With exactly a month before school was to commence again, my younger daughter approached me with her own school supply list that included just one thing: A bodacious backpack.
“I want it to be zebra print and rainbow plaid. I also need pockets for my umbrella, my pencils, my lunch bag, an extra pair of shoes, a water bottle, a kite and a phone (hint, hint).” Clearly, she had spent her entire summer vacation thinking about this backpack. “Plus,” she added, “I want it to have one strap that goes across my body or over my shoulder or it can be shortened like a hand bag that I swing as I walk like this.” Then she demonstrated a catwalk strut that would guarantee her another week on America’s Next Top Model.
Thinking it would take us only a quick jaunt up the road, we headed to our local mega-huge department store to try on backpacks. We checked the back-to school aisle first. All of those were too princess-y, too boy-ish, too small, too plastic, too hard, too soft, too babyish and too medical. Don’t ask. I pointed out a primary-colored zebra-striped design with an across-the-chest strap that came with a matching umbrella and lunch box. Without saying a word, my little quester crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, slowly shaking her head left to right.
“You don’t get it, Momma.”
With hope still brimming from my not-yet-weary heart, we ventured to the sporting goods department where she pronounced every single one of those backpacks “Too off-grid.” What did that even mean?
“Momma,” she sighed, “Don’t you remember my description? My heart knows what it wants.”
“Does your heart know where to shop for it?” I sighed right back. I picked up some cap erasers (because you can never have enough of those) and we left the mega-huge department store and headed to the uber-popular department store at the strip mall. I just knew we’d find something worthy there. And we did—it’s just that none of them we were worthy of belonging to my backpack elitist.
What we found were backpacks that were too second-grade, too blue, too cowboy, too gangster, too complicated and too country club. Again, what was she even talking about?
“What if we never find my perfect backpack, Momma?” my little shopper asked with a catch in her voice.
“We’ll find a backpack,” I soothed her, “but it may not be exactly what you’re looking for.”
“Then what’s the point, Momma? What’s the point?” She posed a good question.
As we stood in line waiting for our Icees and popcorn, I explained to her that I didn’t even have a backpack until I went to college.
“How did you carry your books?” the little skeptic asked with her hand firmly planted on her hips.
Demonstrating how I held my books, which looked very much like I was holding an invisible baby, I explained, “I carried my books in my arms.”
She sighed, “Don’t be so dramatic, Momma.”
Over the course of the day, we went to a sporting goods store, a high-end department store, an Italian restaurant and a pet store—just because.
Our quick jaunt up the road turned into an eight-hour expedition going from store to store in search of the ever-elusive perfect backpack. At the end of the day, my feet hurt, my eyes were crossing, and I was ready to sleep off my lunchtime pasta feast. I offered my little backpack buff $100 if she’d agree to carry a plastic grocery bag every day. She dropped her head in exasperation.
“What if,” I offered, “You just leave everything at school? You never bring home anything anyway.”
She sniffed, “My back would be naked.”
We walked to the car hand-in-hand, and I promised her we’d look some more before school started. I swore to her that I really wouldn’t make her carry the plastic grocery sack. I also promised to stop telling her stories about my backpack days, even if I believe it to be very important for the generations that follow to understand just how uncool it was to wear your backpack straps over both shoulders.
Before heading home, we stopped at the mega-huge department store for some toilet paper, and we found it—a primary-colored zebra-striped design with an across-the-chest strap that came with a matching umbrella and lunch box. Yes. It was the same one I had pointed out 5,000 grey hairs earlier in the day. “It’s perfect, Momma!”
One day she’ll wonder why I cry at the sight of backpacks.
Heather Davis is an Oklahoma momma, a writer and a former lover of school supplies. She blogs at www.minivan-momma.com and is the author of TMI Mom: Oversharing My Life.