The Trauma Van

trauma van1My minivan looks like a wreck. But I chose to laugh, not cry – knowing that the two of us could never part ways. After 16 years and 240,000 miles, we share too much history.

With two new sons in tow in 2001, my family of seven needed more space. So while the rain came down in sheets, I negotiated one heck of a bargain on a gently-used maroon Mercury Villager.

Everything seemed perfect.

The van’s first injury took place several months later. Someone – unknown to this day – removed the cup holder in the far backseat, urinated and replaced it. For weeks I tried to locate the foul smell before stumbling upon the secret place.


From that day forward, I had to prevent this misguided attempt at control. Upon pulling into the driving and unloading my kids, I promptly locked all the doors.

All problems solved, at least I thought.

Then one son refused to come home with me at the end of a school day, As two staff members carried my screaming kid outside – before forcing him through the sliding door, the van prepared for its first child-induced vehicular rage.

I reminded my dysregulated son about being safe in my care. Yet he heard none of my words and repeatedly tried to bust the side window – the kind that works on a hinge. But the van fought back. The only injury was the latch – which caused the window to flap in the wind. 

trauma van2

An eerie noise of danger to come.

Upon arriving home 30 minutes later, my other children were never so happy to start their homework. And go to bed without being told. Crisis diverted – almost. The following morning when I backed out of the driveway to head to school, the window fell off the damaged hinge – with the “safety” glass shattering into hundreds of pieces. 

A symbol of the brokenness that my children continued to feel.

Early trauma will do that.

The key holes in the van were next. One morning I couldn’t insert my key into either passenger-side door. Thankfully the driver side was spared.

I had several possible suspects, but no actual proof. And without proof, I couldn’t state much of a case – only make me look like the vindictive parent from beyond the grave.

Did I value the van more than them?

Then another son, who loved to slash sheets, clothes and furniture, did the same to the back of the driver’s seat – while I was in it, no less. I didn’t have a clue. Several days later a huge piece of the upholstery lay on the floor.

trauma van

Thankfully, I can’t see the hole while I drive.

Out of sight, out of mind.

That same son kicked the front fender – then the back – to leave “his mark.” To this day the passenger door is difficult to open. Later he found a better way to frustrate the heck out of me. Why not pound a nail into the tire so it eventually goes flat – in the dead of winter on a busy road? After 12 episodes over the next three years, I stopped counting.

My repair man shook his head in amazement.

Unbelievable, until I told him about early trauma.

A third son – who sits upfront with me to stay connected – tore off the visor during a meltdown. Then broke the clock. One day he slammed the dash board nonstop for 10 minutes straight. Although the airbag thankfully didn’t inflate, the two fist-size dents are a reminder of that eventful day.

The list could go on and on.

In hindsight, I should’ve never bought a nice vehicle – instead, driving a beater like I do now.

Since no one took care of my kids early in life, they struggled for years to understand the importance of caring for personal things. To comprehend the value of a family responsible for their care. To trust the give-and-take of parental relationships.

Today the trauma van serves as a healthy reminder. And with the help of my trusted mechanic, it will for years to come.  

UPDATE:  With a broken brake line, a damaged hood latch and a transmission on the verge of collapse, I did the unthinkable. I traded the trauma van for a gently used sedan – on a rainy and windy day with not another customer in sight.

Room enough for me and my three sons still living at home.

I even received a $1000 trade. That relatively new battery and those four lightly-worn tires were actually worth something. Or maybe the salesman felt sorry for me after hearing the short-version of the trauma van’s history, along with learning about my kids.

He seemed intrigued. He asked genuine questions. And he couldn’t wait to share the story with his brother, who’s an elementary principal in a school full of behavior challenges – otherwise known as ACEs or Adverse Child Experiences. 

The saga of trauma van will indeed live on!  DCP

special olympics license plate



Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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5 thoughts on “The Trauma Van

  1. Ha! I felt as though I were reading my own vans history! Only one of my sons is affected but boy has he done a number on it! I believe a new custom bumper sticker is in my future. I need a caption to bring awareness to early trauma. 🤔

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your life experiences. It gives connection and hope to the rest of us!

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