All the parents of babies and toddlers carried diapers, wipes, diaper cream and changes of clothes. There were also Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, water bottles, sippy cups, toys, pens, paper, loose change, a pocket knife, subway tokens, three Starbucks Rewards cards, lip balm, lotion, Band-Aids, disinfectant, more Band-Aids, emergency pacifiers for nuclear-grade tantrums and Band-Aids. Some parents carried cloth diapers and a wet bag as well as the heavy liberal guilt for preferring disposable diapers. The parents of potty-training toddlers had all the same things as the infant set, but also big kid undies, six Ziploc bags and five additional pairs of pants. Many carried food stains and spit-up on their clothes, though they didn’t know it.
They carried their kids in all the ways you can carry a kid. They carried them in their arms, or in baby-wearing slings, or on their shoulders, or slung like a sack of potatoes over their backs, or upside down by the ankles as a game, or at arm’s length so the tantrumming feet didn’t crotch-blast them.
Parents of small children carried food. More food than you could imagine, all ready to be ignored or rejected by the children. Everyone carried cheddar Goldfish, even if they said they didn’t, often hidden in a box of Annie’s organic cheddar rabbit snacks. Crunchy parents carried organic applesauce and snide remarks about other parents’ snack choices. Many parents carried Pirate’s Booty, which was just cheese puffs with a good reputation. They had snacks for themselves like granola or trail mix, and coffee. Always enough coffee that you could measure it most accurately in liters, and strong enough to both wake up Lenin and get him through an episode of Curious George.
Every parent carried a smart phone that weighed anywhere from 3.95 ounces up to 6.2 ounces. More importantly, the phones also contained a thin, electronic tether to the adult world as weightless as a WiFi signal but amazingly thick with pictures, updates and videos that made another trip to the park bearable. This lifeline weighed as much as one’s sanity, which meant it weighed nothing even though it felt like it was occasionally slipping out of their grasp.
Few carried more than the new moms. They carried all the normal things in their unstained diaper bags but many more things as well. Many new moms carried a nursing blanket to help strangers feel good that they avoided seeing a breast used as God intended. The new moms carried spare nipple pads. Many also carried both the disappointment of birth plans gone awry and a sense of guilt that they weren’t enjoying being a mom as much as they thought they would. They carried exhaustion and fear and naivete with them, and also the ignorance that it really would get better eventually. Many new moms carried strong opinions about stuff that experienced parents had stopped carrying years earlier: the importance of sleep-training methods, homemade baby food, and the exact tracking of developmental milestones. Many mothers carried the guilt that they weren’t at home while they worked and the guilt they weren’t working while they stayed home, despite their preferences.
When out by themselves, the fathers of breastfed babies carried insulated coolers with ice packs that weighed 12 ounces and bottles of breast milk that weighed exactly 4 ounces each. To warm up the bottles, they carried thermoses of 200-degree water that weighed 32 ounces and were warm to the touch. All fathers, whether breast or formula feeding, wore ironic T-shirts that weigh 5 ounces each and baseball caps that originally weighed 3.2 ounces and now weighed 4 because of the dried sweat. The stay-at-home dads also carried dinosaur-like gender roles that implied they really should have been at work, so they made small talk about what they did part time or used to do before staying at home. Dads’ hugs still carried the same weight as moms’ do.
Most parents of small children carried folding strollers that weighed 35 pounds when lifted out of the trunks. The BOBs weighed 23 pounds, but cost twice as much as the ubiquitous Graco, and the BOBs parents carried a sense of superiority over the poor Britax parents, and a sense of inferiority to the yes-a-stroller-can-cost-that-much Bugaboo owners. The Stokke strollers weighed 39.8 pounds and cost over $1200, but those parents didn’t care how heavy they were because their blonde, Russian au pairs were the ones who took the kids to the park.
They carried seasonal things like sweaters and galoshes, sunscreen and hats. They carried books to both read and color in an ER waiting room. And they knew that whatever they needed could be found in the great American treasure trove of Target or Amazon Prime.
The parents of older children didn’t carry diaper bags, but they often carried bikes that could weigh 25 or 30 pounds. Or bags of athletic equipment filled with leotards or lacrosse sticks, pads and cleats, balls of circumferences ranging from 1.7 inches up to 2 feet and weighing anywhere from 4 ounces to 1.1 pounds. They had practice schedules and homework assignments carried in their minds and phones. They also carried large yet weightless worries about the kids’ cliques or spelling abilities.
All parents carried opinions about the parenting wars. Breast versus formula. Co-sleeping versus cribs. Progressive discipline methods versus spanking. They carried these deep in their brains even when they thought they hadn’t picked them up in the first place. Accompanying all these opinions were often their own mothers’ voices. Despite their best efforts, every parent carried their own childhoods with them still.
The parents of teenagers no longer ferried their kids from school to playdate to library or soccer practice anymore. They hadn’t carried a spare set of clothes in years. Snacks no longer had to be finger-food sized and absent of grapes or honey. The parents eventually stopped carrying their kids’ things too and could feel their empty arms rise softly with freedom after years of material responsibility. But these parents carried other, heavier fears: of kids piloting cars that weigh 3000 pounds or more, terrible boyfriends and college tuition bills.
All parents carried both the immense love for, and immense irritation with, their children. They all had started by carrying the simple loves for infants and the more difficult loves for toddlers that they desperately wished to tie to a chair and muffle—just so they wouldn’t have to hear a meandering yet overly detailed analysis of the last Clifford cartoon. Parents carried the joy of younger kids that were still needy but also old enough not to run into the street when unattended: These parents stopped carrying the expectation that they would hear the screech of brakes whenever they got another cup of coffee. They hopefully carried the dented, strongly earned love for their kids after wrestling through the teen years. And they carried the light, immeasurably heavy chains that connect fully grown, independent adults to their parents.
And even then, they all knew they would never be at a loss for things to carry.