You are here

Preschool: No Backpack Necessary

Maggie Cheung

I know I shouldn't do this. My mother has told me not to do this. My kindergarten teacher sister has recommended I not do this. I have told myself not to do this every time I think about the first day of preschool, but I ignore all of those voices and chase after my baby. I follow him down the hall. I say, "Let me help you with your coat! Let me show you!"

All I can think about is backpacks. I'm standing in the little entry way of our new preschool, my son in his way-too-big raincoat deathgripping my hand, the other parents milling around like this preschool gig is no biggie, the teachers talking but I can't hear them, and kids - so many, many kids. And they are wearing backpacks. All of them. All except for Jack. 

He has a backpack, but it's at home. It's at home because I had no idea what he would DO with a backpack. It seemed silly to send him to school with an empty backpack. Besides, his teachers didn't mention a backpack at orientation, and they specifically requested that the change of clothes be stored inside a gallon-size plastic bag. Which is what my three-year-old is carrying instead of a backpack. 

So I am standing there thinking: how did I manage to turn my kid into the Dork Kid Who Wears Generic Jeans And Brings A Stinky Homemade Lunch on the first day of PRESCHOOL? 

Jack doesn't seem frightened (or humiliated by his mother), just a little tense, and he sure doesn't want to get in the line the teachers keep suggesting he join. A line? What's a LINE? Finally he obeys, handing off his plastic Ziploc full of clothes to the nearest teacher, and looks at me anxiously. I drag Molly over and make sure he gets his goodbye hug and kiss. "We'll see you soon!" We are both so brave, I think.

But it's so chaotic, or at least it feels that way. Maybe it's only chaotic in my head. I can't tell what the other parents are doing, I can't see the teachers or the other kids, all I see is my teeny tiny little boy trudging down the hallway without me. Somehow I hear the teachers tell the kids to hang up their little coats on the hooks, but my kid isn't even halfway down the hallway. He's alone. Will he know where to put his coat? Does he need me? Is he mortified that he doesn't have a backpack? 

I know I shouldn't do this. My mother has told me not to do this. My kindergarten teacher sister has recommended I not do this. I have told myself not to do this every time I think about the first day of preschool, but I ignore all of those voices and chase after my baby. I follow him down the hall. I say, "Let me help you with your coat! Let me show you!" 

There's another mother there, so it's okay. I'm not the only one standing outside the classroom door. I'm not the only one who's nervous. But my boy, now he's anxious and clingy. The other children - I see them now - they are all sitting on their spots on the carpet. A little semi-circle of professional preschoolers. My brand new preschooler is hooked onto my leg. He's no longer a little tense, he's figured it out. I'm leaving. He's staying. This is not good. 

So many times I encourage him, I coax him, I try to leave. He just gets more upset, more panicky. He's doing the kind of whining I can't stand to deal with in public. And then, oh God, he starts to wail. I feel like I'm pretty close myself. 

Molly just holds on tighter. She is never allowed to go to preschool. 

The teacher smiles at me and puts a hand on my boy. "Will you let me pick him up?" she asks me, which I think is the strangest question in the world. Of course she can pick him up. Of course she can do something to fix this because I, the woman who left the backpack at home and followed the child to the classroom when she knew that was the worst thing to do, am obviously not helping things. She picks Jack up and he cries harder. His arms stretch out, reaching for me. The teacher says, in this soft, amazing, solid voice: "We'll just take a little walk around the preschool. Look around. Check out the playground. Maybe peek inside another classroom. I'll call you if he keeps crying."

I pick up Molly and leave before I burst into my own tears. I barely make it to the car. My eyes fill the entire way home and I get so upset when my mother doesn't answer my first phone call. I talk to her eventually and she makes me feel so much better. I text a friend who's going through the exact same first day. Another friend visits and doesn't appear to mind that I'm half-listening, half-furious with myself about the backpack. 

I leave Molly with my friend so I can pick up Jack on my own. I'm nervous, even though I know I'm being the cliched Nervous Mom and oh I hate being a cliche. But whatever, I AM nervous and I stand around foolishly outside, waiting for his little face. When it finally shows through the door, it's sporting a huge smile. He has a picture in each hand. He wrote his name. He used blue and orange and pink, his favorites. His teacher says, "He stopped crying two minutes after you left. He did wonderfully."

She talks and talks and I try not to cry again and Jack tells me about the castle and the play dough and the watercolors and Teacher Holly and Teacher Nancy and then - this is the best part - he throws his arms around each of them before we leave, planting a giant kiss on each face. They melt, and even if they are melting for my benefit, I can't be more proud. 

Before I take him to the car I turn around and say, "Can I ask a really stupid question?" 

The teacher says, "There are no stupid questions," which is a nice thing to say, even if we both know she's totally wrong. 

"Backpacks," I say. "Does he need one? We have one! He can bring it next time. I'm sorry he didn't have a backpack."

She looks at me and shrugs. "Only if he wants to bring one. It's not necessary. I prefer if the kids bring clothes in a plastic bag I can keep at school."

And you know what that means? It means I at least got that part right, and you know how important it is for me to get something right. Jack chats nonstop in the car and I feel the blood returning to my face and I start thinking about what to make for lunch and what I have to get done during nap time and we are all looking forward to going back to preschool on Thursday. 

comments