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Riding Dirty: Kids and cars

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Ashley would like to reassure us that this is exploded cola ... she has a new car now. Coincidence?

My friend Ashley posted a picture to Facebook of her elementary-aged son in the car. His smile was huge and he was getting ready to celebrate his upcoming birthday.

Ignoring his shining eyes and the enormous fake mustache he was wearing, his Aunt Kim asked, “He’s adorable, but what happened to the roof of your car?”

Ashley’s light tan upholstery was splattered with dark brown streaks and dots, like a mischievous Jackson Pollock had decorated the car with a spittoon and turkey baster.

And I just laughed. And laughed some more. Kim is one of the most successful people I have ever known. She is brilliant and driven. She travels all over the world and leads a team of people and kajillion-dollar projects. Like many over-over-achievers, she is an avid runner. She is funny and beautiful, but even more beautiful on the inside. She is also a brand-new momma and has absolutely no idea what her life is about to look like.

Ashley explained that a soda had exploded in the car. But I told Kim the actual truth of the matter -- because she needs to know.

“Kids,” I said. “Kids happened to that car.”

Kim, consider me an expert. Kids and car disasters is one of my many specialties. I have actually had to trade in cars because of my little ones. And I know I am not the only one. I wonder if there is some statistician out there, keeping a record of all the stinks-of-rotten-yogurt-and-old-fries mobiles that are traded in every day.

My sweet midnight blue Hyundai Santa Fe was the first casualty. It was a midsize, peppy SUV. Perfect for commuting and car seats, I just loved driving it. It was so cute, too, until one uncomfortably hot summer day when The Hubs and I were too lethargic to pay attention to a 3-year-old Bodacious in the back seat. She was quietly chatting to herself, and Molten Mom just couldn’t tear her face from the AC vent to to check on her. It wasn’t until the car came to a stop and I opened her door to let her out that I noticed a handful of sweaty permanent markers rolling around in the backseat.

My artsy angel had happily scribbled all across her window and onto the two-foot square area of tan fabric that covered her door. She was so very proud of her work, blue and black and red arcs and dots as far as her little arms could reach. No amount of Magic Eraser was going to help so we didn’t even try.

The Hubs got me a Ford Flex next. It was my favorite car. A gorgeous shoe box on wheels with all the bells and whistles. We even upgraded to tan leather, and I was in heaven.

Unfortunately, Little Son left a sippy cup full of milk in the third row. Unbeknownst to me, it rolled around and eventually wedged itself firmly under the seat. Baking in the hot West Texas sun, down highways and byways, that milk began to froth, curdle and ferment. Now, if you have ever had a milk bottle go rogue, you know exactly what I am talking about. No amount of crawling in the back ever produced that cup, but every time I opened the door, it was like a giant hairy log of goat cheese slapped me across the face, burning my eyes and making my breath catch.

I was not-so-secretly thrilled when the Stinkmobile was totalled and I ended up with a Cadillac. I didn’t get to drive the Caddy long enough for my kids to ruin it, because it was totalled it in a spectacular not-my-fault crash on Route 66. After that, I got one of the small Lexus SUVs, but eventually commandeered a Ford Navigator because my kids and dogs got too big for the Lexus.

Last summer, coming home from the grocery, the dogs got a little too excited and jumped on the bag containing a gallon of milk and a carton of half-and-half. When 160 pounds lands on a milk jug, the jug usually loses the fight. I have tried valiantly to mop up the milk, but it has gotten into every crack and crevice. No amount of baking soda or vacuuming can get the soured milk stench out of the car. I have been too cheap to take it to get detailed, and keep thinking how much longer can that smell last? Fifteen months and counting, that’s how long.

My precious husband decided to try our luck one more time last spring when he bought me another Lexus for our anniversary. It was beautiful, dark gray on the outside, tan leather inside. Fancy on-screen navigation and a sun roof. Our sweet neighbors were selling it for the new body style, and they had taken meticulous care of it. It still had new car smell, y’all. Meticulous.

I protested. “It’s too nice,” I said. “We can’t have nice things, we just can’t.”

My words fell on deaf ears, he bought it anyway. And it was showroom floor perfect for exactly eight weeks when we took it to Abilene to see my mom for the July Fourth holiday. We were on the interstate, on that lonely stretch between Abilene and Sweetwater, when Bodacious began to … erupt. Food poisoning tempered with orange Fanta. I won’t ruin your breakfast with the details, suffice to say I need to purchase new floor mats.

After changing my clothes on the side of the road, I got back into the car and looked at The Hubs. I was wiping my arms and hands very carefully with the last baby wipe.

“I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. We. Can’t. Have. Nice. Things.”

So, sweet Kim, let me assure you, having kids is wonderful. It is the very best thing in this world. It will be hard and beautiful, sometimes it will even by messy and stink to high heaven.

But it is so worth it, and I just know you are going to be an amazing mother. Trust me when I say don’t sweat the small stuff, nearly everything is replaceable. But you might want to consider black interior, leather seats and rubber rubber floor mats when you get your next car!

Melanie Nicholas is a full-time momma and writer. She and The Hubs have two uh-mazing children, Parksalot, 11, and Bodacious, 8. You can follow her amazing adventures fighting grime and insecurity on Facebook, Instagram and at Her column appears in the Midland Reporter-Telegram and at

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