Mother Cleans Out Minivan and Lives to Tell the Tale

By Kelly J. Riibe of

“I knew I was entering an abyss, but it had to be done. We were at critical mess status,” explained Sara Brown after she removed her hazmat mask and wiped away sweat beads from her drenched forehead.

This mother of four, in her mid 30s, did what no sane man or woman ever wants to do. She ventured into the back row of her minivan in order to clean and detox the vehicle of all accumulated trash, smelly perishables, and forgotten toys. Sara acknowledged that it was a sticky situation, both literally and figuratively.

A trail of discarded lollipop sticks and shattered bits of hard candy started from behind the front driver’s seat and led to a small pile of sweet-tooth debris within the hatchback trunk. She also observed melted chapsticks and old gummy bears between the seat cushions.

At times, the stay-at-home mom almost gave up hope, as it seemed her minivan had unknowingly become a waste portal for all things slimy, squishy, and stale. She had falsely hoped one heavy-duty garbage bag would be enough for the job, but within ten minutes Sara quickly discovered she would need an economy-size trashcan or possibly a small dump truck in order to efficiently clean out the family’s vehicle.

“I hadn’t made it through the second row of bucket seats and my first trash bag was overflowing with Barbie-doll heads, fast food toys, discarded coloring sheets, and stale french fries,” said Sara as she visibly shuddered at the memory. “Melted crayons were crusted into the ground and I almost gave up after seeing the layers of dust, dirt, and spilled milk on the floor mats.”

Sara’s 9-year-old son, Daniel, took up position in the driveway with his mother’s cellphone in hand. The numbers 9-1-1 were already punched in on the device and young Danny-boy kept his thumb right above the send button, just in case.

“I knew she was going to lose it when she found my baseball socks from last season under my little brother’s car seat. They had just been so sweaty and stinky after my tournament that I couldn’t bear to wear them, you know? I figured since my little bro is always pooping in his pull-up, no one would notice my smelly socks under his seat,” explained Daniel, with equal parts shame and pride.

Dirty socks were not the only pieces of laundry exhumed from the minivan. Sara also found her husband’s favorite tie, a princess tiara belonging to her preschooler (that had just been replaced at full retail price two days prior after months of searching), and an unexplained amount of mismatched mittens and scarves. The only item not found within the treacherous floor plan of the minivan was one of Sara’s lost, diamond-stud earrings that had gotten knocked out of Sara’s earlobe a week earlier while she tried to pacify a screaming 2-year-old into his five-point harness seat.

“My desire to find that earring was what got me motivated for this mission,” said the fearless mother who, after losing the piece of jewelry, had since been living her life with only one earring in place because it helped serve as a reminder of the reward that could come with a clean van. (Disclaimer: Shortly after this interview, through her own intrepid mom guilt, Sara also admitted that she had forgotten to take out the lone diamond stud for the past week because she rarely sees herself in the mirror and her kids are too self-involved to point out the fashion failure.)

Sara’s husband, Trevor, was at the office and not on hand for Sara’s dramatic adventure into the minivan. He did receive a slew of texts from their 12-year-old daughter, Emma, who was disgruntled at having to watch her baby brother while their mom retrieved half-drunk, plastic water bottles and an infinite amount of elastic hair ties from all of the drink cup holders and cubby spaces within the van.

“I was really upset. I wanted to go over to my friend Jayden’s house and text with her back and forth in her bedroom. But instead, I had to text her from my own house and not even be able to see her face when she got a Snapchat from me,” said a pouty Emma as she hoisted her little brother Matthew up on her hip and got ready to pass him off to their mother. “The whole thing was very unfair.”

Unfair or not, Sara did achieve a level of success that made her epic cleaning journey worth it. “The floor mats are a charcoal gray. Not brown, not black, but charcoal. Had I not cleaned out the minivan, I may have never known the true answer. It was like seeing an old friend again,” the tired mother stated, as she carried her toddler into the house in order to start making dinner.


About the Author

Kelly J. Riibe has three kiddos, a husband, a Jack Russell Terrier, and a mildly curbed addiction to Diet Coke. Keeping busy for her involves staying home with her children and also finding work as a freelance writer. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, The Manifest-Station, BonBon Break,, Living Here Magazine, Black Hills Faces Magazine, and Sammiches & Psych Meds. She is also the co-writer for the blog: Follow her on Twitter at: @familyfootnote and @KJRiibe.