The Backpack

The note was in a pile of crud I had fished out of bottom of her backpack in an attempt to cram two three-ring binders, ten two-pocket folders, a pencil case, a novel, a lunchbox, and a partridge and a pear tree into it. So far I had found two reading worksheets (not done), several M&M wrappers, a math test (with a respectable B+), several broken pencils, the school lunch menu, a sock that had been dipped in something sticky and orange, and a field trip permission form due the previous Friday. I smoothed out several pieces of balled up notebook paper from the very bottom. Math notes. Saadia’s signature, practiced many times in neon shades of ink. Then the note.

“Did you actually have sex with that boy I mean is it true or is it not true and why would you do something like that? They say it’s true where’d you do it did you like it yes or no circle one.”

I think I must have shrieked because my cat shot like a dart up the stairs to the second floor and I heard a weird echoing sound. I looked up and out the front window. My daughter and a troop of other middle-schoolers were climbing up the stairs of the school bus. This was middle school? This was the second week of middle school?

I took off for the front door but realized on the stoop as I watched the back of the bus chugging down our hill that I had no hope of catching it while holding up my pajama bottoms with my right hand (the elastic gave out about three years ago) and flopping down the street with my slippers half off. My feet were frozen anyway. I’d have to wait until 4 o’clock to get to the bottom of this mess.

In the meantime, I headed for the medicine cabinet and popped my favorite homeopathic remedy under my tongue — Xanax. Then I went back to read the rest of the note. The letter writer’s sole purpose seemed to be to use the word sex as many times as possible in a single-spaced, double-sided, I’m-pretending-I’m-writing-my-English-composition-during-study-hall girl-note. I couldn’t quite get my brain around it. Wasn’t my baby girl a little too, well, little, to be stuffing are-you-having-sex notes in the bottom of her backpack?

I could take some positive action. First things first. I moved my stash of M&M’s to a much higher shelf. She’d have to climb onto the counter and risk getting caught to get at those. So would I, but then I could get at them while she was at school.

Next, I searched in the drawer where we keep all our phone numbers to find the contact information for her reading teacher. Except that I apparently did not actually put the contact information sheet that I had so carefully saved from the open house three nights before into the drawer. I pawed through my purse. I checked my car. I looked in Saadia’s homework drawer. I rifled through the basket of bills. I did a sweep of the entire house, checking all exposed surfaces. Finally I found the list behind a couch cushion. I sent the reading teacher an email just to make sure she was turning in all her homework.

I cross-checked the past-due field trip form with the middle-school calendar to find the actual date of the field trip. Then I called the old-as-the-hills school secretary to find a fax number to fax the permission form in time for Saadia to attend the sixth-grade festival the next afternoon at a local park.

I tossed the sticky orange sock in the trash. Her socks never matched anyway.

I waited until 3:33, three minutes after the final bell rang, to call my friend who teaches health at the middle school on her cell phone. “Hey,” she said, after listening, “put it on your calendar. Three weeks from Thursday I’m giving a talk to middle-school parents: “Sex and the Middle-Schooler.” What they know, what they think they know, what they should know. You won’t believe what kids are doing these days!”

I hung up on her.

Okay, my kid would be home soon. I vowed to be non-confrontational and create an open, you’re-welcome-to-say-anything kind of atmosphere for this heart to heart.

She walked in the door at exactly 4:06.

“What the hell was this note doing in your backpack, miss?” Oops. I think that was my mother speaking.

“I hate you! You’re nosy! Shut up! I don’t care what you think!” Crap. This was my just reward for channeling my mother. It wasn’t until about ninety minutes of this verbal rampage that I heard a phrase I thought I could use. “And I don’t care if you ask Stacy!”

I hadn’t even mentioned Stacy. “What would Stacy tell me?”

“Nothing! Stacy would lie anyway! And I hope you DO call her mother!”

She cried. And cried and cried. I had to remember how cruel middle-schoolers could be. We talked it all through, the rumors she had been fighting for days, without telling me, without telling any adult. I immediately called up Stacy’s mother, and, time has shown, made the horrible bullying stop. Now I check her backpack every day — less for signs of what she’s done wrong, and more for clues about how to help.

Oh, and also to be sure she hasn’t found the M&Ms.