I have to admit that try as I might to keep the contents of my handbag streamlined and minimalist, it always seems to remain something of a bottomless pit. A black hole of the accessories world if you will, one with the spacial dimensions of a tardis.
I am sure that this is the same for women everywhere. It’s what we do. Trying to pack our entire lives into a small bag and preparing ourselves for every conceivable situation and emergency, one safety pin and a furry mint at a time. I do think some days that if I just added an inflatable bomb shelter and a years supply of loo roll, I could actually survive and outlast the fallout from a nuclear war, by living off and utilising the contents of my bag alone.
A man might think this is something of an exaggeration. A woman might see how this is possible. A mother would completely understand. Why mothers you ask? Simple. A mother knows how it is possible, and more importantly necessary to have so much stuff on or about your person at all times. A mother knows that to get ahead and stay ahead in the game, you must start to think, plan and pack on a MUCH grander scale.
When you expel a small and screaming infant from your body you (often reluctantly) resign yourself to the fact that it will be a good many years before you will be able to use a handbag large enough to only contain a mobile, a lipstick and a single front door key.
As baby arrives into the world, out goes the small and stylish shoulder bag and in comes what can only be categorised as a hold all. A large one at that, usually with a teddy bear motif on the front, with multiple pockets and a detachable fold out changing mat.
Stylish? No. Ever so practical? Yes. Heavy enough to put your back out? Absolutely.
Of course these baby changing bags don’t need to be quite as large as they are. I sometimes think that as they are targeted at new and hormonally imbalanced mothers, companies actually design them to provoke and feed every paranoid thought that you have and to guilt you into buying ALL of the accessories on the shelves next to them.
I remember thinking that if there were so many pockets, then surely they must all needing filling up with essential ‘life saving’ baby supplies. On my first trip out with Baby No.1 the bag was so overloaded that it nearly up ended the pram. If memory serves me right I had 3 changes of clothes, at least 10 nappies, a huge packet of wipes, 2 bottles of milk, 1 bottle of water, 3 dummies, 2 blankets, 4 soft toys, a rattle, a soft book, 10 sachets of Calpol, a thermometer and a fully stocked First Aid kit.
Why? I have absolutely no idea. Bournemouth wasn’t due to be hit by a freak hurricane anytime soon and my baby was highly unlikely to break free from the confines of her pram and dive head first into a dirty puddle, requiring a complete new outfit, or 3. She also wasn’t unwell or even slightly feverish when we left, so the chances of her making her way through 10 nappies and enough Calpol to subdue a small horse were about on par with me getting a good night sleep anytime soon.
As I said, these baby bags feed your paranoia and strip you of all your everyday, non lactating common sense.
Over the years I whittled down what I took out, even getting to the stage where I would stick a backpack on my daughter so that she could carry her own nappy, wipes and water. A cruel and heartless mother maybe, but one that by this stage had a bad back. Then finally came the day when I treated myself to a new and tiny little bag. It was lovely. I could actually carry it on my shoulder without it digging into my skin and cutting off my blood supply. I revelled in the fact that I could now leave the house without packing supplies and no longer lived in fear of finding the contents of my wallet saturated in milk.
Then Baby No.2 arrived. Along came another wretched baby bag, a slightly trendier one this time with it’s camouflage pattern, but nevertheless huge by comparison and full to the brim of things I didn’t need. Yes, even I had thought I would have learned from previous experience, but apparently not. Those bloody hormones seem to have the power to completely override all rational thinking.
These days I have weaned myself down to a bag that actually resembles something I would have used in my baby free days – on the outside at least. Open it up and my entire life falls out all over the pavement. Try as I might I just can’t keep my bag below 90% capacity. I just stuck in my head and had a poke around and this is a summary of what I am currently carting around.
One overstuffed wallet, full of bank cards, old receipts, an albums worth of family photos and the necessary plastic to gain me access to the cinema, library, hospital, gym, swimming pool and Spotlight. A stack of my own business cards, a voucher for a free scone at Bakers Delight and a paper cutout of the words ‘Good luck Forever’ that my sister covered in sellotape and gave to me way back in 1987. Strangely enough there is no money in there to be seen.
3 tubs containing sultanas, rice wheels and apricot squares. A water cup with a valve that doesn’t know it’s supposed to be one way. A cereal bar that looks like it has gone under the wheels of a tank and a teething rusk so old it has fossilised. Approximately 9 and a half tissues (in various state of use), 5 hairbands and a broken hair clip. 4 pens (one with a missing cap), a couple of IKEA pencils and a ‘Green Tea’ bag. 2 nappies and a resealable sandwich bag of wet wipes. An overused nail file, the handle of a hairbrush, a plaster that has lost all it’s stick and a rather grotty twig that somehow made it’s way in at the park. 3 contact lenses, 2 lip balms and and a compact (in case I should every have a day where I find time to apply make-up). A ‘lift the flap book’ about baby animals (minus the flaps), a chewed train carriage, a Polly Pocket shoe, a potentially very dangerous bottle of bubble mixture and at least 8 toy cars of varying makes and models. A school excursion permission slip, a letter that is waiting to be posted and a mobile phone that looks as if it has done 10 rounds with a toddler….
Now you could be forgiven for believing that this cluttered bag of mine is as old as time itself and the ‘stuff’ has accumulated over many, many years. Not so. My husband bought it for me several weeks ago. I simply transferred the ‘stuff’ from the old bag to the new one, manky looking tissues and all, and then carried on where I had left off.
Once again, if you’re a man you’ll be shaking your head at the very idea of keeping such rubbish about your person everyday. If you’re a woman you’ll no doubt be empathising. If you’re a mother you’ll know that what I carry around with me is actually just the everyday essentials needed to keep your kids happy, quiet, entertained and fed when more than 10 feet from your own front door.
Now, taking a trip away with kids for more than 24 hours is a whole different story. THAT requires months of preparation, packing with military precision and a vast array of luggage on an even greater scale.