The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 26, 2006


My handbag, myself

I'm looking for The One. The One that will meet all of my needs and resolve all of my hopes. The One that will support me as I strive to become the best person I can be. The One that will reflect all of my best attributes and help me learn to overcome all of my worst qualities.

I'm looking for a purse.

Or maybe not a purse. Maybe a handbag or a tote bag or a pocketbook. Maybe a knapsack, a satchel, a briefcase. I'm not sure, because I cannot seem to form a clear picture of The One in my mind. But I'll recognize it when I see it, and I'll know right away that we were meant to be together.

Other kinds of personal shopping are easy for me. It takes me mere minutes to make decisions about clothes and shoes and outerwear. Housewares are a straightforward choice. Even paint color doesn't particularly pose a problem.

But every year or two, I find myself once again in a desperate quest for the perfect bag, discovering perennially how high my expectations are and how impossible it would be for any one piece of fabric or leather or microfiber to meet my demands.

I want so much from this relationship, far more than any one accessory can possibly provide. I want it to be small and light, yet big enough that it never looks stuffed. I want it to be stylish, but not trendy — on the off-chance that this one turns out to be Mr. (Bag) Right, I don't want to have to toss it out in a year just because it's gone out of style. I want it to reflect me, but at the same time to provide an upgrade to my image.

And in those simple criteria lie all the problems. Just how big does it need to be? Well, it has to hold my wallet and phone and keys, of course. A small water bottle should fit nicely as well. And a book, but what size book? A paperback or the latest Tom Wolfe novel in hardcover? A section or two of the newspaper, or the entire Sunday New York Times Travel section?

Mulling over these possibilities, it occurs to me what my problem is. The things I want to carry with me have very little bearing on the reality of what I need in the course of an average day. A book? When was the last time I found myself out and about with the opportunity to sit down and read a book? The truth is that I'd be better off making sure my future bag had room for my three-year-old's favorite blankie and a large bag of Goldfish crackers than any section of the New York Times.

What I'm starting to acknowledge as I bag-shop is how much the things we carry reflect who we are at any given moment. Diaper bags are a perfect example. When my first child was born, the trendy diaper bag of the moment was the Land's End satchel. It looked more like a gym bag than a baby accessory, and could hold my son's entire infant wardrobe. As a new parent, I thought I needed a diaper bag the size of a dorm refrigerator and took pride in being fully stocked every time I left the house. Two bottles, two changes of clothing for the baby, one change of clothing for me, infant Motrin, a baby thermometer, a teething ring, twelve diapers, wet wipes, Purell, and three burp cloths. It didn't matter that I was only going grocery shopping; I was prepared to hike the Appalachian Trail with my baby if I should suddenly be so diverted.

By the time my second child came along four years later, I was a little wiser. I discovered that an infant-sized diaper and a packet of wet wipes could fit just fine into a regular purse, and anything else I might need could somehow be picked up in transit (by then, I'd acknowledged the unlikelihood of hiking the Appalachian Trail any time soon).

When my younger child became a preschooler, the urge to buy an even smaller purse began calling to me. I knew it wasn't just a matter of orthopedic comfort. It was a way of celebrating my newfound independence. I needed a small bag because I was no longer carrying diapers and changes of clothing for the whole family. Suddenly, the bag I chose was only for my own belongings.

But in my enthusiasm, I naturally went overboard. I bought a fabric purse with a beautiful hand-embroidered pattern and a tiny interior. I wanted to make a statement: "I'm autonomous! I'm traveling light! No more spitup cloths for me!" I jammed in my phone and wallet and keys and promptly burst a seam. Nice try, the message seemed to be, but you're not quite the minimalist you think are.

So I'm off to shop for my perfect match, the bag that can hold just what I need and nothing more. It has to reflect my personality and fit my cell phone. Come to think of it, maybe that's the problem. There are slender, chic cell phones on the market, little flippy things that have the heft and dimensions of a MacDonald's napkin. I'm still using a cheaper, bulkier model. Maybe the problem isn't my purse but my phone. Yes, that's it: it's my phone that's reflecting an earlier, bulkier, less elegant me.

Time to find Mr. (Phone) Right. We'll worry about my wallet — still bulging with Stride Rite punch cards, Cinderella stickers and Chuckie Cheese tokens another day.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito