The Weight of a Backpack
I met her after school today, because even though her play date was ninety percent confirmed, sometimes first grade days don’t unfurl as planned. Today, though, everyone was smiles and giggles, and I kissed her goodbye with an offer to unsnap her backpack from her back, to take it home with me. She declined.
I didn’t think about the backpack when I dragged two bikes upstairs from their winter home in the basement. I wheeled hers down the street, helmet dangling from my fingers, as I watched Dylan ride ahead. His legs worked at the pedals, his knees so much closer to the handlebars than they were in the fall. His voice carried on the wind, and I noticed the squeaky grinding of his training wheels and wondered if we should oil them or remove them.
He reached her first, announcing himself with squeaky wheels and jubilation at riding through the wind, and I chatted with my friend while he slid comfortably into the last few minutes of the play date. She squealed with joy at the site of her bike, and I still didn’t think of her backpack. Three bodies flew around the cul-de-sac on bikes, and I inhaled still-cold air and only thought of her bag when my friend retrieved it from inside the house.
I slid it over my shoulder, ready to carry it home, while they cut through the evening air with pumping legs and laughter.
Instead, she pulled it on her shoulders, snuggly clicking the chest strap over her jacket. They rode ahead, weaving between each other on the street.
I chased them, wishing I’d worn running shoes instead of rain boots, and yelled their names to call them closer to the curb. We let cars pass once, twice, three times, our rambling ride coinciding with the commute home for many drivers. Only as we moved deeper into the neighborhood did I relax and let them ride far ahead.
Her hair streamed behind her helmet as she pushed her legs harder, faster against the wind. She stood on her pedals, and her sure, strong legs moved confidently, the butterfly backpack bouncing a little against her back. I lost my breath in that instant, noticing the way it seemed like she had always pedaled so smoothly, like she had never teetered between training wheels nor wobbled to find her balance without them.
I jogged to catch them, wondering how they could stretch the distance between us so quickly.
As the road sloped upward, she paused, her breath quickening. When she unstrapped her backpack and handed it to me, I gladly shouldered it for the remainder of our journey home, grateful to share the weight of her day until we returned home.
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