Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Big Mom Handbag

When I was eleven years old, I decided I was going to start a babysitting business. I liked looking after small children and I was good at it. I checked a book out of the library about babysitting. The book suggested things you might want to take with you on a babysitting job to entertain and care for the children. As if on a scavenger hunt, I enthusiastically rounded up as many of these items as possible. I retrieved my suitcase from underneath my bed and filled it with my babysitting tools. When I showed my parents the contents of my suitcase, my father remarked that I would scare the children half to death upon my arrival since they would think I intended to move in with them. My mother promptly chewed him out for being critical and told me I was very clever and would be a highly prepared babysitter. In retrospect, dad was right. Unfortunately, my suitcase full of every conceivable item needed to care for children was a mere hint of what was yet to come. In my heyday, I was Mary Poppins on steroids.

After my children were born, I became the mom with the gigantic handbag. I carried so much stuff around with me in such an enormous bag that, as teenagers, my children threatened to tell police officers, “Do you see that woman over there with the railroad car over her arm? She thinks she’s my mother and she’s stalking me.” Of course when they needed a cracker, a towel, antibiotic ointment, a coloring book, a cat, a flashlight, or a camping cot, they suddenly belonged to me again and had no qualms about rummaging in my handbag. I once overheard my adult daughter boasting to a friend that if she needed to eat a yogurt in the car as a child, she only had to ask me for a spoon and I produced not just any spoon but a metal spoon. I still carry a metal spoon with me. You never know when you might need to dig a tunnel to escape a dungeon, and a plastic spoon would not suffice in such a situation.

A good mom is always prepared. I could produce nearly anything needed in any situation from my mom-handbag and my children knew it. When they played team sports and someone got injured, my children brought them to me instead of the coach because I had more emergency first-aid supplies in my handbag than the coach had in his official kit. Our family of five could survive for a week in the event of a natural disaster on the food I carried in my mom-handbag. (Water bottles, however, were stashed in a separate container.)

The deep-seated reasons for my mom-handbag are certainly connected to a touch of a refugee mentality that has clung to me from previous generations in my family when my ancestors fled Eastern Europe with nothing but the Sabbath candlesticks and a wool blanket. I feel insecure traveling without a heap of food and all the essentials to begin life over again in a foreign land if necessary. In fact, I carry all the essentials to begin a foreign land. Back in the day, when I traveled with three young children, I carried a large duffel bag onto the airplane. My duffel bag contained food, drinks, clothing, games, books, paper, arts-and-crafts activities, first-aid supplies, tools, eating utensils, towels, cloth diapers (for about ten years when I had babies and toddlers), plastic bags, etc. These days half of my airplane carry-on bag would have been confiscated by TSA and I would have been arrested for contemplating an invasion. Whenever I saw a mom board an airplane with small children and nothing but a tiny purse over her arm, I was astonished. Sure enough, those children inevitably cried, whined, and made a general nuisance of themselves for the entire flight. My children never ran out of things to do and eat and were consequently well-behaved. Other passengers frequently took a moment to tell me how impressed they were by the good behavior of my small children on airplane flights. Well duh. Their mom had a museum, a circus, a swimming pool, Toys R Us, a garden, Cirque de Soleil, and a restaurant in her duffel bag.

These days, now that my children are grown and have left home, I still carry a million things around with me in my handbag. It’s a habit I will never break. I need those pens and mini-notebooks in case I am suddenly seized with the desire to write the Great American Novel while waiting at a traffic light. I need that extra pair of shoes in case the ones I’m wearing fall apart. Digestive enzymes. Gloves, socks, and a spare bra. Tissues (god forbid that anyone should find themselves in a public restroom that has run out of toilet paper). Comb. Snacks. Clothespins. Tea bags. Phone charger. Swiss Army Knife (the most awesome device since it has so many tools all-in-one). Needle and thread. Collapsible clothes hamper. Fan. And a book of course. There always has to be a book in case the car breaks down or the line at the Post Office is out the door. I would not survive if left with nothing whatsoever to do for more than five minutes. (My daughter insists I need a smart phone, but I refuse to get one. Maybe if they start making them with a built-in socket wrench set then I’ll consider it.)

When our family gets together for events, such as weddings or Bar-Mitzvahs, and we all go out to eat, my adult children and my husband hold their hands out to me without a word when the meal arrives and I dole out digestive enzymes (we are all lactose-intolerant), which I have in the depths of my mom-handbag. If a stranger at the table next to us cuts his finger, one of my children is likely to lean over and say, “My mom has a bandaid. I’ll get it for you. Hang on.” If a fire were to break out, I have no doubt that my children would turn to me calmly and ask me to pass them the fire extinguisher, which they would assume I have in my handbag. Spare tire. Oxygen tank. Flame-thrower. Tent. Inflatable life raft. Rabbit. Sure. I must have one in there somewhere. 

This is why it came as no surprise to my husband last week when we were discussing what to do about the toilet in our master bathroom, which kept running, and he said he just needed to pop out to the hardware store to get a new flapper valve to fix it and I replied, “Actually I happen to have a spare flapper valve here in my handbag.” True. I am resourceful. I am a problem-solver. I am:  a MOM.

I have to get some of this for my handbag. 
No idea what to use it for but it's bound to come in handy. 
Maybe useful when gluing rabbits together?

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