My husband and I are getting ready to go somewhere. He is, of course, prompt and prepared. I am not.
I'm stuffing last-minute items into my pocketbook (already bulging at its worn seams), looking for the only comb that works well on bad hair days, and searching for somebody's business card I need.
But the bottom line is that I cannot imagine walking out of the house empty-handed — or shouldered, especially in a holiday season when shlepping is raised to a fine art.
Besides my shoulder bag, I also usually carry some sort of tote. (I blush to admit that at last count, I had 14 of them, mostly tokens from vacation trips or college reunions or remnants of what our daughters or grandkids have left behind. I even carry a tote that suggests I'm a member of my granddaughter's middle school soccer team.)
There is usually a rescue tote with the accoutrements of a woman's life: necessities like a pressed powder compact, lipstick, and blush, and, on occasions of state, mascara and an eyelash curler that makes my husband wince because it seems to him like a torture device.
Another tote holds my sneakers and rain hat and snack food for sustenance. My latest addiction is a product called Belvita, a kind of cookie-cracker. Preferred flavor, cinnamon.
If it's a car trip of more than 30 minutes, I must take nibbles: fruit, which, alas, can get messy. A bagel. And on indulgent days, peanut M&Ms. "Something for the road," as my mother, also a bearer, used to say.
Then there's the "return tote," which has abundant evidence of mistakes I've made and crumpled sales receipts that later have a way of disappearing while the impatient store clerk glares.
If public transportation is involved, I must have several magazines and a book. For reasons I can't fully explain, I seldom reach for the reading material, choosing instead to stare at the people around me and eavesdrop.
When I'm desperate, I carry just a plain old paper bag with things in it.
I couldn't tell you with certainty. Sometimes, it just serves as an adult security blanket I drag with me in case I run out of other options. Other times it's a legal pad, a throwback to the years when my husband's world was the law, and those unmistakable tablets seemed to multiply in the dark of night. If I happen to have a brilliant flash of inspiration, I can note it the comfy old-fashioned way, "in my own handwriting."
Women, I earnestly believe, are bearers. We cannot conceive of walking around without something to carry.
Maybe it's the carryover — literally — from the days when we held babies and diaper bags in our overworked hands and arms.
Maybe it's just that as instinctive nurturers, we always need to be prepared.
What constantly puzzles me, though, is that men, including my husband, move through the world unencumbered. I've done informal surveys on city streets, in suburban malls, even at resorts. And 22 men will be swinging their unencumbered arms, while the only female you're likely to see doing that is under the age of 8.
Sure, men in business suits can carry handsome attaché cases. So can women in those suits.
But women also generally lug things that enhance the lives of others.
As far as I know, no social scientists are poking around this small phenomenon of our culture. I suspect that no well-funded government research project on the subject of who carries what is underway.
But I leave you with this thought:
If you look at women through history, it's a lesson in resilience. Come what may, we do indeed carry on.