My Dream Car Helped Me Get Back in Gear After the Post-Baby Blues

One mom bought her dream car after having a baby—something some would say is “selfish”—as a way to regain her autonomy. When she told her friends about it, they all wondered about where her kids would sit and whether it was the best decision for her to make. But she decided to do it anyway and fight the double standard. After all, if Dad can buy a sports car, why can’t Mom?

I fell in love with the Mazda Miata around the same time I fell in love with my husband. Both were great looking, dependable, and made me feel like life’s journeys would be a whole lot more exciting if we made them together. I married my prince charming a few years later, but we drove away in his Buick, not my tiny dream car.

I didn’t mind, especially since marriage itself speeded us along in thrilling new directions. We had a daughter, traded our cool Manhattan apartment for a little house with a white picket fence in my hometown, and welcomed another daughter. It felt like we’d gone from zero to two kids in under 60 seconds! We bought a minivan, something I thought I’d never do. Indeed, between sour-milk baby bottles and suburban living, some days I scarcely recognized myself. But I was content.

Then something happened: An invitation to my high school reunion arrived along with a form asking what I’d done with my life. Suddenly I felt as blank as the form.

What had I done with my life? My teenage dreams were a bust. I wasn’t a famous writer living in Manhattan, the way I’d planned. I was back living in my hometown. I was a minivan mom.

Blame it on the high-school reunion committee or hormones (I was postpartum), but as I measured the unexciting progress of my life against the ruler of adolescent ambition, I felt like a huge failure. I slipped into a gray, tearful state that lasted for months. Sleepless, I’d hit the gym at 5am. Then one morning on the way home, I passed a Miata. My heart leapt at the sight; it was the best I’d felt in a long time. And a realization washed over me: I didn’t have to be a minivan mom after all.

“I’m buying a Miata,” I told everybody. My husband was cool with it—but my mom friends disapproved. “Will you use it enough?” asked one pal, though she herself had once bought an expensive party dress she’d worn only once. “Can you afford it?” quizzed another friend, whose SUV cost multiples of what my Miata, which I planned to buy used, would. Then finally, one friend voiced the true sticking point: “It’s a two-seater. Where will you put the kids?” she pressed, even knowing we were keeping the minivan and the Buick.

I was disappointed in, or rather for, my friends. We mothers have only come so far. We urge one another to do things that affirm our individuality—provided they tie into our families. We cheer each other on to assert our financial power—so long as our purchases can be stashed in the closet, away from judgmental eyes. It’s fine for a dad to buy himself a sports car—in fact my neighbor just had—but if a mom buys herself one, it’s unseemly.

Rattled, I called my oldest friend, Matt, for advice. “You’re in a full-fledged midlife crisis!” he teased. Then he grew serious. “My buddy used to drive me around in his sports car,” he mused. “On the highway, it felt like all four wheels had lifted off the ground.”

He paused. “Buy the car.”

So I did. I had to learn to drive stick, which was intimidating. It takes finesse to start a manual transmission car from a dead stop. At first I either stalled out or hit the gas too fast, sending the engine into frenetic revolutions. Yet each day, my driving improved, and so did my blues, until both miraculously smoothed out. Who knew a car had healing powers?

Okay, it wasn’t really the car; it was the fact that I had done something solely for myself. Some shifts, I came to see, are automatic—girlhood’s dreams give way to motherhood’s realities. But figuring out how to be a mom while still asserting your individuality? That’s a conscious shift, but one worth making.

After weeks of practice, I drove my daughter to preschool in the Miata. As I pulled out of the parking lot, several mothers gathered around. One stroked the Miata’s door. “Looks fun,” she said. I smiled. Then I prayed, Please God, don’t let me stall out in front of everyone.

I pulled out smoothly. I was barely going 10 miles per hour, but it felt like all four wheels had lifted off the ground.

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