In the beginning, there was the diaper bag.
It was made of vinyl, and no matter what any designer did to disguise it, it was still a vinyl diaper bag. Ours was covered with teal-colored elephants, so there was no doubt to anyone that it was not my purse or my weekender travel bag, but that it was there to serve the youngest among us. It contained everything we needed to feed, change, entertain and care for our baby—everything short of an actual nanny, although it was big enough to hold one.
We lugged it around for years until our toddler outgrew it, passed it to his younger sister as a back-up, and promptly replaced it with the preschool tote bag.
It was then I realized that, rather than marking the growth of my children with penciled lines on the wall, I was registering their growth by the size of their bags.
The Preschool Tote Bag phase lasted for three more years. It was launched when my son entered the house with a bright purple bag personalized with his handprint and name — in paint that was still wet — so this phase was marked on the kitchen cabinets for a while, along with the name of the girl he had a crush on. The smeared purple tote bag took him until first grade and to many a grandma sleepover as well. Soon his sister had one, too.
Something about that gloppy gel paint made me smile, and those bags grew on me as they hung around in the closet, signaling the Stage of Carefree Childhood.
When the kids hit primary grades, the Backpack Era began. My son and daughter started wearing backpacks, but they were little adorable ones that came with matching lunch bags covered with fire trucks or daisies, or packs that were fashioned to look like zoo animals. We had a turtle with a zippered shell, and a ladybug, I believe, but my favorite was a lion with a mane made of yellow tassels. These were backpacks so cute and lunch boxes so clever that I used to play dress up with them myself.
They were artfully camouflaged so that children were duped into wearing them for fun. Little did we know that these were actually training packs, because our kids would be lugging backpacks to school and beyond for the next 25 years of their lives.
Sure enough, as soon as the children moved from preschool to elementary school, the bags dropped the cute decor, sprouted wheels, and went industrial.
In middle school, though the bags were heavier, wheels were not cool, and my kids would leave for school each day looking like they were embarking on a three-month trek across Europe.
When the day came that their backpacks were too large and heavy to meet the carry-on standards of an airplane, I knew that my kids had arrived in high school.
Once they hit college, they were in fact embarking on a three-month trek across Europe, and their backpacks were fitted accordingly.
Each school year ended with the ripped and tattered remains of nylon, and I retired the remnants, thinking of their increasing size, my kids’ growth, and how far we’ve all come since the smeared purple tote bags and the vinyl diaper bag.
The lion-shaped bag still rests on the top shelf of the twins’ closet, as a reminder of the days when kids and packs alike were small and playful.
Yet even now, bags are still marking rites of passage in our house.
Those would be the bags under my eyes.