A Mom’s Sadness is Carried in a Fifth Grade Backpack


A girl standing next to her backpack.It all started with ordering a backpack for fifth grade.

In our family, backpacks (am I the only one who calls them bookbags?!) are only purchased every few years, so our kids know to select a durable one in a print that will be “cool” for more than one season.

I knew the one we’d be ordering for my daughter this year would need to follow her to her first day of middle school next year. I could feel my heart breaking at the very thought.

I talked up L.L. Bean and Jansport, trusty brands I had proudly shouldered to carry my textbooks and binders (and adolescent drama) throughout middle and high school. My daughter proclaimed, “They’re nice, but they’re not really my style.”

She ended up selecting a subdued yet colorful backpack from Pottery Barn Teen. Teen. Yes, I know that the word is just marketing and that she still has three more years until she is an actual teen, but there went my heart. I texted my friends with all the sad-face emojis.

Two years ago, I devoted an entire post to why “I’m Not Sad” that my “children are growing up.” I have to eat some of those words now. I am most certainly sad. And afraid.

On the first day of school, I heard another first-timer fifth grade mom say, “I hate everything about this day, but I’m happy for them.” How could we think and feel any differently?

These same babies, who had gripped our hands when we first entered the building all those years ago, were already leaving us behind. On that first day of fifth grade, we watched them walk away from us, accepting that they no longer wanted us to accompany them to their classrooms. They were the big kids on campus, and all we could do was follow their backpacks as they moved through the crowd. 

Their teachers are already readying them for the bigger world of middle school.
Within the first month, they had a more mature lesson on 9/11.
Information sessions about the different programs they can apply to for middle school are taking place too soon.
Later in the year, they will have lessons on puberty.

I’m not ready for my oldest to leave the cocoon of elementary school. I’m not ready for her to leave behind the place where she grew into herself. There is too much of her housed in that building. I am scared thinking about any single drop that she may leave behind. I want her to pack up all of the little pieces of herself and carry them forever.

But I know that is not possible. A backpack can only carry so much.

She cannot carry her younger brother, who has shared the building with her for four of the six years. She cannot carry her younger sister, who will be starting kindergarten.

She cannot carry some of her friends who will be traveling to different middle schools.

She cannot carry the simplicity of playground recess or the innocence of class parties with Valentines and cute crafts.

I know she can and will carry the memories in the beautiful soul she has grown into, but my goodness, it hurts to know she is flying away from the cocoon of elementary school.

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Maria F
Maria F. is a high school English teacher who naturally finds herself reflecting upon the routine and randomness that accompany each day as a working mommy. She relies upon humor and some sort of chocolate or frozen treat as survival tactics. She and her husband live in East Norwalk with their three kids, Abbie (2012), Charlie (2014), and Phoebe (2018). You can find Maria F. driving in her beloved dream car, a minivan, listening to audiobooks during her commute, or playing DJ and climate controller when she’s shuttling her kids around town. Forever a sorority girl and Ohio State Buckeye, she will (almost) always choose socializing over chilling on the couch.


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