“It’s designer.” My husband beamed at me with such pride you would have thought he’d tanned the leather of the handbag himself with his own blood, sweat, and tears.
I turned the large grey bag over in my hands, admiring the luscious purple lining and shiny metal buckle. The chrome reminded me of the hood ornaments on really expensive cars, only it was nicer than any car I’d ever owned.
As a fashion neophyte, I was completely baffled by how, over the next few weeks, my new purse elicited several compliments, numerous envious gazes, and a fair amount of drool from passersby.
I could get used to this type of attention, I thought to myself as I caressed my new prize with the tender affection of a mother swaddling her new baby. Why had I resisted haute couture for so long?
Then I remembered.
As a mother of three small children, I discover a myriad of juicy surprises on and around my person every day. In this way, having children is not much different than having kittens, except cats at least have the decency not to deposit the dead mouse in your bra or stick the headless bird to the back of your yoga pants.
However, with children you have not only to act impressed and grateful for these “gifts,” but you also have to store them somewhere convenient so that they may be produced the instant they are demanded at a later, unspecified date.
At least once a week I embark on a grueling, life-altering pilgrimage to Target: my infant clinging to my shirt so tightly that my tattered nursing bra is bared for all the world to see, my toddler resting on my other hip smashing his half eaten banana in my face, and my four-year-old pulling the hem of my shirt, urging me to walk faster toward the toy aisle so he can beg and plead with me to buy him yet another tiny object that will turn up in my laundry the next week.
Sometimes there just isn’t anywhere to deposit half a gooey, rejected banana that, should I throw it away, would therein be revealed as my toddler’s only reason for existing.
So I lovingly wrap the slimy fruit in a tissue and place it in my flashy purse.
There are days when I remember at the last minute that our dogs are due for their yearly ritual of emptying my entire bank account and I end up stalking the dogs through the patch of grass outside the vet’s office with a plastic bag in one hand, both leashes in the other, the baby strapped to my chest and the older kids playing dodge the poop.
So I stash the bag, which is now literally filled with a steaming pile of feces, in my fashionable purse.
Then there are the treasure hunts my boys approach with such unbridled enthusiasm and naive wonder that I don’t have the heart to tell my toddler that his “rock” is really a petrified goose turd or that his “leaf” is nothing more than a faded wrapper for an unidentifiable chocolate bar.
So I collect them and file them away in my exquisite handbag beside the acorns, twigs, and grass clippings my kids have already squirreled away for posterity.
Let’s face it, I’m a mom, and no matter how delicately I handle my chic new purse it will inevitably fill up with sandy matchbox cars, leaky squeezy pouches, soiled underpants, diapers, and more snotty tissues than I ever thought possible.
I am every buttery-soft, hand-stitched, trendy bag’s worst nightmare; my photo should be on the wall of every Neiman Marcus in the continental U.S.
Of course I loved the fleeting feeling of pride when I realized I was carrying something beautiful and desirable, and for a while I cringed every time my kids spilled their juice near it or left an uncapped marker inside. Then I realized that there was no point owning a purse that I was too afraid to use or pretending that my life wasn’t filled with all the gooey, slimy, smelly, sticky joys that find their ways into my bag.
So maybe I can have nice things, as long as I accept that the real treasures in my life come from the three little monkeys who drool, snot, and climb all over me (and my purse) every day, and not some big-name designer. The best way I can enjoy my new purse is not to parade it, flawless and empty, through the grocery store, but rather to fill it with the things that make my family happy.
Even if some of those things stain.