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From 1985, when my first child was born, until 2000, when my last child turned four, I was rarely without my diaper bag. For those of you who don’t know, the name is deceptive – a diaper bag carries so much more than diapers. It carries a change of clothes for the child, and sometimes for the parent as well, snacks such as Cheerios or graham crackers and juice boxes, wet wipes, books, toys, ointment, sunscreen, plastic bags for dirty clothes and/or diapers, and of course the parent’s wallet and keys so as not to carry a second bag for those items. A good diaper bag also has a mat for putting baby on while you’re changing the diaper – mine was built in to the bag itself, just unzip a couple of zippers on the sides and unfold it.

From 1985-2000 I was rarely without my diaper bag. There was only one time in all those years that I took a trip and forgot it.

My diaper bag actually looked more like this one than the one in the featured image. And while mine had the little side pocket that the featured bag has, it never had a baby bottle in it, because my kids never drank out of bottles. They went right from nursing to using a sippy cup. Actually I think I put my car keys in that pocket so I could find them easily. But when I saw the turquoise print pattern, I thought it was so cute that I couldn’t resist using it. (I would definitely have bought it if I were still in the market for a diaper bag!)

There was only one time in all those years that I took a trip and forgot the diaper bag. I think it must have been in 1988, when I was pregnant with my second child and my oldest had just turned three. She was more-or-less potty trained during the day, but wore diapers at night, and still had occasional daytime accidents. We were flying from California to Florida to visit my parents, which is a long time to be on a plane, especially since you aren’t supposed to use the bathroom when the seatbelt sign is on.

Anyway, we were taking lots of bags with us, and my husband and I were both carrying things out to the car. We closed up the trunk, put Sabrina in her car seat, and headed off to the airport. It may have been while we were still driving that I realized the diaper bag was missing. I floated the idea of turning around and going home to get it, but we hadn’t built in any extra time, and there was a good chance we would miss the flight if we did that. So off we went to Florida with no diaper bag.

I don’t recall any accidents on the plane, so I guess we were able to get her to the bathroom when necessary (probably regardless of whether the seatbelt sign was on or not). I don’t know how we kept her entertained without any books or toys, but we must have come up with something. She was undoubtedly carrying the stuffed animal du jour, whatever it may have been, so maybe she occupied herself with that. Maybe they showed a movie on the plane. Almost everything in the diaper bag was duplicated in the suitcases, so once we arrived and unpacked we would be mostly okay. The main things we were missing were Sabrina’s vitamins and fluoride pills. The vitamins were easy enough to replace – I think they were Flintstones chewables and they were available everywhere. The fluoride was by prescription only. Although my father was retired, he had kept up his medical license, so he just wrote a new prescription for fluoride and we were able to fill it there. Thinking about it now, he was a New Jersey physician writing a prescription in Florida for a patient who lived in California, so I’m surprised it wasn’t a problem, but it wasn’t. The fluoride pills looked and tasted a little different though, and I can’t remember whether she was willing to take them or not. Even if she didn’t, one week without fluoride would not have done any lasting damage to her teeth, but I worried just the same.

After all three kids were old enough that I no longer needed a diaper bag, I carried various different types of purses. Some with lots of compartments, some with none, all with a shoulder strap so I didn’t have to hold it in my hand. Eventually I figured out that I didn’t need most of the stuff I was carrying, and ditched the purse altogether.

For the last few years, even before the pandemic, all I have carried is my keys in one pants pocket and my phone in the other. Affixed to the back of my phone is a gold-colored faux-leather envelope that holds my driver’s license, one credit card, and my AAA card. For a long time I only had my license and credit card, but then my tire blew out and I couldn’t call to have someone come and change it because I didn’t have my AAA card. I had to ask my husband to drive the other car over to where I was (luckily only a mile or two away) and bring his card. So now that’s in there too. I find that I really don’t need anything else.



Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Suzy, and a great education to someone who was until now clueless about diaper bags — though my former wife and I certainly traveled (somehow) with diapered babies for several years. Least of all, I never considered that a diaper bag would be used for carrying so many non-diaper items.

    That said, you’ve done a marvelous job of paring down your bags and what you put in them over the years. You are clearly Retro’s answer to Marie Kondo! However, as you’ve now learned, you should always carry your AAA card. Contrary to Amex’s slogan, that is the one card you should never leave home without.

    • Suzy says:

      I bet Ellen carried a diaper bag in the years your children were small, although maybe it was styled to look like a briefcase. Nobody can leave home with an infant or toddler without all the things I named in my first paragraph.

      If you saw my house, the name Marie Kondo would never enter your mind. I keep *everything* but maybe that’s because it all sparks joy. And when I go on a trip (I vaguely remember what those are), I take a lot more than keys and phone, of course. But not for going out around town.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Good point about the diaper bag, but I must amend your comment to read: “I bet the nanny carried a diaper bag….” Then I would agree with you.

        And yes; I know enough about Marie Kondo to know that, as long as what you keep “sparks joy,” she’s fine with it. May you continue to be so sparkled!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah, the diaper bag! That was a great carry-all for kids back in the day and absolutely necessary. When you began your story of the flight from CA to FL, I thought it might end in doom, but it worked out fine. I felt relief.

    You have become very economical in what you carry when you leave home. I am impressed! I wish I could be more like you. I have vetted a smaller wallet recently, but still carry far more. I must continue to evaluate.

    • Suzy says:

      It is possible that the flight from CA to FL was more difficult than I remember, and I just repressed it, but there’s nobody to ask – Sabrina wouldn’t know, and Barry is no longer with us.

      I’m guessing that for trips around town you probably don’t need most of the things you carry. Definitely keep evaluating.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    It is impressive to watch families juggling all the accoutrements needed for an outing with little kids–the strollers are also modern wonders of packing. Your story reminded me of getting little ones ready to go outside in wintertime, and then of course they need to pee, and all the layers have to be undone and redone. Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t substitute for all those necessities. Organizing everything does keep the executive functioning in the adults strong however.

    • Suzy says:

      Since I raised my kids in California and we only traveled in the summer, I never had that experience of bundling them up and then having to undo all the layers. I did have a stroller too, but it was just one of those umbrella strollers that folds up to the size of an umbrella.

  4. Marian says:

    This is a great bag, Suzy, and not having had kids, I didn’t realize that the diaper bag served as a “purse” for the parents. I admire how you adjusted the one time it was forgotten. Like you, I have largely weaned off real purses as a result of the pandemic, but still carry more than shown in your last picture. Working on it!

    • Suzy says:

      Now that I think about it, during the pandemic I have also stuffed a mask in my pocket in case I wanted to enter a store that required them, but mostly I was just outside so didn’t need it. I guess carrying a vax card may be necessary now, although I think there is an app to put it on your phone.

  5. Now Suzy you have me wracking my brain to remember if I ever had a diaper bag! I must have as I had a child who wore diapers and we surely traveled with him and changed him when needed!

    But in recent years I remember getting the perfect baby shower gift for young cousins – a New York Yankees diaper bag! It was the only shower gift the expectant father got excited about !

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember the diaper bag era, Suzy. That was a time when my compulsion to have everything I might need when away from home was indulged. I wish I could pare down my stuff as much as you have done. I would probably be fine.

    • Suzy says:

      With small children, it’s essential to be prepared for all emergencies. I suppose it’s the same with grandchildren, although I would hope their parents could carry whatever is needed.

  7. Oh, that sinking feeling when you realize you left an essential item behind! And on a transcon flight! But, as with my glasses, you made it across the great divide without disaster. You’ve described the diaper bag thing with great detail, making the whole outfit seem quite attractive. And I do admire you for being able to travel with keys and a phone. Brava!

    • Suzy says:

      Traveling with just keys and a phone is for trips around town. For overnight trips I need more, but I do have a very nice smallish suitcase that fits in the overhead bin and holds everything I need even for the longest trips.

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