ODE TO KATE SPADE/PURSES
In honour of Kate Spade, I am opening up my purse. Will you open up yours?
by Paula M. Toledo
Every year for Christmas, I don’t know why, but I would buy myself a purse and give it to myself from ‘Santa’. As all parents know, we have to gift ourself something otherwise, our kids start to ask questions about Santa’s judgement.
A few days ago, on our drive to school, my eight year old son asked me straight out if I was Santa. I made a pact to myself that I would always be truthful to my children, so I confessed.
He was silent for quite a while, but then beamed with delight, ‘Now I know mom…”.
I looked in my rearview mirror and saw his sparkly eyes. Like a lightbulb backlighting his new discovery he was eager to share his insight. “That’s why every Christmas Santa gives you a purse! It’s because YOU are Santa! And you love purses! Why do you always want a new purse anyways Mom? Why do you need SO many purses?”
I told him that purses are very important to women. They are more than just fashion. Purses hold a woman’s life in it. I explained to him that women carry them around no matter where we go. When he was a baby, my purse carried his diapers, his bottle, snacks, toys, wipes, a little first aid kit. It also contained my own first aid kit: my lipstick, Advil, cel phone, a pen and paper (in the event I met a new mom at the playground and wanted to exchange numbers and more importantly, ‘coping with newborn’ tips).
I told him that maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but all these things helped me to feel safe.
I was left alone to care for my newborn and two year old son, when their father, my late husband’s Mental Illness, and rapid onset into a Major Depressive Episode over-took him, leading to his suicide. In those early days, my purse was my life-raft. It helped me to feel confident, connected to the world in a way that reassured me that I and we were going to be okay.
My purse became my badge of honour. It was with pride that I slung it over my left shoulder. I was not going to succumb to my despair. Forever imprinting itself into my physical armour, it became an extension of my body. Like heavy fruit dangling from my arm’s branch, it weighed my left-side down to the point where it re-shaped the way I presented myself. My body adjusted itself to all the ways that were necessary to carry my fruit. As most woman can attest to, the emotional security that comes from the advantage of carrying your portable life-in-a-bag, far outweighed any physical discomfort. For me this sense of security was vital.
I said to my son, “You see my love…I couldn’t take care of both you and me without my purse. My purse is like my best friend, because no matter what the situation, it always keeps our best interests in mind.”
I went on to explain that his age was inversely correlated to the size of my purse. As he grew bigger, my purse got smaller, because I didn’t need to carry around so many things. I swapped his diapers for a smaller and more fashionable tote bag to carry snack containers, bottles of waters, matchbox cars, tissues, sun lotion and larger Advil containers.
I remember the day when I realized that I didn’t have to carry any more kid’s things in my purse. Sure the odd bandaid and Epipen for my eldest who has allergies to peanuts, but overall, my purse was 98% about me. I was my own woman again. I remember this day with clarity as I felt so free. So liberated. Walking into a high-end department store I bought my first Kate Spade purse.
My Kate Spade helped me to identify with who I had become as a woman.
Similar to my purses, I too have changed. My belongings and what they represent to me, separate from being a mom, are significant. Upon buying my Kate Spade, I instantly felt that I got a piece of me back. I became re-acquainted to that woman again, the person I was before I gave my whole body, soul, and sleep to my little seed, my little magnificent human.
A purse says a lot about a woman. It is not just an object but a sacred space. One NEVER goes into another women’s purse without first asking. Likely, because what she holds inside it is golden insight into what fruit and sweetness she derives from life. Or perhaps, secretly the un-ripened fruit she is carrying around that weighs her down. More often than we know, many of us represent the latter, owning a heaviness that we feel too ashamed to share, too fearful to unload.
Within our purses, as women, we all have our own chaotic versions of ourselves vying for space. Between bandaids and Epipens, Advil bottles and tissues, loose dimes and nickels, lay the dust and lint lining our purses. Significant too, in that there is no perfection, regardless of who we are, what we do for work, what walk of life we are a part of, we all have that dirt that collects in between the soft leather seams. We are all doing our best to carry our portable-lives with us, and there is undoubtably a messiness that comes with it.
I don’t know if Kate Spade ever thought of her own life and her contribution to other women’s lives this way. She is a part of us, who we are collectively as women. For through her vision, creativity and work ethic, she has helped so many of us to feel safe in our worlds. I am deeply saddened by her suicide.
I am opening up my Kate Spade in honour of her, out of respect for her family and love ones who I offer my deepest sympathies.
Also symbolically, may no other woman (or man) ever feel as though they can’t open up their own purse - to show our dust, lint, our dirty imperfections because this is what it means to be human.
May we always feel safe and open to share our strengths and more importantly our weaknesses - our human conditions, our experiences with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness, so that our lives can once again be shared and treated with the same integrity and compassion that women often show each other. Whether it be swapping notes at the playground, sharing tissues, offering Advils to dull PMS symptoms, may we help each other cope with the day-to-day struggles of what it means to be a woman, a mother, an entrepreneur or whatever we are that makes us a woman. Help to crush the stigma surrounding mental illness and open your own purse and share.
If you are in crisis, there is always help and support. Call your local Suicide Hotline.
With love, Paula M. Toledo