Once upon a time, long ago, you used to see minivans bearing a sign indicating that there was a “Baby on Board”. Back then, babies were notorious for boarding minivans, and then tooling about town lording it over pedestrian babies who had nothing to board but a mommy-powered stroller. (Babies can be cruel that way.)
Over the years, those older babies got tired being babies and stopped. Newer, more enlightened babies were produced, who didn’t need to brag about their boardedness, and the signs came down. This left a huge unblind spot on the minivan’s windshield. And who wants an unfettered view of traffic?
And thus were born the Family Icons. They started out primitive, barely more than stylized restroom door signs, crudely suggesting gender. They came in different sizes, crudely indicating relative age and family status. There was even a crude crawling icon to indicate the presence (but not the boarding state) of a baby. These symbols served a vital function in large families by acting as a kind of family legend (the map kind, not the ancient lore kind).
Dad (loading the trunk after a day at the beach): OK, time to go! Is everyone in the car?
Mom (counting heads): One, two, three… wait, I think someone’s missing.
Dad (consulting the rear windshield): Hey, you’re right! We’re missing the second largest child! The one with hair like Marlo Thomas from “That Girl”!
This worked for some families, but not all. Some had multiple children of the same sex, who could only be distinguished by the presence or absence of Marlo Thomas hair. If those children were roughly the same size, parents would no longer be able to determine which child was lost at the beach. So the next evolution of icons evolved crude accoutrements to indicate characteristics and interests. Now suddenly you could not only tell your bookworm son and outfielder son apart, but you could also indicate to other families that your family experienced certain things.
Now, once your market niche is satisfied, you naturally want to branch out. By and large, single people were not buying Family Icons (Disclaimer: I have no idea what they’re really called), because even if a person is not lonely, a single nondescript stick figure on the back of your Prius is just sad.
Not to worry, said the marketing folks at Amalgamated Icon Decals, and they started producing new icons. These icons went beyond the simple stylized icons of yore. Instead of showing a lonely stick figure, now the stick figure stands atop a caption which reads “Loves to <fill in the blank>” A skier in full gear can proudly stand atop the words “Loves to Ski”. A runner can jog above the words “Loves to Run”. A test taker can exercise his mind above the declaration “Loves to Fill in the Blank”.
Today, as I was coming home, I pulled up at a light behind a minivan, whose icons told me all about the family. There were three of them.
The first was a stick man wearing a stick chef’s hat, standing in front of a stick barbeque. The caption read, “Loves to Grill”.
The second was a female stickperson (person of stick?) bearing stick shopping bags in each stick hand. The caption read, “Loves to Shop”.
The third icon was a baby. The baby had neither gender nor caption. I sense the next expansion pack will include the caption, “Loves to Cry at 2:30 in the Morning”.
I still think of that baby. I wonder if she was on board. And I wonder if she’ll grow up to have Marlo Thomas hair.