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Backpack Spills Out Crumbs of Child's Life

July 18, 2022
mother and child with backpack holding hands walking to school

By Patricia Gagnon, Manager of Internal Communications at Baystate Health

Past the blinking red lights of the yellow school bus, my son Neil comes running. It's been seven hours since he stepped lightly onto the bus, plopped himself into one of the backseats and gave my husband and me a thumbs up and a wave as he went off to kindergarten. Now he's home. His shirt is untucked, his pants a bit baggier from play, and he has these mysterious green and orange paint smudges on his palms and shirtsleeve. Now comes our ritual.

"How was your day?" I ask. "Good," he replies monosyllable. "What did you do in school today?" I ask, always hopeful for more than a one-word answer.

"Nothing," comes the standard reply. He slides his backpack from his shoulders, catches it with one hand on the way down, swings it lasso-style over his head and releases it so it flies through the air and lands with a thud in the grass of our front yard. I look at the green lump of a backpack eagerly. This magic sack holds valuable clues to just how my son has been spending the minutes he has been away from me.

Before he began school, I'd known just how he spent his day. I witnessed firsthand how he reacted to new skills he accomplished and his frustrated reactions to the ones he didn't get right away. I knew how people treated him and how he behaved to them in return. Now the time spent at school is recorded in a remote part of his brain that's very hard for a mother to reach. He just doesn't come out with lavish stories full of detail and animation as I'd hoped.

Enter the prize backpack.

It's amazing what you can learn from its contents. I would venture to say it's like looking into a crystal ball. I'm not saying you have to be a forensic scientist, but if you look carefully beyond the permission slip for the upcoming field trip and the used book drop-off flier, you'll be able to learn more about your child's school day than you ever thought possible.

There are literally "crumbs" of information to be found. For example, today, the pretzels I had put in his lunch were sitting unopened at the bottom of the backpack. "Didn't you like the pretzels I packed for you?" I asked. This prompted Neil to flash back to lunch that day. "I don't want pretzels, Mom," the truth came tumbling out in a rush of words. "I want Cheez-Its like Amanda. I don't like the crusts on my sandwich and I don't want jelly with my peanut butter - it looks like Jell-O," he finished by crinkling his nose. That unopened pretzel bag led to a very informative conversation on how I could make my son's lunch a more enjoyable, albeit less nutritious, one.\

Sometimes a note from a school friend in his backpack will prompt a memory of what he did at recess or who got picked "special student" for the day and got to put a rain cloud or sun on the weather board. Other times it will prompt strange incomplete medical reports like "you know what Mom? Patrick hit his head on the wall and had to go home." Little bits of sparkle glitter in the crevice of the backpack will be enough to jar stories from the projects table.

One time I pulled out a musical note cut out of construction paper and got treated to a song I'd never heard before, complete with sign language. "There's a light in me, there's a light in you, whatever language you speak, whatever your point of view" his sweet little voice sang.

I love the little flashbacks these backpack contents bring, the window they provide to this mom. Perhaps my child doesn't realize how I treasure every single drop of information he leaks out. The joy and pride I get out of each of his experiences, interactions, and accomplishments. His little green backpack is the next best thing to being there.\

I pull out the last item from his pack; a colorful painting of an orange dinosaur walking over green hills. Aha! The mystery of the green and orange splotched hands and shirt is solved. What an invention that stitched up piece of canvas is they call backpack. It's not just a way to transport books and lunches, it's also a way to transport a mother, however briefly, into a special time and place in her child's life.

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