The mom bag


1997. My wife, two stepsons and I are preparing for our first trip together. It was to be the first major vacation of any kind for the three of them. She has decided that everything must be accounted for, and two weeks prior to our departure, clothes and other items are starting to assemble in small but ever-growing piles. Shorts, socks, shirts and new toothbrushes. Two weeks of clothes to wear being stacked up and organized.

I thought she was nuts. Having mastered the shower-pack-and-out-the-door-for-the-weekend-in-under-thirty-minutes maneuver, I wasn’t planning on having anything out until the day before we left. But, supportive and helpful I was in those days. So, when asked for the carry-on bags and luggage, a red backpack was placed with the supplies.

“What… is… that?”

“My carry-on.”

“It isn’t really going with us, is it?”


“No, really, it isn’t, right?”

Eventually, concerned with other things, the red backpack got past her and was allowed to make the trip. Off to Florida.

During our first few days moving from theme park to theme park, the backpack offered bottled water, cameras, sunglasses, gum, and maps. It held purchases. When I pulled out three sweatshirts one evening as the temperatures dropped, my wife looked stunned.

“You’ve had those with us all day?”


“We’ll buy you a new bag when we get home. That one’s dirty.”

1979. I first learned about the mom bag in September. My parents made a family vacation type of outing an annual summer tradition. It usually involved camping with friends, or a trip in the northeast section of the United States such to places around New England, Pennsylvania or New York. Never very far from our home in Rhode Island, although to the kids in the back of the station wagon, it was always far enough.

This 1979 trip was big time though. Disney World. A full week. During the school year. And as the family strolled around the Magic Kingdom, mom was the center of attention.

“Mom, do you have my hat?”

“Mom, can you hold this for me?”

“Mom, dad says you have the film.”

And on and on and on.

Where did mom keep all this wonderful stuff? In one of those big, canvas, shoulder bags… a square measuring a foot or so, and capable of comfortably holding more than a large suitcase. It became known as “the mom bag,” and it joined us from that trip on.

1986. Syracuse, New York. I start carrying my life around in a blue backpack. It was used for my books. It was used it for weekend trips. The backpack was a book bag, overnight bag, camera bag, laundry bag, and shopping bag. Heck, since I put my walkman in it when I strolled between campus and my apartment, the backpack was even a stereo. During four years of college, the only change was replacing it with a red one of the exact same style for my senior year. (Yes… yes… a red one that would be around, though much dirtier, roughly seven years after my senior year.)

Over the years I’ve also had a slightly different “mom bag” of sorts as well. It’s a drawer at my desk and a file on the computer. It’s the place I’ve put dated material, unfinished pieces, and works in progress. The place where things get stored because there’s no time to work on them or they just don’t seem to be developing right. The place where stuff goes when one or more markets have passed on them, or when rejection letters have been returned concerning them, or I just can’t revise them one more time.

From that physical bag in 1979 to the figurative bag of 2003, so goes the progression to In My Backpack – the web site. The material may not all be gems. Some of it may interest visitors to the site. Some of it won’t. But it’s stuff that I’ve pulled from those drawers and files. Stuff stored away in my backpack looking for a place and just waiting for its time. And when the night gets chilly, or the kids get thirsty, or someone has to carry that stuffed animal you had to buy, the backpack is ready.

The mom bag lives on. Some have tried to remove its place as a carry-on or replace it with alternatives over the years, but it always gets packed. And the material I’ve written has a home.

For now, these days, I’m the keeper of the bag. Lugging it and its contents around. It’s not that heavy actually. And I hope that if you need it (even if you’re just looking), you’ll find that there’s a sweatshirt or two here that fits.


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