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I’ve just spent an hour online looking at messenger bags with my son. When he was getting ready to start high school, we bought him a new bag, a more “grown-up” looking bag, a messenger bag that could hold his laptop and all his books. He carried it proudly to school, slung over his shoulder with all his school supplies carefully stowed in all of the pockets.

The shoulder strap began to separate from the body in less than a month.

So I took it back and bought the next one up in price (and, I hoped, quality). It seemed tougher. It seemed as if it would do the job.

In less than a week, a metal hook that held a strap had broken.

He can still carry it, so he’s been taking it to school while we awaited a replacement, purchased online since we’d given up on the local options by this point. The replacement arrived today.

And is going back tomorrow, as it’s too small. So that brings us up to the present moment and the hour spent exploring other options.

It feels like a metaphor, this bag. You enter high school with high hopes, and lots of stuff to carry. Then you get more stuff, and you can’t actually carry it all. Your schedule starts to burst at the seams. Some things go undone — you just can’t fit them in the bag that day. Two weeks ago Nick got sick, and he missed a week of school with bronchitis. He missed, in fact, the week just before the end of the first nine-week marking period. When he got back to school, he had that week’s work to make up — and all the end-of-term projects were due. No wonder the bag broke under the strain.

Cross-country season ended on Saturday. Nick earned a new personal record despite missing almost two full weeks of practice (the week he was sick, and the week he spent catching up on homework). Now he’s gearing up for a winter sport, and a new set of projects in the second nine weeks. And now he can tell by looking that the bag is too small.

We’ve ordered a new bag. And I’m hoping he’s got it right this time, and that this is the one that will carry him through high school. My daughter still has her high school backpack; last time she came home for a visit, it was her carry-on bag. At a certain point in high school you get there—you figure things out, and you know what you need. It could still take a while, of course; we may be working on this project for weeks, months, or even years. But at some point he’ll have a book bag that works. And then, maybe, it will stop feeling like a metaphor and be just a bag. 

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