An Ode to A Mother’s Purse

by Jessica Graham May 12, 2016

Recently, I bought myself a little wristlet. It was a rite of passage akin to first bra or a first kiss. It signaled something.

I’ve carried a big bag for years. First I needed it to haul diapers and changing pads and toys that lit up. Then, baby gear was replaced with crayons, fruit snacks and Band aids. My bag has rotated with the seasons – not so much for looks - but for content. I’ve switched water bottles and sun screen for gloves and fuzzy hats. I’ve schlepped intended toys and spontaneous finds. When you’re at the park and you don’t have anywhere else to put the fall foliage you’ve collected, you put it in the obvious and logical place: mommy’s purse. (Ditto for sticks and half-eaten bits of anything.) Once I went to an interview and walked in with a portfolio in one hand, bag in the other. The interview panel was composed all men. One of them remarked on how I had “the biggest bag of the day.” Outwardly, I quipped about whether or not that came with a prize. Silently, I acknowledged that more than likely than not I was simply the interviewee with the most kids. Marie Kondo, author of the book the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, advises that a purse is meant to be emptied daily. This advice seems reasonable and practical. By bringing a little order to your purse each day, you can prevent an unruly space. After all, one errant gum wrapper can be a slippery slope to all-out bottom of the bag anarchy. It’s akin to the whole broken windows theory of crime prevention. If you crack down on graffiti, broken windows and turnstiles jumping, then you can prevent more serious crimes. But here’s the flaw with Kondo-ing your purse. A tidy bag may well represent inward calm and outward order but what good is that in times of trouble. If I was drowning and had the option of a life ring or my messy purse, I’d take the purse every time. Why? Because it has rescued me that many times before. When we’ve waited interminably at the doctor’s office, having long since run out of play things, I’ve reached down into the depths of my bag. By the fistful, I’ve produced an odd assortment of Legos and Hot Wheels and receipts for kids to draw upon (all weirdly and grossly laced with stands of my own hair). Similar productive rummagings have occurred on airplane rides and at late-starting assemblies. When we’re en route to bounce house parties, my purse has housed the mandatory socks that inexplicably no one has wanted to arrive in. At the library, it carries our overflow of books. If we’ve forgotten our re-useable grocery bag, not to worry, my purse can easily accommodate the hot dog buns, bag of lettuce and a bottle of salad dressing. My grandmother didn’t own a purse. Being a lady, she carried a “hand bag.” Hers was a repository for all things old ladyish. It housed carefully folded tissues, bobby pins and Starlight mints so long since past their prime that the red dye had seeped into the crinkly plastic and whose hard disk centers had gone soft. Her “pocket book,” as she called it, had a wafting smell - it was a mixture of leather and Ponds cold cream. In a style reminiscent of Jackie O, it didn’t zip, but had a metal clasp, which made a satisfying snap upon being closed. I associated that hand bag with my grandmother the way my kids associate my purse with me. The buying of the wristlet, slim and small, signals a new phase of life: one where often now, my people can carry their own things. I feel oddly light, like a man on a space walk, gravity-less and untethered. What are my shoulders going to do now that they don’t carry the weight of little people’s things? Marie Kondo’s advice, which includes speaking directly to your possessions, is sometimes believed to be a little out there. While say the coffee maker is not going to get a kudos from me today, I think Kondo might have been on to something when it comes to my big purse. The bag has been trustworthy and loyal. Together we’ve been on field trips, in hospitals, and survived several spills. Thanks, old friend, for seeing me though. I’m grateful that you’ve held my life, chaos and all, under your faux leather straps.

Jessica Graham


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