of her kids, and yes, she has an opinion on that thing you’re talking about. She loves music, books, art, design, cooking, travel, and sleeping more than four hours at a time (a rarity). You can find her at www.erinpepler.com or on Instagram, where she documents her passion for motherhood and caffeine.

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