I can't tell you how many times I have had to read the first chapter of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and for all its description, and I don't care how many writing teachers tell me otherwise, it does not do the book justice.
It did, however, have me pondering the significance of what I lug around. I am fighting wars of other kinds, and the contents of my purse do reveal most of them.
The fight against old age: moisturizer, lip gloss, hand cream. My cosmetics, hastily thrown in, betray not only the war against stereotypes in culture (that I am trashy if I don't make myself up at least a little--but not too much because that's another kind of trashy) but the war against myself, the constant struggle against my ever four-year-old id who would prefer not to wash her face or get dressed.
There are the scissors and gluestick that I keep to ward off the hyperactive whiny-cry-ies from my two young sons--tools which we actually used during the Christmas Eve service because the program apparently needed a red-lopsided star, cut from the crimson oaktag remains of a gift card backing, glued over the stable graphic on the front. Surprisingly, these tools also emerge when I have surrendered, at least for the time being, in the battle against what I consider to be unrealistic expectations for young children in public and a general lack of empathy on the part of everyone--my children need to try to be quiet for the sake of those who would like to listen just as we young and middle-aged need to allow our seniors spots in the front where they can hear and on the aisle so that they can move and adults in general need to allow for a little wiggling on the part of youngsters because their bodies can't just sit still all the time but the practice, in small doses, teaches them to become well-behaved. But when I have dismounted the cavalry of my independence-doesn't-justify-lack-of-empathy high horse, my sword becomes safety scissors, and my children begin the war against the cuttable (and it is surprising what, in fact, is cuttable with safety scissors).
Out comes the Children's Benadryl for the war against allergies and runny noses, hand sanitizer to fight the germs, moisturizer to fight the dry skin left by hand sanitizer.
My stash of coupons waits to fight the scourge of inflation and nickel and diming (although I generally end up buying the generic brand which is still cheaper than the name brand after coupons). Change lurks in the corners and along the seams to escape the reconnaissance of my coin-loving five-year-old. My keys, separated to prevent my locking the house key in the car, routinely alter their positions to thwart my search for them. My cell phone sentry perches in an upper pocket. A screwdriver waits in reserve at the bottom. You never know when you'll need one.
My wallet, devoid of cash, yawns in the center section, crammed on the sides with receipts, store coupons, discount cards, and children's memberships. Bubblegum bribes line one pocket while dum-dum suckers line the other. I'm never sure who the dum-dum is after I hand them out, but if I can be a moron in silence, I'll take it.
There's a note of encouragement from an anonymous friend that I read and reread when I'm not sure where the next battle will take me, and old grocery and to-do lists, filled with my hopes for the day and my husband's suggestions, remind me where I've been. Scrawled on scraps of paper are numbers of friends with good advice and business cards of people who will listen (or vice versa). A pocket New Testament hops in and out--certain young hands snatch it for the motorcycle on the front cover (a reminder to me that Jesus was unorthodox and also that there might be something to "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance").
And, thus armed, I am ready to leave the house...or so I believe until I remember what I've forgotten.