Teresa’s Dora the Explorer backpack made its stage debut last weekend. The backpack is nothing special, as backpacks go. Preschool-sized, plastic and nylon, with a big picture of Dora and Boots, her monkey-sidekick — Target must have sold thousands, because I’ve seen them at playgrounds all over the city.
But it is special to Tess, because it’s hers. When the big kids get their backpacks to go to school, she packs hers up and pretends she is going off to class. She was so excited when she got it that she wore it the entire evening.
So when Caroline asked if her school could borrow the backpack to be a prop in their production of “The Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Teresa was understandably reluctant.
We talked about it: We talked about how she would get it back after a few days; how her sister has very generously given her all kinds of things, and even lets her play with some things she still needs; how if something happened and the backpack got lost, she could get a new one; how it’s generally a good idea to help people out if you can.
And Teresa decided it would be OK to lend her backpack — until it came time to actually let it go. Then things got loud, as she wrapped her arms around it and screamed “My backpack! My backpack!”
We pried it from her hot, sticky hands, promising she would get it back (or get a new one) and life returned to what passes for normal, and I got to thinking about her outsized reaction to the temporary absence of a small backpack.
Normally, I don’t make my kids give up their possessions to one another. Highly encourage, yes. Insist, no. But this time, she had already agreed, and I’d already told Caroline she could take it, and the fact is, Teresa doesn’t have much practice giving her things up. As the youngest — by far — she has toys the other kids are simply not interested in, and most times, they’d be perfectly happy for her to take her toys and go away. Most times, she cares not a whit for the toys and would rather have their attention. But having to give something to someone else — someone who was going to take it out of her sight — was beyond her comfort zone.
Maybe it’s time to encourage her to lend or give away more of her things, since she doesn’t have similar-age siblings to take them away. The Gospels tell us to travel light as we make our way through this world, not to get too attached to our possessions and not to let them possess us.
And next time, I’ll remember to take the backpack right when she agrees to let it go, so she has no time to reconsider.
Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.