When I was young my mom carried a "purse" with the word Samsonite emblazoned in a metal medallion on one side. To most, the term carry-on-luggage would not come to mind when looking for a ladies handbag but my mom had seven children and her quest to find a purse big enough to meet the demands of her job brought her to the luggage department. In her bag she carried the weight of everything any of us might need on a moments notice. It was a vehicle for all that life in the trenches might ask of her. A finger that strayed to a a nostril in church suddenly had a tissue presented to it. A crying baby? No worries, a collection of plastic bracelets, an enormous jingly key ring, or a book could be brought forth. Pens, paper, diapers, nail files, safety pins, mints, a virtual M.A.S.H. unit were all burrowed away within the pockets of Mama Samsonite. With my mom's approval I would sit with that bag in my lap in the car and open pockets excavating the wonders held within. But pockets in her purse were not enough. Over time she began to require everything have pockets; skirts, pants, sweaters and jackets. When shopping for her mother-of-the-bride dress for my wedding she complained that none of the outfits or dresses had pockets.
I recall a photo of my mom at our families one and only trip to Six Flags. She stood in a wrap skirt, cute wedge heels, and big Mama Samsonite slung on her shoulder. The bag looked a bit burdensome on her average sized frame as did the size of the pockets on the skirt. But she loved them both. The skirt was made from a 1970s pattern that was a wrap-around skirt with two big pockets in the front: big Captain Kangaroo sized pockets. She made one of the those skirts in every color. It became a uniform of sorts. The A line skirt was flattering and the pockets were perfect.
It seems in the process of becoming adults and especially becoming parents we reflect on our own parents with great scrutiny. We unearth large chunks of their character as we dig for our answers of how and why. These, we begin to label; some good, some bad and some just crazy. We verbally make offerings to the gods of aging hoping that the crazies/ idiosyncrasies do not find their way onto our psyche. These offerings range from the specific "I will never use luggage as a purse" to the all encompassing "I will not be like my mom". I have most certainly made these offerings over the years but my mom's pocket thing was so small, so benign, it never ended up my altar. I am glad I didn't.
One day many years ago I stood in my laundry room pulling off a pair of jeans carefully avoiding the large patch of baby food vomited upon me by one of my three infants. At the time, my days mounted one upon another operating a whisper above survival mode. I had a three year old son and 9 month old triplets. I went to put the jeans right in the washer when I remembered to empty my pockets first. Before children, this step was unnecessary. Most of my clothes were dry cleaned and had pockets for style not function. However, I had developed a habit of checking pockets after an entire load of my husbands and my clothing was obliterated by a pocket full of crayons that went undetected in my three year olds pants. Cargo pants can hide the laundry equivalent to an atomic bomb.
So I emptied my pockets on the white enamel surface of the washing machine. What I pulled out of my jeans that day made me think of my mom. I realized that over the last few years my pockets had become a place where things went to be fixed, or saved, or transported, or removed for safety. Pockets were a safe haven for treasures, the holding pen for items put in time-out, and an overall efficient mode of transport for the multitude of stuff that comes with having kids. Having 7 kids my mom must of harbored mountains of tiny things in those big pockets of her wrap skirts.
I did not at the time buy my clothes like my mother with the 101 benefits of pockets in mind. Therefore, I was quite impressed with what I had been able to fit into the pockets of my Lucky jeans. I pulled out a pacifier, a paper clip taken from my three year old as he contemplated carving a big S in the kitchen table, a Thomas the Tank engine found on the back of the toilet carefully placed during a potty break, two non-matching baby socks indicating there were 10 freezing little toes upstairs and not all on the same child, and the letter M taken from the refrigerator magnet collection and given to me because M stands for mama.
I stood there in my underwear with the sound of a crying baby echoing down the basement stairs and tears in my eyes. This job that I had been given/ chosen; the mother of four small human beings, was the hardest job I had ever had. I was exhausted, emotionally fragile and worried. My mind became engorged by my lack of sleep and I worried about eating schedules, the evils of microwaving food, how to develop socialization skills in a toddler and terrorist attacks. But my pocket treasures that day lifted me. They reminded me that great beauty lived in the very small things that we collect in our days. Not just the tangibles like those tiny little socks, but also the intangibles; the sounds, the smells, a smile or a feeling. The collection I had displaced from my pockets pulled me through my daily haze to see what that collection represented. Love, joy, hope …..everything that mattered. I decided that is was not the vomit on my pants but the M in my pocket that would define that day.
In the years following that moment I created a ritual of emptying my pockets at the end of each day and lifting my spirits with the day's collection. My pockets became my sweet reminder of what it is that I do all day. Once on a rare and much needed night out I stood with friends enjoying a glass of wine and wearing a pair of jeans I had worn all day having managed the day without being vomited on. As I chatted and put my hand to rest in my pocket I felt its contents. I instinctively pulled them out and opened my hand showing a pink stiletto Barbie shoe, the hair from a Harry Potter Lego guy (Mr. Dursley's hair to be specific), half of a Lego Star Wars Clone Trooper light saber and a "special" rock found on the walk home from school; four tiny treasures. My friend who had no children at the time stared at the contents and looked at me blankly. She saw pieces of plastic and a rock. I saw my day. I saw the look on my son's face when he got his first Star Wars Lego, I heard the ridiculously high pitched voice my daughter would use when playing Barbies and the feel of the marvelous little hand that put a sparkly rock into mine for safe keeping. I listened to the conversation around me and heard no one speaking of why three year olds are such liars or which car seat converts best to a booster. I took a deep thankful breadth and hid my pocket treasures away. At that moment I made a silent offering to the gods of aging. An offering of thanks for pockets and for the 4 gifts I had been given.
I have a strange affinity for pockets now. As a stay at home mom, jeans are my uniform. They are my own version of the wrap-skirt. I don't purchase them for the size of their pockets as my build does not carry off Captain Kangaroo very well but thankfully they always have 2 pockets in front and 2 in back. I love coats with big pockets, fleece with pockets, and purses with pockets.
I went shopping with my mother last year. We walked slowly arm in arm looking at all the racks and talking about my kids. As our eyes moved to one side of the aisle we both spotted a cute jacket at the same time and we sang out loud, "Look at the pockets!" in perfect unison. I squeezed her tight and knew that I did not need to make any more offerings to keep her crazies from becoming my crazies. I knew there was nothing about her I was afraid of becoming a part of me.