“This tiny purse,” I emailed my husband, carefully attaching the link so there would be no possibility of an error. “This what I want for Mother’s Day.”
In the past, when it came to asking for gifts, I’d been the queen of asking for relief from chores. I don’t want to make dinner/ I don’t want to make all the plans/ I don’t want to get up with the baby. In other words: You play Mom for the day. At the most, I’d asked for things like half a day to myself to lie in bed with a movie, or a fancy brunch en famille. This time, though, I wanted something that was tangible, something that would last for way longer than a day. I wanted a real gift, Godammit. I wanted The Purse.
I hadn’t owned a purse in, oh, ever? I’d never really thought of myself as a purse person. I’d been a tote-bag girl all through my twenties and thirties. (My husband jokes that I destroyed every single one I touched.) I lived in New York City for years, which trained me to never get stuck somewhere without water, headphones, a book or a magazine. Then once I had a baby, I became a slave to the unholy monstrosity that is The Diaper Bag.
Then a few years ago, as my daughter grew out of diapers and, subsequently, the need to schlep around spare changes of clothing, I transitioned back to tote bags. The return to my tattered and stained New Yorker tote felt, at the time, like a sort of mild graduation. Still, everything inside the bag was for my daughter. And the few things that weren’t — my wallet, my phone — were covered in a fine ash of rice crackers.
But now my girl was almost five. Did she really still need me to be her personal pack mule? And beyond that, didn’t I deserve a reward for surviving those early years? Wasn’t the purse symbolic of my move into the next phase of life?
My husband and I had, by then, pretty much decided we weren’t going to try for a second child, a decision that had been far from easy. We’d gone back and forth on it for years, weighing the upsides of having a singleton (We’d travel more and easily! We’d give her all our attention! We could finally have nice furniture!) to the rather obvious downsides (no sibling for our daughter, no more babies to snuggle). And this may sound, oh, pathetic but with our decision to not try for another, the purse felt like something between a consolation prize and a warm, fancy invitation into the next, hands-free, you-can-have-nice-things-again part of my life.
A few days before Mother’s Day, my purse arrived in the mail in a slim package.
I pulled it out and ogled. It was so thin! Simple and gorgeous: Two pieces of fabric delicately sewn together. It was nothing more than a leather envelope, really, the color of caramel, equipped with a delicate gold zip. A narrow, adjustable strap to put over my shoulder. No fancy pockets. No pockets at all! The weight of air.
First I thought: What the hell can even fit into something so small?
Well, dear reader, here’s the answer: my wallet, phone, keys, lipstick, gum. Sunglasses are possible, but only if I shove my phone into my jeans or coat. The end.
The end! Not even a small snack.
I loved this purse immediately. In fact, I became sort of obsessed with it — both the beauty of it (my first real leather purse!) and the fact of owning it. I finally had something worth taking care of, something that was for me alone. Something that for the first time in half a decade didn’t mark me as a mother. A purse that could accommodate my needs only. Between the maternity clothes and the nursing bras, the diaper bag and the not-quite-back-to-my-pre-baby-size jeans, when had I last bought such an item?
Look, I’m not going to lie: I live in L.A., which means that I rarely go anywhere without a car. This makes the tiny purse more doable because I can always pack a snack or water or even a book or many children with many needs into my car and still wear my tiny purse. It’s not like life in New York where you leave the house on foot with your entire life on your shoulders.
And as any parents knows, many outings do still involve toting an unfortunate number of things: A trip to the park, for instance, necessitates all those annoying sand toys; the kid’s dance class means slippers and leotards. And always the water. Even a family trip out to dinner involves a bag because paper and markers make the whole thing doable.
But rather than transfer everything over to an ugly tote like I might have just a year ago — or, in Oprah’s lingo, rather than letting myself go — the purse stays in the picture. It’s a little way of holding onto something that is just mine, that is simple and clean and adult. A part of me that is not someone’s mother. The part of me that is beholden to only me.