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Friday, October 09, 2009

Minivan Moms Part Deux: Lady Minivan and the DWC incident

In my continuing saga of "That Was The Week That Was," I need to tell you about yet another frustrating encounter.

This one, however, led to a startling insight on Mark 10:17-31, this week's appointed gospel lesson for Sunday.

I've already gotten into hot water with some of you about this topic ("When Affluenza Meets Neurosis"). Let me state right up front - and again- that this is not about All mothers who drive a minivan. Most are responsible suburban moms who are good drivers.

Indeed, one of our own daughters lives in suburbia and schleps two of our grandchildren hither and yon to various after school and weekend activities in the frenetic way that has become the Gold Standard for Life in These United States in the Third Millennium. God forbid your child should not have a enrichment program to attend somewhere on any given day.

I'm talking about a particular kind of woman who lives in the affluent suburbs, who has all the accouterments of status: The McMansion, The Diamonds, The Rolex, The Country Club Membership, The Handsome, Successful-Even-In-This-Economy Husband, The Two Point Five Children, and, of course, the Lexus SUV or other top-end Minivan to drive them around town.

Oh, yes. And the cell phone. That would be the appendage on her left ear.

I call them "Lady Minivan".

I had stopped off at my local Starbucks in between appointments to get a little something to stave off the hunger. I was coming out of my parking space to exit the lot when I saw her.

Blue Mini van at 2 o'clock. Two kids in car seats in the back. Tail lights with white reverse lights on, but not moving. She is, of course, on the phone. Talking. Hands waving around wildly every so often.

I knew enough to proceed Slowly and with Great Caution.

It all unfolded as if in SloMo. Just I approached her car to pass by it to the exit, she started to move. She didn't bother to look. Couldn't. She was mid-thought of Something or with Someone Very Important.

I started to tap my horn. Just to get her attention. Nothing. I kept moving very, very slowly while tapping the horn. Still nothing.

Finally, I leaned on my horn. Several people in the parking lot started yelling at her. The guy in front of Blockbuster's pointed at her, caught her eye, then pointed at me. It took her a few moments before she finally looked up, saw me, and slammed on her breaks.

She came within inches of hitting my car. Sweet Little Lucy True Bug.

Several people came round to see if I was okay, several whispering angrily, "I saw it all. I'll be your witness."

I realized that I was trembling in the aftermath of almost having been hit.

"Lady Minivan" kept talking, this time reporting that "I almost hit some idiot who didn't stop to let me out of my parking spot." She said it as if it were some Great Inconvenience. A Terrible Annoyance.

I swear to God this is true.

Entitlement and Privilege look even uglier in the midst of a situation like that.

My body started moving before my brain was fully engaged. I saw myself get out of the car and walk to her car window.

The crowd pressed in closer. There had not been a real accident, but they smelled blood on the water, nonetheless.

"Are you okay?" I asked, seeing that she was. "Yes," she rolled her eyes, not really answering me but talking into the cell phone.

"Put the cell phone down," I said.

She stared at me blankly.

"Put. The. Cell. Phone. Down." I repeated with a calm that surprised me.

A mixture of confusion and caution came over her face as she slowly lowered the cell phone to her thigh.

"Good," I said, "Now, give it to me."

"What?" she said, now looking at me as if I were flat-out crazed.

"Give. Me. The. Cell. Phone." I repeated.

"Why?" she asked, as the crowd pressed in even closer.

"Because I'm going to use it to call 911," I said calmly.

"Why?" she shrieked at me, The Idiot in a no-name brand blouse and driving a lowly VW Bug. "No one was hurt. I'm fine. You're fine. The kids are fine."

"You almost hit me because you were talking on your cell phone. In New Jersey, that's a moving violation. I'm going to report it to the police."

She went from cool suburban housewife to hysterical woman in zero to five seconds.

"You can't do that. My husband will kill me. He's always telling me not to talk or text on the phone while I drive. You can't do this!"

"Well," I said, calmly, "I can see he's been very effective. Perhaps if there is a police report and a fine, you'll stop endangering yourself, your children and others by talking on the cell phone while driving."

She was now reduced to the level of one of the three or four year olds in the back seat. Hysterical is too mild a word for it.

Infantalized is better. More on this later.

I knew I wasn't going to get her cell phone, so I turned and walked back to my car to get mine. To my amazement, people stayed away from her. Several people called out to me, "Good for you. Good for you."

I called 911. I thought to take some pictures of just how close she had come to hitting me - just in case there were later allegations of injury. Or, she suddenly got smart and moved her car, destroying the evidence.

She could obviously afford better legal representation than I could. Perhaps she was even married to one.

I also got a snap of her license plate - just in case.

In the time it took me to do that, the police arrived. I was grateful. Lady Minivan let out a wail into her cell phone. The kids in the back seat where now hysterical, screaming about "the bad lady that made Mommy cry."

The officer looked over the scene as he made his way toward me. Several people called out to him their willingness to be a witness. He nodded solemnly.

He got my story, took my license and registration and then said, "I'll handle it from here," as he walked over to Lady Minivan.

The first thing she said, through tears and sobs was, "It's HER fault. She didn't stop to let me out of my parking place."

The cop responded by calmly asking for her drivers license and registration. That took five minutes of rummaging through her purse and glove compartment, all the while explaining how it wasn't her fault. Meanwhile, several people came up to tell the officer what they had seen.

He was great. Officer Friendly giving a stern paternal lecture about the perils of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. As he talked, she started to calm down and became remorseful and repentant, sniffling and sobbing and repeating, "My husband is going to kill me."

She got a stern lecture, a citation to appear in court and a stiff fine.

Yes, this is a bigger problem than Minivan Moms. Yes, driving with cell phones or texting while driving is a problem that knows no boundary of gender or geography, age or class status.

In the aftermath of it all, I've gotten an insight into a modern cultural dynamic about which I'm just now thinking out loud.

It's always dangerous when I do this. Someone is going to take offense and accuse me of stereotyping. So be it. I'm trying to find a way to talk about a modern manifestation of a dynamic that is as old as the Garden.

Original sin? That would be Sexism.

'Lady Minivan' is the New Eve. She is the modern icon of the New Sexism. It is a much more subtle form, but equally pernicious and just as deadly to the soul.

The tip off was the infantilization. "My husband's going to kill me," she wailed over and over. She had become the naughty girl. "Daddy" was going to be angry.

I confess that I don't understand this dynamic, but I know I've participated in it so I recognize it immediately. I suspect it's subconscious or even unconscious behavior. Something in our genetic DNA encoding. Or, a powerful learned cultural behavior.

I sometimes find myself falling into it with bishops. I know how to be coy and flirty - to 'soften' the message in the presence of a male ego with authority. Or a "power" woman who is part of the patriarchy dressed in a tailored business skirt.

To be sure, some of it is just the politics of social discourse which cross lines of gender and class status. "Working the system" is sometimes just a smart political move. Something we all do - male and female - no matter who we are or what situation we're in.

It can be conscious or unconscious or subconscious. No matter. We all engage in it from either end of the power spectrum. It's part of the enterprise of being human.

I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the ways in which we continue to participate in our own oppression - and that of others.

I'm talking about how that leads to infantilization which stunts our growth as full, whole human beings.

I'm talking about how that deadens the soul.

I'm not making fun of Lady Minivan or reducing her to stereotype. I feel bad for her and I wonder how it is our culture helps to nurture and sustain her. And, why? What is the 'cultural benefit' of Lady Minivan?

It is recorded that Socrates, charged with heresy, said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves.

Using one of the Socratic devices, I think it's fair to say that driving while talking on the cell phone is not bad because it is against the law, it is against the law because it is bad. It carries with it the potential to do great harm and is therefore dangerous.

My prayer for Lady Minivan is that she begin to take stock and start to examine her life. That, in fact, we all do.

What is so damned important about a conversation that it can't wait until we're out of the car?

Does driving and talking on the cell phone make us, then, feel important? As if we are so important that we simply have to have conversations that are so important that they can't wait?

What does that say about us - the status of our own egos and souls - that we need the illusions of status and importance in order to feel important?

It may still be an act of heresy to challenge the accepted beliefs of our times. If we don't, however, we not only participate in our own oppression and that of others, we participate in the muting and eventual death of the soul by cultural anesthesia.

It's the parable of the rich man (Mark 10:17-31) which we'll hear on Sunday. Eternal Life is not about the things we have or even the rules - spoken and unspoken - we studiously keep.

It's about dying to self, even in the midst of - or especially because of - the prevailing cultural expectations, wherein we gain it all. Or, at least, "treasure in heaven."

Jesus said to the rich man, "You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, "he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions."

I'd like to think the rich man went away and spent some time examining his life.

I'd like to think Lady Minivan did the same.

She might, if she'd just put down that damn cell phone and stop talking.


Matthew said...

I wish we'd start a movement, sort of like MADD in the 70's, about how dangerous and selfish this is. Maybe its out there but its taken as seriously as drunken driving but there are stats that show the accident rate is similar. Thanks for posting this. We need lots more consciousness raising in general. BTW, I lived in Utah a while back and "lady minivan" in that state is known as a Mormon Assault Vehicle. Because its mostly the Mormon housewives with lots of kids in the car that engage in this behavior.

DBW said...

Would you have called the cops had it been a junky old minivan, and a minority woman with six children in the backseat? Would you have called the cops had it been your Bishop driving the minivan? Would you have called the cops had it been a man with children in the backseat, who was worried his wife was going to kill him?
This is intriguing to me... I remember how weird people get in New Jersey... but its not against the law to drive while talking on your cell in Michigan. And our 9-1-1 operators would have been irate at being called, because 9-1-1 is for emergencies only--for dispatching ambulances, fire trucks and police to urgent situations. They would have told you to call the PD's non-emergency line.

marla said...

You have hit one of my pet peeves. I also hate it when people honk when the light turns green. Shortly after moving to Maryland, I was at a traffic light. The light turned green and before I could move my car the car behind me honked at me. I placed my car in park and proceeded to get out. My brother asked me where I was going and I told him to see why the person behind me is honking at me. He said, Because you are not moving." I said, "Well I guess he will learn not to do that because now it is going to take longer." Why are people in such a rush? Let's just all slow down and enjoy the flowers.

Textjunkie said...

You are my hero!! I would never have thought to get out of the car and call the cops, but that was exactly the thing to do in that situation!

Lerewayah said...

I love it that you call her vehicle a minivan.

Fr Craig said...

well done, well done indeed. I wouldn't have had the guts, would have just left. I live in that kind of neighborhood, where the wealthy women are all gorgeous and drive lexus cross-overs, or something, and damn it if they don't always have the phone in their ear... maybe it's because I'm almost 60, but I won't have my damn cell phone on in the car. One of the few places I can be at peace. The whole thing bothers me - I recently followed a car with 4 teens, and each one was talking on their cell. I guess I just don't have that much to say to people... pray your Lady Minivan learns something, but doubt it...

Unknown said...

A lot of SAHMs talk on the phone a lot, and I am one of them, because we are lonely.

Part of her infantalization is her social isolation, and maybe feeling intellectually limited by the kind of conversations and relationships made available to her.

When you are a SAHM, in some ways you are invisible. You become a fixture. That illness that has no name is still prevelant in this career field. Very few people see your work as a "real Job" that requires "real skills" and often treat you like you drool in a cup, incapable of anything more complicated than attaching the sticky parts of diaper tabs, or making box cakes.

It doesn't matter what you did before, what you have accomplished in your life, or are capable of. When you tie that apron around your waste, you might as well have been lobotomized as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

So acquisition of diamonds and cars, and phones and nails and clothes are your only allowable status symbols. It warps your brain.

I think that when we respect what has been traditionally been labeled as Women's work, the stay at home parent, that it will give them permission to evolve out of that frozen state of adolescence. Sexual maturity without the benefit of authentic, independent social power or worth.

I am one, and I deal with the kind you describe here. I think that you were kind to her as you could have been under the circumstances.

Allie said...


Göran Koch-Swahne said...


I believe you are right about the Ego, the making us (and our telephone calls) i m p o r t a n t. I don't pretend to understand it, but I also think it may be a kind of noveaux rich thing as befitts these times...

But more grave I think is the little girl who think that by n o t answering the phone, her papa might kill her.

How we don't handle Authority.

I have no solution to that either ;=)

Anonymous said...

A valuable post and it much helpfull to all.Thanks a lot for your post.

Karim - Positive thinking

Muthah+ said...

What a wonderful rant! I can just hear you say " Just like I used to say to kids in class who had some contraban item.

On the way home from the intervention, and we are reading Sue Monk Kidd's "Dissident Daughter". I agree that the issue of Miss Minivan is sexism--but there is the sense of privilidge that is so apparant--she HAS done all that is expected of her. She is wife and mother. She DESERVES her minivan and cell phone and friends who will talk to her when she is on the phone while driving.

In her mind she has done all the things that the patriarchy has asked of her. She has been the good little girl. But she isn't free to take responsibility for herself.

But if truth be told, I too will answer the phone on the move, I wish I could afford a minivan (I have never wished for children) but I have moments when I would like to live like I "was supposed to" so people would like me. What a blow to my feminine ego when I have those feelings raise their ugly head. It reminds me that I can't get too arrogant about being a feminist either.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Allie - it's one of the seven sermons that write for the one gospel passage each week. I can preach this one here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Göran - I think that, in thinking about it, we may come up with a solution.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ - I also have a cell phone which I use in the car for brief information sharing - never for idle conversation. And, I have a JABRA - a hands-free device that clips on my visor. $74 at the Verizon store. Works with all phone models. Or, one can always use one's head phones. Or, a 'Blue Tooth' device.

There are ways to be safe and still use your cell phone in the car.

I LOVED 'Dance of the Dissident Daughter'. It's one of my favorites.

Unknown said...

"There are ways to be safe and still use your cell phone in the car."

No, Ma'am, there are not. You can google the studies if you wish. If the communication is so important it has to be made, then pull off the road and make it.

I am as guilty as you but I know better. And you should too.

Padre Mickey said...

This must be the five hundreth time I've thought: "I am so happy that I know this person, and I am so proud of her!" Mona read this and we had a discussion on how you just do What Must Be Done.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Padre. Thanks for stopping by. Always good to hear from you and the Lovely Mona. Hope you are well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, I was wondering what the heck happened to my site meter. It's gone over the top. So, checking on a hunch, I put on my best asbestos boots and Kevlar vest and took a little look-see over to Viagra Land.

It must be a Really Slow News Day over there. There are all over this story like White on Rice. Good thing I was wearing protection. I got through the fifth comment before I realized I had forgotten my Barf Bag. I had to leave before I got through all of the comments. Pity.

Bless them from the top of their pointy, empty little heads to the bottom of their tiny little shriveled hearts.

Mrs. Kennedy, however, left this as her comment. It's very funny. Check it out.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Yeah! lovely.

They are at 75 comment now... Really a slow news day ;=)

Nancy said...

I wonder what would have happened if this had occured in the parking lot at church this morning. Would a crowd still have gathered "smelling blood" and hoping to watch the public humiliation of a sinner? Would a parishoner have been treated in the same way by the minister her church? Or do we have two sets of behavior -- one for "us" and a different one for the despised "other." (And we all have our own definitions of who we despise. It's clear in this story that "Lady Minivan" has been dehumanized to the point that even though her children are crying we are delighting in seeing her publically punished.) Interesting.

BaronVonServers said...

Ms. Keaton,
I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. I ask your forgiveness.

After reading the post by a man much more like I saviour than I am, I was humbled, repentant, and knew I had to come here and say I'm sorry and ask your forgiveness. You may find his post one that doesn't require the barf-bag.

Unknown said...

Re: your response to "Muthah+"
"I also have a cell phone which I use in the car for brief information sharing - never for idle conversation. And, I have a JABRA - a hands-free device that clips on my visor. $74 at the Verizon store. Works with all phone models. Or, one can always use one's head phones. Or, a 'Blue Tooth' device.

There are ways to be safe and still use your cell phone in the car."
When I commented on your response, I meant no disrespect. I was simply pointing out there is no "safe" may to use one's cell phone while driving. I have had hands free devices and have a Blue Tooth device but try not to call or answer while driving. Studies have shown that their use while driving equates to a .08 alcohol response level.
I'm saddened you chose not to publish my possiblly poorly worded admonition.

John Moss

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Y'all. Please see my apology. I really am a techno idiot. I think I've fixed the problem, but I'll check on the comment moderation for a while to make sure it's working properly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I don't think I've yet solved the comment posting problem, but I'm working on it.

Thanks for your patience.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, in the bright light of day, everything seems to have cleared up. Hmmm . . .Gremlins in Cyberspace!

I suspect they are still having Target Practice with my piece over in Viagraland. When I checked their headline last night, there were about 125 comments. So, I scrolled down to read a few of them.

They weren't half as bad to me as they have been to +KJS, +Gene, Louie or Susan+. Well, at least the random ones I read. I am in highly esteemed company and I consider it an honor.

I just don't understand how those who considers themselves Uber Christians can take important issues like affluence, arrogance, and sexism and how thay all can come together in a wicked brew of danger (driving with a cell phone) and turn it into (1) an attack on the author and (2) a debate over Protestant and Catholic understandings of the BVM.

I can only imagine that, after taking all that Viagra, the blood supply in their bodies is going elsewhere and their poor little pea-sized brains and two-sizes-too-small hearts suffer from a serious lack of oxygen.

Perhaps someone should revoke their baptismal license until they complete a course of remedial study in Christian behavior.

JimB said...

My attempt at a comment went away somewhere. I simply want to note that these drivers have SUV's here -- not minivans. Probably that is important to me cause I have a minivan...


Lapinbizarre said...

Writing as one who can barely use a cell phone standing on solid ground, people who use them while driving terrify me - the more so if there's a coffee cup in the other hand.

I see you have been picked up by a site that shall remain nameless, generating a near-record 230+ responses to date. Maybe a "red meat" award should be instituted? Congratulations on getting so many pairs of knickers in a twist. I suspect the blog-meisters dare not set their pack loose on the rather more topical issue of who won the Nobel Prize for fear of blowing things wide open.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Anonymous. Yeah, you, whoever you are. I rejected your post not because of its adolescent snarkiness or because you had absolutely nothing constructive to say. I rejected it because you did all those things without even signing with a clever name like "Episcoalienated" or "Gone to Rome". Cowardice is so unattractive - especially on bigots.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, I started hearing noises "under the hood" of my blog and realized it was coming from my sitemeter.

Whoa! It's spinning out of control. So, I armed myself with my Kevlar vest, asbestos boots AND barf bag and wandered over to see The Bullies on Viagra.

To date: 248 comments. Imagine! I brought my barf bag but didn't want to use it so I didn't read the comments.

I mean, really! For Pete's sake! Don't these people have lives to live? To hear them talk, they also have marriages to defend and children to protect.

They must really, really be entertained by bright, shiny twirly things like sitemeters - theirs and mine.

Good grief!

Lapinbizarre said...

If the cell-phone lady almost ran into xDuncan they'd be barking a whole different tune, for sure.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Well done, Lapin. Well done.