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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 3/21/2000

Conversation takes back seat to amusement

My family is the kind Detroit hates. We hang onto our cars forever and don't even feel bad about it.

I'm driving a six-year-old sedan these days that, in my mind, is still new. But lately I've started to think it might be time to look around at some of the new models.

My heart says Miata, of course, or maybe one of those truly wonderful new Volkswagen Beetles. But my life - well, it says something else entirely.

Demographically speaking, I'm probably at least five years behind in my consumer obligation to buy one of those minivans that women of a certain age seem to wake up one morning and find magically parked in the garage, complete with smiley-face bumper sticker that barks "Mom's Taxi!"

For that reason alone, actually, I've shied away from these vehicles. But I'm rethinking my previous resistance, thanks to the come-hither lure of advertising.

It's not just the EZ rollout seats. Not just that cavernous interior, or the seating capacity to haul around nearly a team's worth of players, or even the high-riding stature of a van.

No, those factors - long the highly praised wonders of minivans - never sang me a siren's song.

But some new minivan features do stand out. These would be the features that, shall we say, best equip us to practice modern life as we now know it.

From a magazine ad for the Chevy Venture Warner Bros. edition: "With its amazing three-way audio controls, flip-down monitor, and built-in video player, you can entertain a small army of kids for miles."

And this, from Mazda's print campaign for its latest MPV model: "You're up front, enjoying the scenery. You see something interesting, so you stop to take in the view.

"Meanwhile, the kids in back stop the movie they're watching to replay their favorite scene. Optional wireless headphones let them watch their video while you listen to a CD."

It's the perfect American family scene: Yes, everyone is together, but no one is speaking, while each member of the family is lightly anesthetized by his or her own favorite form of media entertainment!

Kids are so much easier when you don't really have to spend much time in direct contact, but can still rack up good-parent points for "being" with them.

The one thing I know, from being both a former kid myself and a current mom, is that the best parent-child conversations often spring from episodes of unrelenting boredom.

These are the talks that are never forgotten and can never be planned ahead of time. They emerge while working together raking leaves, chopping carrots for dinner, weeding flower beds, shoveling snow, folding laundry, painting a spare room.

Or being stuck in the car together.

Sure, an entertainment-free car trip does mean the risk of that "Are we there yet?" whine. But if mom or dad can't find a way to generate family conversation with their own offspring, well, maybe they should have gone for a dachshund, after all. Besides, where is it written that every moment of life is supposed to feature watchable entertainment? You can't even enter a pediatrician's waiting room now, let alone a classroom, without running into a blaring TV set.

But still we wonder why Johnny can't read. And why Jane just won't "open up" to her parents.

Of course, the joke is, parents will buy these minivans because of the implied promise that shoving in a video will keep things quiet back there in the Squabble Zone. But the kids will just argue over which movie to watch.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail roberta@theblade.com.



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