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COLUMN: Un-Mom-ing my ride

I did something the other day that I hadn't done in a long time.

In fact, I would have gone out of my way to avoid it altogether -- even just a week ago.

I actually showed someone the inside of my van.

As anyone with kids knows, all areas that grown-ups do not regularly sit in are kid terrain and thus the most messy. I have heard fables of kids who actually clear up their area before exiting the car, but I think it's an urban legend along with alligators in the sewers and kids splitting the last soda with their siblings.

During the winter, I used to cringe when the teachers at parent pick-up opened the back door for my kids to get in. Even when I had to pick up one of their friends, I would apologize to them for the sticky console, wrappers on the floor or crumpled up papers wedged under the seats. The kid would look at me and casually say "it's no big deal." But all the way home I knew they were taking in all the mess to relay to their parents.

"You should have seen their van, Mom," a highly-observant-friend would say. "It was so disgusting! There was even a half-eaten apple beside the seat that was so old it looked like the shrunken head in the Harry Potter movie."

"Oh really?" Mom-who-lives-in-a-small-town-and-therefore-knows-a-lot-of-people would smile. And poof! I would be on the gossip chain as the person who was the inspiration for the "Mom My Ride" YouTube video.

Therefore, when we got the first warm day of spring after a long, long, long winter season in an unheated garage, I embraced the 60 degree day with vigor.

With a trash bag in hand, I took a deep breath and entered the kids' portion of the van.

I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say I completely filled the trash bag plus. In addition, I had another bag of stuff that was to go back into the house: books, socks, spoon, toys, scissors (!), 15 pens, seven pencils, one manual sharpener (contents scattered over back seat) and three shoes -- all mismatched.

Once I deposited the respective bags, my husband and I took the van to the car wash, where he manually sprayed the beast down while I scrubbed the interior with cleaning wipes. Then we vacuumed the entire cab which, had we kept track, probably could have been recycled to fill the sandbox.

It had been a long time since that beast looked like a beauty. To get the full effect, we cashed in our 401(k) to fill it up (not really, but filling that 30+ gallon tank almost requires an EKG machine standing by).

Let me tell you: When all traces of kid messes are cleaned up, you have a full tank of gas and you can drive with the windows down, it is nothing short of a magical experience. I didn't even care that I was driving a full-size van with a booster seat in the back; I felt like I was driving a Ferrari.

I was so enamored of my newly cleaned vehicle, that I took pains to showcase it. I would park with the side doors facing the parking lot of the grocery store, and whip those doors wide open when I put the bags in. Normally I would only crack the door and quickly stuff the groceries inside, but now, I half expected strobe lights to go on and a game show hostess to draw attention to the unveiling.

The other day I had a friend meet me in the school parking lot so I could collect my kid from her. She also drives a big van (none of these wimpy minivans for us!), and, being the mother of four as well, I knew she would appreciate my achievement.

I asked her to come over to the side doors and I proudly opened the vehicle to reveal the streak-free windows, non-sticky console and clutter-free floor. Like a good friend, she oohed and ahhed with me, saying that she wished she could get her van as clean as mine. I could practically feel my head inflating with pride.

Obviously, I know that the van won't stay looking like this for long -- I do have to let the kids ride in it sometimes. But I was so reluctant to lose the magical-ness that I took photos of the van in its clean state. Just wait until I post them on my Facebook page!

As another bonus, I now have a craft idea of what to do with all those old half-eaten apples.