Monday, February 07, 2000

Be prepared

Not long ago, I left my purse at McDonald's. (Parental forgetfulness in the face of overstimulated children is a subject for another column, to be sure; the last time I lost a purse, it was at Chuck E. Cheese.) I called to see if it had been found, and the manager checked inside the purse they had for identifying marks. "Does it have...flash cards?" he asked. Yep, that would be mine.

Before I became a parent, I must have had personal items in my purse. Maybe a lipstick, maybe phone numbers of friends to meet for lunch, maybe a paperback, maybe a prescription. It's been said that the contents of a woman's pocketbook could be a portrait of her personality, and I must have had one of those--a personality--at one time.

But now my purse contains flashcards. And Matchbox cars. And the kind of candy that will keep my son from having a meltdown. And wrappers for those candies. And tissues for collecting those candies when they've fallen out of his mouth. And bandaids for imaginary boo-boos. And favorite fidget toys. And pen and paper to draw with. And crayons. And maybe a few coins--not to spend, but to spin or stack or slide.

My purse has become an Emergency Play Kit, full of things that can be pulled out at a moment's notice to occupy antsy children. Driver's license, credit cards, cash --they're all nice, but superfluous, though in a pinch I have let my son line up all those pretty credit cards on the floor. Mom's bag better always have another trick in it, because unrelieved boredom is not a pretty sight. Order taking too long at the restaurant? Hey, I've got flashcards!

When the kids were much younger and my son was still in diapers, his diaper bag used to be the toy bag. After a year or two of accumulating books and cars and stuffed animals and every fast-food toy ever distributed, it weighed approximately two tons. I couldn't bear to lug it around, so I started carrying diapers and wipes in my purse. The purse was large, and the purse was soon heavy.

These days, I have a tiny purse, just a little wallet-sized slip of a thing on a strap, but you'd better believe it's big enough to hold plenty of options for amusements. I've left the house without money, without my driver's license, without my keys, but I never go out without toys. Got some hidden in my jacket pockets, just in case.

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