“Oh, my Godzilla! You still have that mutant suitcase?” my friend said, mouth agape, when she saw my packed luggage -- specifically, my soft, flimsy but impossibly huge gray suitcase. “When you bought it, I was sure you’d be stopped at the very first airport you dragged it into and have its contents searched for smuggled acrobats.”
To be fair, it could probably hold a handful of contortionists quite comfortably.
The mutant suitcase has tracked a lot of miles. It was purchased after the birth of my first child, when hauling luggage, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag and a wriggly baby through a cramped airport made my skin crawl with anxiety. This felt impossible with even just one suitcase, so no way could it be done with two. Yet now we had so much more stuff! We had beloved stuffed animals, a pharmacy’s worth of medication and enough diapers to survive Armageddon. Nothing could be left home, because you could never guess what the baby would need the next day, the next hour, the next minute, the next second. But two suitcases? No, two would not do. So in came the purchase of the mutant suitcase.
It stands in stark contrast with Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, which inexplicably holds a hat stand, a large mirror, a lamp and a tree. My suitcase looks as if it could hold all of that and more. To fill it with less would be an insult. The suitcase, like the monster it resembles, can gobble up all.
Depending on the airline and the distance we’re traveling, the size of the bag has gotten us into trouble, but far more often the weight is the problem. And depending on the size of the rental car and the number of passengers, the weight of the bag has gotten us into trouble, but far more often the size is the problem.
We’ve had to rearrange and take out and shove in and collapse the flimsy sides. But without fail, it’s all been worth it to have everything contained in one spot.
Or, I should say, it used to be worth it.
The past few times I have traveled, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. The bag is just as full as it ever was, the diapers and changing pads and stuffed animals replaced with early reading books and large jackets and, well, different stuffed animals. But now when we are repacking to return from our trip, I am consistently shocked by the number of items I packed that we did not use.
No longer do I have the excuse of babies, who need no fewer than 87 outfits for a three-day trip, lest they vomit all over everything. Nowadays, with a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, I should be able to pack properly for the place we are going and the number of days we will be gone. Yet just going away for a weekend wedding trip a few weeks back had me lugging the behemoth bag home again with half the items inside unused.
It’s time I admit something rather upsetting about myself: I’m a bad packer.
Before kids, I prided myself on my superb packing skills. I could stuff everything I needed into a small backpack and take off for a year. But I realize now that what I’m good at packing is nothing. Want to live off air? I’m your gal! Want a pair of jeans with a chic well-worn look? Borrow mine! I haven’t taken them off in two months!
It was the perfect packing/poor packing of a privileged position. I had a home elsewhere that could store my necessities. I was young and untethered. I needed only to consider my own body. So packing was an act of minimalism.
Then I had a kid and bought the mutant suitcase.
Packing for the holidays, I’m thinking I should take out the swim jacket I keep around just in case my kid suddenly forgets how to swim and, ya know, the snow outside melts enough for it to be pool weather. Maybe it’s time to remove the penguin-shaped ice packs and the camel-shaped heating pads and all the other just-in-case-of-a-slight-discomfort animal-shaped supplies. Perhaps I should no longer calculate the number of days we’ll be gone and pack triple the number of shirts or, dare I say, omit the extra toothbrushes.
Who knows? It may even be time to ask Santa for a normal-sized suitcase.