The Clan with the Not-So-Mini Van
When Ingrid Otteson and Pascal Demilly bought their 2004 Dodge Sprinter for their family of six—their kids are Nadia, 10, Nicolai, 7, Milla Mae, 5, and Sascha, 3—they knew it would be highly visible: at six feet tall, the commercial vehicle is roomy enough to stand up in and seats 10 passengers on three benches. It’s used in Europe as a police van and ambulance, but Ingrid, who had seen one in Laguna and then tracked down a Long Beach dealer who had some in stock, knew it would be perfect for her rowdy gang. To make Big Blue, as the family calls it, both spill-proof and festive, Ingrid, a stay-at-home mom, had a furniture upholsterer stitch washable neoprene slipcovers. A seamstress whipped up the striped curtains, and Ingrid and Pascal, a software developer, added shelves and under-the-seat baskets and coolers to store toys and snacks. The kids play dominoes and tic-tac-toe on personal lap tables. "Big Blue," says Ingrid, who spends more time in it than anyone else, "is really more like an airplane than a car."
Rumpus Room "Our house is small, so it’s nice having space in the car: the kids use it as a play area, like a fort, even when it’s parked in the driveway."
Do You Read Me in the Back? "We make quite a racket. We blast Putumayo world music CD’s, and the kids play along using the drum, harmonica, tambourines, castanets, and recorder we keep in one of the storage baskets. The car itself is also noisy—it’s a diesel—and Nadia has such a little voice we can hardly hear her. So we all use walkie-talkies. Nadia’s handle is Leaping Lizard."
Nibbles and Bits "We eat healthy things that don’t spoil—dried blueberries and pineapple, almonds, fruit leather, and turkey jerky. We keep two gingham-lined baskets of food in the way back, and when we swing open the doors it’s like the ice cream truck has arrived."
Favorite Places to Go "We camp at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Forest in spring and summer, and go skiing at June Mountain near Yosemite in winter. We’ll get on the road by five a.m.—while the kids are sleeping, we carry them into the car in their pajamas. Around eight or nine we stop for pancakes at a diner or truck stop—the funkier the better—then we change in the van, because we can."
Making a Statement "The reason we wanted to get Big Blue was to show that it’s good to be individual. It’s definitely the only van of its kind around. Wherever we go, people always notice us because we have four children. So we thought, ’Let’s act the part and look like a circus!’"