Back to the Backpack: It’s not Just What’s Inside)

by Jessica Haney on September 6, 2011

I am a backpack slut.

If I’m with the kids, chances are my fashion statement is circa 2007, and I privilege even and aligned shoulders over style. If I’m not wearing the baby on my back, that’s where her diaper bag goes.

When I informed my husband that my son’s school requires all students have backpacks, he shrugged that my little Eagle Creek pack was just the boy’s size. I recoiled in horror at the prospect of losing one of my precious¬† bags. True, I didn’t much use it once my son was potty-trained. But now that I have another one in diapers, I love that little pack. If we need more snacks or multiple changes of whatever, I take its bigger sister, which I also bought at REI.

These are the only bags I’ll mention at this time, but rest assured they are not alone in my closet.

As we counted down to the first day of kindergarten, I knew I needed to get my son a pack that could fit his lunch and some other stuff. It was my intention to purchase something well ahead of time. A 2009 Land’s End backpack guide is sitting in my office right now, just waiting for me to crack it open.

I never did order one with his name or initials monogrammed, and I didn’t want to send him out with the lion backpack my mom got him that has both his first and last name. That just seemed creepy. His lunch bag didn’t fit in either that or the Dr. Seuss backpack I bought 4 years ago at a consignment sale or the other backpack my parents got him before the lion one.

No, we needed something bigger. And newer. And suddenly it was the Sunday before Labor Day. Oh, and there were supplies to be purchased, too.

So I searched my cluttered email In box for “Staples” and came up with something about 50% off all backpacks. Score!

To the red awning I went with my boy and his baby sister, ready to meet all the other procrastinating parents in Northern Virginia. There was a Reebok bag for $56. Um, no. There were bags with icons and prints I didn’t want to see around my house. There were bags bigger than my kid.

And then I found a black one with paint splatters. He tried it on and liked it. I liked the price tag: $11.99. Sold.

Later we went to REI and saw a nicer one he rejected. The next morning we went to Whole Foods and saw the cute Skip Hop line of kids’ backpacks boasting no PVC, no Phthalate, no BPA.

Duh. How could I be so conscious about the safety of other containers and not pay close attention to the backpack?

But my consumerist son strangely didn’t bite. Not upon seeing the elephant and penguin, or after trying them on. They looked so much, well, safer and snugglier than my Staples cheapo. But I didn’t want to force something else on him and send the message that he’s probably gotten from me already; if at first you don’t like, buy, buy again.

At home, I gave the paint-splattered one a closer look. Made in China, and boy did it stink. I put it outside to offgas and wondered why the heck my son didn’t want a cute animal over the one channeling Jackson Pollock forced into an 80s nostalgia palette of purple, white, pink. And teal.

Last time I placed an order, I didn’t see that ReuseIt.com has a fair trade bag. I didn’t give myself enough time to look around online and find other safe and responsible alternatives, like the options at Squidoo or the lines profiled in this blog. Maybe I could have found him something better on Freecycle or at a consignment sale. Not only does he see me buying on a whim at the last minute, but he’s seeing me buy crap.

We’ve only had one day of school. This toxic bag can’t disappear just yet. But I am going to do some more thinking and try to have a better alternative waiting in the wings. You know, just in case something unfortunate might happen to the splatter one.

When she’s not toting her kids around town or making regrettable buying choices, Jessica Claire Haney blogs at Crunchy-Chewy Mama.

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