We drive a Toyota Sienna which I love. We got the 2009 right before the 2010 dropped with all the cool features (reclining second row seats were one feature that I was jealous about), but it was cool because I loved the fact that I could throw all my kids in the van, all our junk in there and there was still room for other stuff or people. It was great. Also having sliding doors was totally baller and super when it came to safely herding my lovernauts while in a parking lot.
I won't lie, growing up I told myself I'd never drive a van. In fact when I became a mother I wholeheartedly vowed that I'd never become one of those soccer moms drinking coffee, cutting people off in traffic behind the wheel of some 7-8 passenger bus. But I did. I slowly became indoctrinated by the cult of the minivan. I surrendered quickly as I realized how awesome it was that people attributed your vehicle to precious cargo and a caffeinated driver... Traffic parts like the Red Sea when you're in a rush.
Our van has grown with our family. We've added more car seats, we've morphed into boosters, we drive with our infamous life saving car potty, and have travelled on numerous long trips to visit family. My sport fertility vehicle doesn't seem to mind that the kids have decorated her insides with food, stickers, cups, and marker. She doesn't care about that one time when daddy hit something on the passenger side leaving a dent, or that time when the sliding door motor had issues. It's a silent understanding that when the key gets in the ignition, we're safe and we'll get to our destination in one piece...
We sing, we fight, we cry. Everything happens in our minivan. It's our home on the road.
I was on my way back from lacrosse practice when I heard commotion in the back seat. I assumed the yelling had to do with the exhausted bodies I was transporting and thought nothing of it. When we arrived to the kids' grandmother's house, I found my toddler had come to a point where she was literally screaming. She's always screaming at someone or something... But this time was different.
The older two hop out of the sliding door unaware of her discomfort. She was on the back bench and had unbuckled her seatbelt. I was on a call and didn't realize what was happening. "Mommy I'm stuck". I thought her foot was stuck so I laid down the second row seat and lifted it forward so she could get out. She was still in the car. I was still on my call. With every move the belt tightened around her little body. I immediately hung up the phone. It was about 8pm so the sun was pretty much gone and I couldn't see, so I turn on the cabin lights to find that my child was unbuckled but twisted up in the seatbelt. And much like a boa constrictor as it strangles its prey, she too could not free herself from the continued tightening of the seatbelt around her body. I asked her how she did it and she gave me the universal "I don't know", which at this point didn't matter...
She was screaming and crying. I tried to calm her as I attempted to hold the belt in place with one hand and free her with the other... Fail. I attempted to slide her out as her sisters began crying that their sister was "too young to die"... it made the situation worse. I panicked and cut the belt. "Screw this" I thought, "better to have her free than to strangle her stomach"...
What I'll say next is this... Immediately I began to think what if I was driving and she slid down and strangled herself? While I was driving!?! Why was there no release button to stop the retraction process? What if she were asleep and it kept tightening as she moved? What if I was attributing her screams to mean she was just being cranky? What if we didn't have any scissors?
These pictures are of the aftermath of the seatbelt cut. I fully acknowledge that my van is full of crumbs and kid stuff... like I said, we love our van a lot and depend on her to get us where we need to go.
My general opinion is that minivans are awesome! This minor snafu hasn’t made me hate our sport fertility vehicle or even Toyota Motor Company, but it has made me more aware of our seatbelt situation. I urge everyone to make sure that you check to see if there is some sort of release mechanism for your seatbelts. The restricting and locking feature -not sure what the formal name is- but this feature keeps us safe, but with toddlers you never know. Is there a release button or feature on the seatbelt so that in instances like ours, you don’t have to literally cut someone free? If there is, I missed it in my frantic rush to get my kid out of a bad situation. Other bits of advice: read your user manual so that you aren’t ignorant of features in your vehicle. Also contact the company if you experience situations like this, so that they are aware of the malfunctions that, you the consumer, experience. And finally, have a safety kit in your car, you never know when you’ll need it.
Have you experienced anything like we did? Please share in the comments if you have!
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.