Menifee Mom: Is it Possible to Have Kids and a Clean Car?

By Karen Thomas

I have a friend who told me that she once promised herself she would never let her vehicle look like a "kid car."

You parents all know what I'm talking about. When kids are in the car, toys are dropped, socks and shoes get left in the back seat, and bits of food start accumulating in crevices. Unfortunately, my car has often screamed "kid car." In fact, the rain we've just had makes it impossible for my kids and I to forget two catastrophes for the history books. Let me explain, in reverse order.

Disaster #2: A few years ago, I made a stop at Target to get some household items. As usual, I was low on milk so I grabbed a gallon to get me by until I could get to Costco. Since I only had a couple items, I put them on the floor right behind my seat. This also happened to be right at the feet of my preschooler.

Somehow, as she was buckling herself in, she managed to step on the gallon of milk. I didn't see it, but this is my guess because close to home she noticed "milk on the floor." After arriving home, I opened the door to find, not a little milk, but a huge puddle! The lid had popped off the milk jug and the entire gallon of milk had spilled all over the floor. It had gushed into every crack possible.

Thankfully, we long ago invested in a carpet shampooer (nicknamed, "the vomit comet") and I was able to remove the seats and extract the milk. But even though I rinsed and suctioned for the good part of an afternoon, we still get that sour milk smell back every time it rains and moisture gets into the carpet. What really frustrated me THAT day, though, was that after it was all over, I had to go BACK to the store and buy milk again!

There was a bright side to this accident. In my attempt to get every drop of milk out of that van, I figured out how to remove the plastic shields on the floor where the seats bolt in. This allowed me to FINALLY completely clean out the remnants of "kid car" disaster #1.

Disaster #1: Several years before the milk incident, I was driving a daughter back to school from a doctor appointment in Riverside. The appointment involved needles, so we made a quick stop at a drive-thru to get the promised "treat." She chose smoothies. My toddler was crying, so in desperation, I gave her my smoothie to suck on for a bit; anything to keep her happy so I could drive, right?

I should have known better by my third child, but as moms, we do crazy things when we get desperate. Just minutes after I gave it to her, she dropped the smoothie. It hit the side of her car seat, popped open, splattered all over her sister, spilled down in between the two seats, and poured right into the wells in the van floor where the seats hook in. It was everywhere!

I pulled over, grabbed the roll of paper towels I keep in my van, and mopped it up as best I could. The older child was sticky and mad at her little sister, the toddler was crying because she dropped her smoothie, and I wanted to cry because not only was MY smoothie wasted, but now I had a huge mess in my fairly new van! (OK, it was a selfish moment.) I gave the toddler the straw to keep her happy and drove home.

While I was busy tearing my van apart and trying to figure out how to get the smoothie out of the floor wells, my toddler had gone inside to play. After a few minutes, I went in to check on her. I heard laughing and giggling. Following the sounds, I found her in the pantry, dumping food all over the floor. Fruit loops, rice, and oatmeal were everywhere. She looked up at me and proudly said, "Look, colors!"

It was a classic toddler moment: A prime example of why moms can never seem to get two rooms clean at the same time! I buckled her in her car seat while I finished the job as best I could. I'd had enough.

Some messes (and smells) just go with our job as parents. As they grow, the scene inside the car changes. The sippy cups and pacifiers get replaced with water bottles and soccer socks and the smell starts to gravitate more towards the stinky feet variety. Though we try to keep it clean, and we are getting better, mess happens. For now, I think I'll just keep stocking up on air freshener.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.


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