It took us almost two weeks to realize that the diaper bag had been stolen.
In Seattle, apparently having one’s car broken into is a rite of passage, an initiation into the club of people who really live here. And a few weeks ago, we finished our transformation into full residents. We’ve taken the bus, endured a grey winter, and had our car burgled while it was parked behind our house. It happens, everyone—from family to insurance adjusters to police—says with a shrug. You move on.
Move on we did, tallying the multiple pairs of glasses and watch without its charger that made up this grand haul. We mused that the two carseats and Ergo carrier were actually the most valuable items in the car, but that perhaps the black market for stolen carseats was less than productive. We collected some insurance for the lost items, replaced the glasses.
And then we noticed that the diaper bag was gone, too.
I don’t recall what was in it, except for diapers, but whatever it is will surely be a disappointment to the thief who unpacks it. The bag itself, though, was valuable enough. We got a nice one, a Timbuktu messenger bag with bright green, bicycle-print lining and one of those removable fold-out pads that turns any table or, um… sidewalk into a changing table. We bought this one because it was a gender-neutral black, and because we wanted to be able to use it for something else once we were done with diapers. (Though honestly, some days I’m not sure we ever will be.) I remember our excitement when it came, a few months before our first daughter was born. This is it, we thought, we can have a baby now. We have a diaper bag.
Except, I soon learned, I don’t really like them. Diaper bags. They are big and clumsy, an extra item to drape over my already-laden arms. I went to a few places with a purse, a diaper bag, and a carseat before I declared that enough was enough. This thing didn’t even fit under the stroller, and there was no way I was carrying a messenger bag and pushing a stroller through down. We were never gone for longer than a few hours. We needed at most what… three diapers? I crammed said three diapers, along with ten wipes, a burp cloth, and some diaper cream, into a spectacularly gaudy old cosmetic bag, and called it good.
My diaper bag now fit inside of my other bag, or in a hiking backpack, or under the stroller, or wherever else I wanted to put it. I was a happy girl. And I still am, because through four moves to two continents, with a handful of strollers in between, I still have the same ridiculous little bag, serving its purpose just fine.
With many professions—nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers and the like—there is nuance and texture beyond the job, important identity shaped around not just your specific title, but also how you execute it. If you’re a nurse, it’s important to know that you’re a pediatric nurse, yes, but also what kind of nurse are you? Are you chatty or reserved? Amiable or businesslike? Though I “became” a high school English teacher the moment Seattle Schools started paying me to teach high school English, it took several years for me to sort out the rest of it, what kind of teacher I was within the broad array of options available. To be honest, that has changed with the seasons, with the two schools where I worked, and as my students changed. I’ve been many teachers, all of them with strengths and weaknesses.
It took me a while to realize that motherhood was no different. Yes, there was an instant that made me a mother. But the rest of it, the interpretation of this role, has taken time and, for better or worse, some exploration. For me, it can be tempting to craft this identity on the basis of comparisons, real or online, to try to fit a role by accumulating possessions and experiences that will make me look and seem the part, even if to me it all seems like a game of dress up.
I’ve learned that the better way is listening to other women I respect, and paying attention to the broad, interesting spectrum of Excellent Motherhood around me. Knowing that our contexts, our children and our personalities are wildly diverse, I’ve come to not just accept but to celebrate that my interpretation may be different than hers, but I’ll learn a lot if I watch and listen carefully. Other parents, for instance, rock the diaper bag in organized and prepared ways that impress me to my core.
“You’re part of this too,” my sister told me the other day, as we were hanging out with my daughters, casually watching other parents and kids interact at a playground near the zoo. For an instant I bristled, pulling up objections about how I didn’t have this or that, the leggings or the snack pouches or the whatever. But she didn’t mean it that way, that we were wearing the uniform or feeding everyone the rations of 21st-century childhood. She meant it as an affirmation, pointing out our one uniting factor. You’re all parents. You’re part of this. You, too, in your sundress and Chuck Taylors, are a mother. And it’s fine that you don’t all look or act or see alike.
It’s even fine if your diaper bag gets stolen and you don’t miss it at all.