Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to the basics

My daughters try to put on their 20-pound backpacks without falling over backwards while preparing for school Tuesday morning, October 20th. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

It’s not often that I feel sorry for kids in middle school. I mean, for the most part, I’ve been there and done that.

Puberty? -  Yeah, so what.

Pimples?  - Get some Stridex.

Broken heart? – It’s part of growing up.

But there is one thing today’s 11-13 year-olds have to deal with that is completely foreign to me – the 20 pound, scoliosis-inducing, bursting-at-the-seams backpack.

At some point in the last decade or two, the backpack has taken over as the main means for transporting everything but the kitchen sink to and from school (and judging by the weight of my two middle school daughter’s backpacks, I’m thinking the kitchen sink might be in there as well).

My oldest girl is an 8th grader, my youngest a 6th grader. They’re still growing - I think - it’s hard to say since various Jansports, Eastpaks and Swissmades are constantly pulling them downward.

The heft of their packs has gotten to the point where I’m beginning to fear for their health.  Since elementary school, their backpacks have continued to expand, even as their spinal cords have compressed. My great grandfather was hunchbacked from a life of hard labor - my daughters are becoming hunchbacked from a life of hardcover books!

Every morning I have the unenviable task of making my girls lunch and then trying to somehow smash the said lunches into their backpacks. Some days I just give up and hand them their lunch. Most likely, those are the only days they eat what still resembles an actual sandwich. On the days when I do manage to cram their lunch sacks into their backpacks, I’m pretty sure the contents have been smashed into some sort of peanut butter and jelly, potato chip, and granola bar paste – yummy!

How bad is it? Well, let’s just say they can’t even fit their backpacks in my car anymore; they have to throw them in the trunk (along with musical instruments, gym clothes and extra shoes). To them, it’s embarrassing enough they have to be driven to school by their old man in his Ford Focus, imagine how they must feel when that Focus is doing a permanent wheelie down the road and throwing sparks off the back bumper!

I suppose the backpack was a good invention. But maybe we’re starting to take advantage of the dual shoulder strap idea. Just because you can cram a lot of stuff into a backpack doesn’t mean that you should. If my girls manage to survive middle school without suffering a herniated disc … or just a plain old hernia, they may be equally suited for a career as a bricklayer, or a competitive weight lifter, as they are for college.

How their backpacks have even managed to stay intact is beyond me. I would have bet my life that a zipper or two would have given out by now. At the very least I figured the shoulder straps would have ripped at the seams. Amazingly, none of this appears to be true. 

Still, despite their strength and diversity, I’m left to ponder how helpful the backpack actually is to mankind. I had one as a camera bag for several years … and I hated it. Sure, it made it easier to haul my camera gear around, but just try and actually get to any of it – nearly impossible.

Overloaded backpacks also have the undesirable visual quality of looking like a diaper in desperate need of changing. Not only that, but backpacks sadly have cut into the natural social order of middle school boys by depriving them the opportunity to carry a girl’s books home from school.

If that’s not reason enough to find an alternative way to haul books, I don’t know what is.


  1. I don't understand why schools don't make it MANDATORY for every child to have the backpack on wheels.... if it was mandatory, nobody would think it was 'nerdy' or whatever, and it would save our kid's backs. Write to your principle, demand some kind of action. My son's school gave the kids a set of books to keep at home, and every classroom had a book in the desk that never left the class. Good Luck!

  2. LOL @ the line about what it deprive boys!! That would take a Herculean effort for him to manage to carry his amour's backpack along with his own!!

    Being a girl once meant being considered 'dainty'. With backpacks like that, girls are now AT LEAST as strong as the male classmates!! No wonder they feel so empowered ... because they are powerful from lugging their school books!!

    p.s. Beautiful girls, Lon!!

  3. What happened to the school locker? I can remember bringing one or two books home, but not a whole backpack full.

  4. Yeah, I usually brought only one or two books home. The rest stayed at school.

    For many years, I carried a backpack instead of a purse. When I finally stopped doing that, my Mom told me she was glad, because she was afraid I was going to get a hump. !!!!