A Purse Problem


Everyone has something they’re obsessed with... something the mere thought of losing makes them crazy... something the actual loss of would cause the world to fall off its axis... Something they would do anything to protect.

Mom’s item of insanity is Purse; noted here as a proper noun reflecting it’s disproportionate significance in her life and the fact that Purse is virtually a family member... the one Mom actually loves best... the holder of all information and possibility... the smart one and the prettiest.

Mom knows the exact location of Purse at every moment of every day. It’s never more than four inches from her right hand... like a holstered firearm waiting for the credit-card-quick-draw... never knowing when an opportunity to rummage through its contents might arise.   

So important is Purse that upon pressing her Life Alert, and with the arrival of the fire department, police, and EMTs, and with Mom’s head gushing blood on the living room floor, her first words to all present were “Where’s my purse?”... So important is Purse that when Mom comes to my house for movie-night (29 steps away) Purse must journey with her... So important is Purse that it attends all backyard social and gardening activities... If Mom’s house was on fire, Purse would be the lone item saved.  

Management of Purse in Mom’s apartment is simple... it hangs on the arm of her chair or sits conveniently next to her on the couch. It’s in exiting her home that Purse-problems prevail. Tethered to a walker, Mom can no longer dash back to retrieve Purse if momentarily forgotten; it is now my job to maintain vigilance as to Purse’s whereabouts and to ensure its presence at all times... to make sure Mom is never without.

I’ve understood the importance of Purse over the years; an active woman with four children has a lot of shish to carry. But, as a 92-year-old woman living 22 out of every 24 hours a day, 350 out of every 365 days a year, in a 980 square foot apartment - what could possibly be in there that’s so important? (I ask, every time).    

Despite my keen ability to predict the question, I am rarely able to just roll with it; my need to prove her purse-problem being much greater than my aim to please.

Geesh Mom... do you really need your purse to go next door? I have Kleenex and cough drops at my house...

Yes, she still needs it.

So let her take it, you say?

I do... mostly. But there’s always more to my frustration than meets the eye...

Although Mom changes Purse from time to time, she’s developed an affinity for an ocean blue, macramé net number with a knotted strap (enhancing manageability), and a broken zipper (from overuse, no doubt). Second by second, I watch Mom’s barely bendable thumb and forefinger fight with the zipper nub for a full minute. As difficult as it is for Mom to physically close Purse, it’s exponentially harder for me to watch. Seeking to balance senior-empowerment with self-preservation, I typically give Mom the full minute... then I grab that sucker and yank it closed. Zero patience. Bad daughter.

Ok... I admit, even at 92, Purse’s contents are important; the wallet alone is a veritable life-saving device containing her Blue Cross, Medex Gold and Medicare insurance cards, her photo id, her credit card, and the telephone number of every person she’s ever known... and a comb... and cough drops... and Kleenex.  

Perhaps, as with so many other things in life with Mom, I need to reframe my thinking... to walk in her shoes for a minute and gain some perspective.

Like Mom, I carry a purse (hardly worthy of a capital ‘P’) which is generally in close proximity. Unlike Mom, however, losing sight of my purse is rarely catastrophic... unless it’s holding my cell phone... and then!!!, all hell breaks loose.  

The reality is, my smartphone is my Purse equivalent; an extension of my person that I absolutely cannot live without... the most important item in my life... the one thing that, if lost or misplaced – even for a millisecond - I Iose my mind and the world as I know it ceases... it’s the lone item I would go into a burning building to retrieve.   

So, I understand... I really do.  

Sunday is Mother’s Day and I had no idea what to get Mom – until now. Clearly, she is in need of a new purse. I doubt if I’ll be able to find an ocean blue, macramé net number, but I’m pretty sure I can find something she’ll like... something with a zipper that actually works.