I was poking around in the archives looking for something and found this story from 2009. Given that we’re creeping up on back to school time, not to mention the enduring family fascination with Pokemon, I thought it would be a good story to re-share. Heading into high school next month and he’s still a Pokemon fan!
Way back in early summer, Tristan saw a Pokémon backpack at Walmart, and every time the subject of back-to-school came up this summer, Tristan pined for that Pokémon backpack. He was due for a new one, as his Disney Cars one had held up remarkably well through both Senior Kindergarten and Grade One, so I had no problem with him getting a new one this year.
I was picking up a few things back-to-school items at Walmart (I do try to avoid it, but sometimes the siren song of convenience and cheap are hard to resist) one day, and saw the backpack with which he was so enamoured. I reached out to pick it up, and knew the moment I touched it that it was crap. It was thin, plasticky, and looked like it would fall apart in a hard rain. It was only $10, though.
For a few minutes, I played out possible scenarios in my mind. I bring home the backpack, and Tristan is ecstatic. It would definitely help overcome any potential back-to-school blues. The boy is seriously obsessed with Pokémon — not a day goes by that he doesn’t crank out two or three or eleven Pikachu and Tristan-the-Pokémon-Trainer drawings. $10 is easily worth that much joy.
But — the thing is going to fall apart inside of a month. Will he be heartbroken? Will we have to duct tape it back together on a regular basis, so that by December it’s more repair than backpack? Will we be able to negotiate an acceptable replacement? Will his homework be strewn all over the playground on a regular basis?
I decide on a carpé diem kind of approach, and figure we’ll deal with whatever repairs or replacements are required later. I pick the backpack up and put it in my cart, and that’s when the wave of chemical smell hits me. The thing *reeks* of that plasti-vinyl PVC stench that you just know must be toxic. (Oh look, it really is toxic. Lurvely.)
I put it back on the shelf. I can’t expose my kid to this. He’ll carry this every single day — and keep his lunch in it. I look at Pikachu. He’s been coveting this backpack all summer. Am I that mother, the one who denies her kid all the funnest stuff because of her personal agenda? I pick it up with the intention of giving it another sniff, but I don’t even have to get it up to my nose to smell it. I put it in the cart and pace around the store a while.
Eventually, I decide that I’ll buy it but not show it to him. I’ll look around online and in some other stores and see if I can find a Pokémon backpack that’s somewhat less nuclear than this one. I shop around a bit, but can’t find anything similar. I do find a really nice red and blue Roots backpack (I have a pathological addiction to Roots products, I’m not sure why) and buy that one too. It’s really nice, with lots of pockets and hooks and places to stash a seven-year-old’s treasures — but it’s not Pokémon. When I get in the car, I can actually smell the PVC smell from the bag sitting in the hot car, it’s that strong.
The whole way home, I agonize. I really, really don’t want him to have this particular backpack, but he has had his heart set on it for months. I can always tell him that they don’t carry them, that I couldn’t find them, but we’ll likely run into the problem all over again next time he’s in Walmart. He’s getting too old to trick. I get home and leave all the packages in the car. I surf eBay and a few other online places, all the while wishing (for the first and likely only time) that my computer had smell-O-vision so I could sniff the various wares for sale, but I don’t see anything remotely enticing.
Finally, I decide that I’ll leave it up to Tristan to decide. I’m not sure if I’m empowering him or chickening out. Maybe both? I tell him that I looked at the Pokémon backpack, but that I really thought it was a piece of junk. (He gets that his mother has quality issues. “It’s a piece of junk” is a frequent reason for being denied something shiny that has caught his eye.) I explain my concerns about the chemicals, and the smell, and the quality. I cross my fingers and tell him that I did find a backpack that I thought was really nice, but not Pokémon. I’m watching his face pretty closely, and have watched comprehension and disappointment flicker through his eyes. Now his face brightens as I suggest that maybe we can get a Pokémon keychain (see previous comment re: junk) to decorate this bag.
“Oh yeah,” he says, and enthusiasm lights his face like sunshine after a storm. “We can get some stickers, and I can draw some pictures.” And just like that, we’re good. I’m so relieved and so proud I want to cry.
The next morning, I notice the new backpack sitting by the front door. It has a Pikachu keychain dangling from one zipper, and a few other Pokémon tied to the straps with long bits of string. A fresh picture of Pikachu and Tristan-the-Pokémon-Trainer has been scotch-taped to the front, and there is a Pokémon trading card tucked in the mesh bottle holder. It is, by far, the most lovely Pokémon backpack I’ve ever seen.