I have heard it said that you can tell a lot about someone by what they carry around in their purse, and frankly, this concerns me. I once read an article by a mature and obviously organized mother/columnist delineating the changes in her purse contents and she gracefully slid through various stages of parenting. At various times, her handbag has contained pacifiers and crunchy biscuits for toddlers, wipes for nasty spills and sticky hands, amusements for young children—no doubt crayons in a specially designed humidor to prevent meltage.
I found the article unsettling, as, day or night, year in and year out no matter what the season either on the calendar or in my life, dump out the contents of any bag I own and what you’ll find can be summed up in a single word:
Receipts crumpled beyond recognition, often containing a wad of chewed gum that needed a hasty or poorly timed discarding. And, of course, tissues. Used ones, in a chaotic jumble that would seem to speak of a need for stronger allergy meds.
If, by some bizarre star alignment or sick practical joke my keys were there, you probably wouldn’t recognize the tangle of metal rings, expired plastic discount cards, and broken mini toys as a key chain anyway. But it really is, I promise. Anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five keys are jumbled somewhere in the mess, but I assure you I don’t know what most of them do. It’s sort of a museum piece that invariably confuses and fascinates elementary children.
I traveled once to Qwa-Qwa, a remote and impoverished South African village. The children were fascinated as our fleet of busses rolled into their villages. It was like a scene out of a PBS documentary ,or Survivor, throngs of excited villagers running after the busses, cheering, asking for photographs or treats.
The mere sight of American youth bearing useful and entertaining items like cameras and crayons, hats and bread was akin to Santa’s sleigh pulling into the cul de sac of your neighborhood. These children had absolutely nothing. Nothing but smiles and big hearts and …trash. The possibilities of trash as a sustainable resource were not lost on these inventive souls. Kind of like the system where the Native Americans found a use for every part of the buffalo, South African kids use every bit of their trash to create toys. Mostly crude vehicles, pull cars and the like, but very charming.
What I really should have done is dump my bag out and ask them to build me something, but I never think of cool stuff like that at the right time. I’m now a decade removed from this event, and tending these days to think about both my “bag” and my "trash” in more metaphoric terms. Oh, I’ve always known that if handbags are, indeed, tattletales of one’s inner psyche, I don’t have to delve too deeply into my old psych notes to figure out that as a collector of rubbish, I’m in grave danger of being weighed down. But lately? I’m realizing that as unfortunate as it was not to have had a genuine custom-made African garbage-toy, it will be much sadder if I don’t take a page from the African Kids’ Playbook and get to work reassembling some bits and pieces from a very different “bag—“ namely, the passions I reference collectively as my Aspirations.
See, this morning my son headed out the door on his very last first day of school. He’s my baby, and he’s a senior—a turn of events that has left me shocked, saddened, and questioning the future as I never have before. His older sister is still at home, but plans to head off to culinary school in April. And me? I simply don’t know how to live outside this big, chaotic home filled with the sound of my son’s instruments and the wafting aroma of my daughter’s baked goods. And less than two minutes after he left, it occurred to me that as the door closed in his wake, it took the summer with him. But not just any summer. The very last summer we’ll all share in this house, as a family.
Crisis descended, in proportions beyond the capabilities of even the most well-stocked bag, kit, or pouch. No one, anywhere, could simply pull a potion for this pain from a side pocket of a well-organized pouch. I trudged through this mental muck for sometime before I entertained the thought that maybe I’m the one in possession of my own cure—and it’s somewhere in a crumbling collection of half finished projects, seedling ideas, and orphaned efforts. It’s a big mess-- a tangled jumble much more easily pushed down and zipped up than dumped out in plain view.
Although I was hardly in the mood to face it, I took a peek at my metaphoric mess. And I had to admit it was wildly colorful and admittedly eclectic. Doubtless, it will take years to turn it into anything useful—I’m no African, after all. But I’ve been hauling around an amazing collection of raw materials for a very long time and perhaps it’s time to make something useful. I’ve had a good run toting trinkets about town---in both the literal and literary sense. In my cluttered clutches, I’ve always found exactly what I needed to both pacify my offspring and provoke my passions. Now that it’s almost time for my kids to see what they can make of their lives, maybe it’s time for me to create something new with mine. What I do with my detritus might just determine if I become known as the cool lady with the bag of tricks or, well, just a bag lady.
P.S. I know I announced in April that I was embarking on an adventure. I am aware that I have left you hanging (assuming that there is anyone out there to flap in the breeze). The adventure is still in progress, but I will post a long-overdue field report in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.