Family planning in a minivan

In a land where ice arenas, lawnmowers and 2.5 kids dominate the suburban landscape, minivans are the vehicles of choice.

In a land where ice arenas, lawnmowers and 2.5 kids dominate the suburban landscape, minivans are the vehicles of choice.

“My minivan is more important to me than sliced bread,” says Sylvie Morra, mother of three small children.

Her minivan is especially important to her as a homecare provider; she takes care of eight children during the day.

“It was an excellent way to earn extra income and be there for my kids when they come home,” she says.

The Pickering resident, who says she will never drive another type of vehicle as long as she has kids, chose a gray 1989 GMC Safari because that was the biggest minivan on the market at the time.

“It was a choice between (the minivan) and a station wagon. I knew I’d start day-caring and figured we’d get more use,” she says.

And she runs her daycare like a business, taking two weeks off in the summer and one week during the holidays.

The 38-year-old mother – her own children are Amanda, 11, Adam, 8, and Alex, 6 – says the benefits of using her home instead of putting the kids in a day care are numerous.

For one thing, daycare centres are more expensive. And she will drive the kids to their after-school activities and doctors’ appointments. So her eight-seater minivan is handy.

A typical day for Morra goes like this: she drops off her daycare charges and her own kids at school in the morning, and picks them up in the afternoon. On special occasions, like birthdays, she will pick up the kids for lunch. Because most of the daycare kids don’t get picked up until 6 p.m., she feeds them dinner, too.

“You can’t let the kids go hungry. I can’t let my kids eat and let the other kids just sit there,” she explains. On nights her husband, John, comes home early, she feeds the daycare children first, then they have dinner as a family later.

After all her daycare charges are picked up by their parents, she makes another three trips to her children’s hockey games (at three different arenas). One afternoon each week she takes the young ones to a playgroup; this is when other moms get together to have adult conversation while the children play together.

“I like caring for the kids . . . I like to believe I put out some well behaved kids,” she says.

On weekends alone she drives about 15 times to the arenas. These trips mean she must fit three large equipment bags, her kids and any extra friends who need a ride. In the summer holidays, she lugs the gang around to her weekly errands. She has enough room to pack the kids and the groceries.

“It’s just a matter of pulling out the seats,” she shrugs. “No car I know of can do that.” She estimates she drives about 600 kilometres and spends more than $50 on gas every week.

Up until their first child was born, Morra and John, 36, owned cars. With a growing family, they would need a bigger vehicle and both wanted all their kids to be introduced to hockey. A minivan with a sliding door was the perfect choice.

Although her minivan has neither a tape player (“it’s broken,” she says) nor power windows (“we couldn’t afford it at the time,”), she is happy with the air conditioning and the tinted windows.

Her minivan is practically a second home. She stores an umbrella, a First Aid kit, an emergency kit, spare clothes and candles in the car. In the winter, she keeps extra food, such as chocolate bars, in case the van breaks down.

“You have to be prepared to either hike or wait it out,” she points out. Oh yeah, and three extra hockey sticks: “When you rush to the arena you forget hockey sticks.”

The size of her minivan has another advantage, says Morra, because it offers security on the road. An accident nine years ago convinced her minivans are safer than cars.

Although the front end was smashed a bit, Morra and her daughter, a baby at the time, were fine. She calls the size of the minivan a “comfort” feature.

“Not a lot of cars can hurt me because I’m bigger than they are,” she says, then quickly adds that was the only accident she has ever been in.

“It’s more peace-of-mind than if I had a car,” she smiles.

And if her Safari breaks down? She knows a good mechanic who can fix her van in a day.

“My mechanic knows how much I depend on it,” she says. Usually she drops it off in the morning and it’s fixed by the afternoon.

There is one drawback to her minivan, however – it’s on its third engine and it cost her more than $2,000 to replace motor No. 2 (the first one was under warranty).

“I might not buy this brand next time; I’ll probably get a Windstar,” she says.

Hamida Gafour is a journalism student at Ryerson Polytechnic University.

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