The Empty Backpack: a Story of Early Childhood

Our youngest started preschool earlier this month.  It’s his first formal stepping stone into the world of learning, three mornings a week for under three hours.  Because his birthday falls right after the September 1 cutoff, this little guy will have three full years of preschool before Kindergarten, so we wanted to start him off slow.  Plus, I just really dig his company and like him with me.

So three mornings a week I have been bringing him to his new school and then pick him up two hours and 45 minutes later.  Snacks and water are provided by the teachers.  Toys are discouraged to facilitate the children connecting with one another and the classroom.  In a nut shell, I have been sending my youngest kiddo off to school with just himself and a sun hat, as each day involves outdoor play and my guy hates the bright sunlight.

The kiddos each have a little cubby outside the room with hooks and small nooks for coats and boots, etc.  My boy’s has remained empty while most of the others were holding brightly colored pint sized backpacks.  I would chuckle to myself seeing the little back packs, wondering what was inside them.  My boy never seemed to notice he didn’t have a back pack of his own, so all was good.

Enter auntie and her generosity.  This weekend she came by for a visit and brought along a belated birthday bag full of treats, the favorite of which was an R2D2 back pack that both lights up and makes sounds.  My boy loves it. Of course.  I mean he loves it.  He doesn’t want to take it off.  He is so damn proud of having a back pack, being a big boy, having a place to go, and it even gives his little cubby some new swag.


How did I miss all this?

As a mom, I was thinking practically, not developmentally.  If there is nothing to put in the back pack, why get one?  Done and done. And if it’s not even offered, how do I know if my little kiddo even wants one?  I never asked, so I never knew.

Parenting is an exercise in humility.  When I saw my little guy’s face light up at the sight of that back pack, I melted.  When our mornings became focused on where the “R2 pack pack” is and what is inside him, I see a boy learning and growing and finding his way.  Even as that back pack hangs empty in its cubby, it has taught me so many parenting lessons.

Being rooted in practicality can be a good thing, but damn, the toddler years are an immersion exercise in whimsy, creativity, and imagination.   Wonder and excitement and living in the moment are just as vital to a life well lived as maturity and responsibility.  I need to remind myself that this is my last time at the toddler rodeo, so I best enjoy it.


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