Frequently, I am confounded by the stickers that I see on the back of cars: The grenade silhouette. The TRUTH fish eating theDARWIN fish. The Calvin-esque little boy who pees on things.
Never, though, have I been so baffled by a bumper-sticker trend as I am by the stick-figure family decals that have become de rigueur on the back of minivans and leviathan SUVs. You’ve seen them: a string of cutesy cartoon characters straggling across a rear window, diminishing in size from yoga mom and lawnmower dad down through shopper teen, baseball boy and ballet girl to dog, cat, bird, and a fourth, unidentifiable beast that will only be fully realized just before you rear-end the offending vehicle because you’re tailgating, compelled to know what the hell pet they feel is worth commemorating on their Buick Enclave.
I asked a marriage and family therapist I know to explain the family-sticker trend.
“People are proud of their families, and they want people to know who their families are,” said therapist Gary Linker, who is clearly more tolerant than I am.
Okay, but … what is it, exactly, that we’re proud of? That we can procreate? Are we really so Paleolithic? Me sow seed! Feed cubs! Transport successfully to belly-dance, banjo, and BMX lessons! Let’s be honest: It ain’t hard to make humans. It’s actually kind of hard NOT to make humans. And I find myself wishing these folks would apply themselves a little.
Perhaps they’re proud they can keep their families’ windsurfing, wake-boarding, weed-whacking, and wine-drinking schedules straight (all actual decal options, as are coal miner, bull rider, and preacher; writer, I’m just saying, is not). But we modern parents have a hard enough time maintaining our identities beyond that of kid-schlepper, and these stickers only make it harder. Festoon your Ford with these stickers, and you might as well be driving a giant womb on wheels — a sort of Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in the shape of a uterus with “I crank out kids like sausages” painted on the side.
Call me paranoid, but there’s something wildly imprudent, too, about inventorying your kids on your vehicle. Name one good reason — that doesn’t include the phrase “extremely helpful to pedophiles” — for listing the genders, hobbies, and relative sizes of your children where they can be memorized by strangers on the highway, at the gas station, or in the KFC parking lot.
I have to wonder if it’s for practical purposes, so that large families can easily tally their litters. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll forget one while piling into the Yukon after Chuck E. Cheese’s. “Hold up, now, it says here there’s another one — a boy — between the cellist and the pole vaulter. Should we go back in and take another look around?”
Gary Linker says I’m failing to see the greater need that these stickers serve: “On a deeper level, all of us hunger to be seen and known,” he said. “It’s an almost primal need. This is why people parade themselves on Facebook and other social media. We’re hungry for attention — and this is a way for people to get that need met.”
I don’t know what’s more disappointing: that we yearn so desperately for public notoriety, or that such profound yearning will be satisfied by a celebrity stint that begins and ends on the ass of our mommy’s Suburban.