The diaper bag: No mom ever leaves home without it, no kid ever leaves it alone. At first glance, a diaper bag is simply a bag -- something flung over a mom’s shoulder, stuffed with diapers, bottles, and Cheerio crumbs. But isn’t a diaper bag so much more than that? Truly, perfect diaper bag execution is a coveted skill; and once you’ve got it down, it all changes again.

We bring you The Life Cycle of a Diaper Bag.

Stage One: Pre-Baby Fantasy

In stage one, the diaper bag sits pretty by the door. It is small, compact, and generally disguised as a purse. It isn’t really used yet, just ready to be thrown into action at a moment’s notice. It’s still crisp and clean, with sparse contents divided into appropriate pockets or separate, stylish zipper pouches. Contents generally include a single diaper (maybe two); a hard case of perfectly folded wipes; an extra pacifier with the protective case still in place; and a small collection of wooden teethers. The stage-one diaper bag is photoshoot-ready, a sight to behold.

Stage Two: Postpartum Reality

The stage-two diaper bag is the same bag as the stage-one bag, but it has moved from fantasy to reality. Naturally, having been sent into battle, the diaper bag has now suffered the wear-and-tear of being tossed from car to stroller, from the counter to the ground, from Target cart to grocery basket, and et cetera. Having learned many lessons the hard way, the stage-two mama has appropriately restocked her bag as follows: no fewer than five diapers and an entire jumbo pack of wipes; three extra pacifiers thrown in at random, protective cases be damned—just lick ‘em to clean ‘em; two changes of clothes and corresponding “wet bags” (aka, old plastic grocery sacks); a bottle with the formula already in it, even though it’s supposed to be stored in a separate container; and three noisy, horrifically bright plastic rattles that make excessive noise inside the bag, but can never be found when needed.

Stage Three: Reverse Carpet Bag

First off, mourn the loss of the stylish purse-like diaper bag; that dies with stage two. Stage-three moms have upgraded to some horrendously large number, bound and determined that they’ve morphed into SuperMoms and will be prepared for anything. Sadly, this is where stage-three moms get tripped up because stage-three diaper bags are actually infinite voids. They are very Mary Poppins-like, a carpet bag quality—it’s amazing what fits in! The problem? Nothing ever comes out.

A stage-three mom still needs to pack her diaper bag for each outing. She will ask, “Do I have diapers?” But rather than check, she’ll add two more. She’ll forget to ask, “Do I have wipes?” and will need to wet paper towels in the gas station bathroom after discovering that the wipe pack had a tear and all the wipes are dried out. And every day, snacks will be added but never fully consumed. At any given moment, a stage-three diaper bag could contain a half-finished cup of now spoiled milk; two crushed packages of puffs; an open container that once contained cooked peas (which are now stuck to the darkest corners of the bag); and one of those disgusting mesh pouches with what used to be fruit inside. Having learned that spoons and keys and candy bar wrappers are much more entertaining than toys, the stage three mom stops loading rattles into the bag, but judging from the sound, there’s still pieces of an old one floating around in there somewhere.

Stage Four: False Freedom

After the one year mark, the diaper bag moves into its fourth phase. Certain that she now has a toddler, not a baby, a stage-four mom makes the horrible mistake of downgrading too early. When it comes to diaper bags, the only law is Murphy’s Law, so if you don’t have it with you, you will absolutely need it. But you know what? Despite this having happened to every stage-four mom in the history of the world, babies have still been raised into adulthood. (This is the first indication that freedom is coming.)

Stage Five: Interim

Stage five looks very different depending on where you live and how you get around. Stage five is less about keeping your small human fed, clean, and alive and more about keeping them entertained. If you’re a city mom, you learn to stash a multitude in your stroller, thus the diaper bag shrinks. A city stroller always contains a bucket and shovel; a blanket; bubbles; a small ball; child-size sunglasses ; a sun hat, which will never be worn but makes a mother feel better to have it; and rain gear. If you’re a suburban mom instead, you can keep these things in your car since they are obviously too large to fit in any version of a diaper bag. Which is exactly why stage five is the transition phase—you might still need a lot of gear, but you start finding different places to put it.

Stage Six: Portability

By stage six, the moms have woken up and realized that they need some life back too. They’ve spent nearly two years toting around the needs of some other human, and they start to wish for unbroken sunglasses or a chapstick that doesn’t have small teeth marks in it. Stage-six moms will declare freedom from the diaper bag and go out to purchase something purse-like again. The timid opt for the canvas tote; the committed spring for the leather satchel. Whatever your level of risk, it’s important to realize that, a new bag doesn’t actually free you from diaper bag responsibility. You’ll still need to leave the house prepared. But by stage six, you’ll also want to be able to leave the house without kids and without having to switch out of the diaper bag. Thus, enter the diaper pouch —a snazzy mini-bag that can hold a diaper or a pull-up, some wipes, a snack, emergency crayons, princess Band-Aids, and hand sanitizer.

It’s safe to say that after you’ve lived a diaper bag life, you’ll probably never really grow out of it. After stage six, you might be able to get away with no diaper bag; but you’ll be so accustomed to having cheesy bunnies and first-aid supplies, that you’ll feel lost without them, kids or no. The life of a diaper bag is fleeting, in the grand scheme of things; but really, the spirit of the diaper bag lives on.

Image via HATCH Collection's Anti-Diaper Bag.