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I was listening to the radio the other day and the talkshow hosts were talking about stereotypes. Ostensibly, the discussion was about stereotypes that you are proud of – the example they gave was that one of the hosts, who is Indian, is proud to be the bearer of the cultural stereotype about not wearing shoes in the house, because her house is cleaner than that of people who wear their shoes inside. Even though I am a STAUNCH no-shoes-in-the-house supporter, I thought the example was a bit of a stretch. (Is taking off your shoes at the door a negative stereotype? Is not wearing shoes in the house an Indian stereotype at all?)  Most of the other examples were neutral to moderately negative stereotypes that people didn’t mind about themselves: an Italian man said he talks with his hands; a white dude said he can’t dance; a Jewish woman said she is constantly trying to feed people.

It was one of those benign little conversation topics that’s stuck with me. (I am trying to distract myself with benign to balance out all the horror.) I am sure that I fit many, many stereotypes about people of my age, race, cultural background, etc. etc. etc. Probably a lot of them aren’t particularly attractive.

But there is one stereotype I know for sure I fit: I have a stereotypical Mom Car.

I don’t think I was even aware this was a stereotype until Carla started school and I made friends with other moms. (Did my mom have a mom car? I can’t remember.) All of us are always apologizing about the state of our cars. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you drive a 2019 Mercedes or a 1999 Dodge, if you’re a mom, the interior of your car is a disaster. (At least among my group. I know this doesn’t apply to EVERYONE; it’s a stereotype not a genetic imperative.)

My car is such a mess at all times. It is crowded with a hearty mix of Necessities and Absolute Nonsense, and it’s really hard to disentangle the two categories. And even more difficult is trying to find the time (or desire) to tackle the grand unknotting.

For example, right now I have two purses in my car, one in the front seat and one in the back. The one purse in my front seat is a Necessity; the one in the backseat is there because of laziness. Or, more likely, because any time I leave my car to go into my house, my arms are laden with groceries or child or child’s backpack and artwork, so there is no room for a Nonsense Purse.

Speaking of artwork – which could be a whole post on its own, titled “Do I Spend Money Now on a Separate House to Hold All My Kid’s Precious Art or Save It for Her Inevitable My-Heartless-Mother-Cruelly-Disposed-of-My-Creative-Output-Themed Therapy Bills?” – I have several absolutely irreplaceable pages of semi-crumpled paper on my front seat, waiting for a moment when Carla isn’t looking so I can toss them directly into the outdoor recycling bin (if I put them inside, she will see them and there will be tears). Also on my front seat is the school pickup sign that I need in order to collect Carla at the end of the day. Also probably a sweater that Carla couldn’t wear for one more second so ended up squished into a ball on the passenger seat as I urged her in escalating desperation to get in her carseat so I could stop holding up the pickup line.

In the center console is a Barnes & Noble gift card (depleted) that Carla won’t allow me to throw away; I will, but she has to forget about it first. In the cupholders are some acorns, some barrettes, a hair tie, a leaf that is well past crispy and on its way to dust, and a plastic heart-shaped “gem” that is too precious to get rid of but not so precious it ever makes it into the house. This morning after I dropped Carla off at school, I grabbed a half-eaten bag of mini carrots that had been languishing in the cupholder for… more days than I care to consider.

Because my car is a billion years old, I have a bunch of CDs that constantly spill all over the floor. I have an extra set of mittens. I have gum and mints and a handful of ones that I use to tip the grocery-bag-loader people at my grocery store. I have a bag that contains Emergency Entertainment Supplies – a pad of drawing paper, a package of colored pencils, flash cards, a miniature book. Usually there is a Beloved Stuffed Animal floating around somewhere. More often than not, there are assorted sticks, rocks, and leaves that were deemed too beautiful/interesting to leave outside but not quite beautiful/interesting enough to ever leave my car. I’m guessing you’d be able to find a sticker or two from Trader Joe’s or Target or the pediatrician’s office that Carla will never use – but whose potential is too powerful to allow her to dispose of them.

In the trunk is an old diaper bag I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of. Jumper cables. My grocery bag holder slash car organizer, which has really just become another receptacle for junk. A bag with “winter necessities” (blanket, hat, scarf, some ancient granola bars). Some apple juice leftover from a teacher appreciation thing.

I have at least three bags of antibacterial wipes floating around the car, not that I can ever find a wipe when I need one.

See what I mean? Total mess. And even though I try to keep up with it, the mess just keeps growing and growing.

My husband’s car, on the other hand, is spotless. He has Carla’s carseat and an extra white coat in the backseat. His grocery bag holder is folded up neatly in the trunk. He has a pack of gum and his latest book on tape in the center console. That’s it.

How does he do it? Well, he doesn’t ferry our kid around five days a week, there’s that. He’s not the main grocery/Target shopper. He doesn’t really need anything in his car.

While we’re talking about stereotypes, you should see my “mom purse.” First of all, it’s meant to be a mom purse. It’s one of those big almost duffle-y type bags that wears a welt on your shoulder if you carry it too long. But that’s because it holds everything you could possibly need! If you need a bandaid or some Purell or some headache medicine or gum, I’ve got it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been with other moms who inexplicably had nothing with which to entertain their toddlers, and I was able to unearth some crayons or plastic animals for them to play with. Or some goldfish to munch on. When my daughter’s friend didn’t have her hair tied back at ballet, I was able to produce a hair tie from the depths of my purse. Need a pen? I have one! Need a Kleenex? Chapstick? Change for the meter? Look no further. (Well, maybe look further for the Chapstick; I don’t share.) Feeling puckish? I’ve probably got some Teddy Grahams or a pouch of applesauce or at the very least an old, slightly sticky Dum-Dum.

Well, I am not embarrassed. My car and purse are functional; I’m not entering any organized-purse competitions or car-interior beauty pageants. I am a mom, and I do a bunch of stuff that requires me to have a bunch of junk in my car and prevents me from cleaning it out regularly. It’s like if I were a plumber: you’d find a ton of spare parts and tools and shoe covers and business cards and stuff in my vehicle, and you wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The lollipop sticks and half-colored coloring book pages and once-beautiful leaves and spare socks are my work supplies.

Stereotypes be damned: I’m not ashamed.

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