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My Daughter Kept Taking an Extremely Heavy Backpack to School – I Realized Why When I Finally Met Her Bus Driver

Juliet, a single mom, loves raising her nine-year-old daughter, River, by herself. River pushes her to be better. But after a while, Juliet begins to notice fierce independence taking over River—wanting more responsibility and autonomy. But then Juliet discovers a secret that comes with River’s backpack, and a hidden friend comes to light.

Life as a single mom in the suburbs is a tightrope walk between joy, coffee, and juggling acts. I’m Juliet, a financial advisor, striving to build a career robust enough to secure a bright future for my nine-year-old daughter, River.

A mom and daughter on a dirt road | Source: Unsplash

A mom and daughter on a dirt road | Source: Unsplash

River, as carefree and flowy as her name, is my ultimate pride and joy—and the biggest blessing I could have ever asked for. Since my husband deserted us and fled to a new state when River was only a toddler, the brunt of parenting fell solely on my shoulders.

“At least this way,” my mother said, feeding River, “you don’t have to worry about your daughter learning Richard’s lying and cheating ways. She’s all yours, and you can mold her in the way you want.”

A grandmother carrying her granddaughter | Source: Unsplash

A grandmother carrying her granddaughter | Source: Unsplash

And that was the best part—my relationship with River’s father had been strained because his eyes were always wandering to other women. When he left, I felt a sense of relief.

My daughter would be all mine. And I could teach her how to navigate a world with tricky men at every corner.

A man walking away with a suitcase | Source: Unsplash

A man walking away with a suitcase | Source: Unsplash

Between my mother helping out whenever we needed her and daycare, River grew up swiftly, her independence blossoming as she navigated school days.

But our weekends were sacred mother-and-daughter time, where my girl would tell me all kinds of stories about her friends at school, which snacks she still enjoyed, and which flavors she had outgrown.

We would watch movies, eat popcorn, and spend hours working on puzzles.

Those were the moments that I loved the most.

A bowl of popcorn | Source: Unsplash

A bowl of popcorn | Source: Unsplash

A few weeks ago, we were sitting down to dinner together, and River began telling me all about the latest news at school. Her eyes alight with excitement, River mentioned a new bus driver she liked and a kind music teacher teaching them how to play the drums.

“It’s very precise notes, Mom,” she said seriously. “It’s not just about banging the drums and making sounds.”

I wanted to laugh at her tone.

A wooden drum | Source: Unsplash

A wooden drum | Source: Unsplash

“Right,” I agreed. “If not, it would just be noise, right?”

“Yes!” she said, drinking her juice.

Then River went into a whole explanation of after-school clubs and felt that she should join.

“Okay,” I said, pleased by her growing interest in school activities. “What are you thinking about? Drama? Art?”

Children walking with backpacks | Source: Unsplash

Children walking with backpacks | Source: Unsplash

River sat and thought about it for a minute, picking at her broccoli.

“I think Art club,” she said.

“We’ll go out and buy art supplies tomorrow,” I promised.

“I’m so excited about this!” River gushed.

I couldn’t mask my relief that River would have something constructive to occupy her time while I was still at work.

A plate of orange chicken and broccoli | Source: Unsplash

A plate of orange chicken and broccoli | Source: Unsplash

The next morning, River and I went to get the art supplies she needed. At first, River took a few things, and then she started duplicating the supplies. I didn’t want to ask her anything—there was a sense of joy radiating from River, and I didn’t want to burst her bubble.

A craft store | Source: Unsplash

A craft store | Source: Unsplash

Then, we went to get some new clothing for River—she had been outgrowing her clothes like crazy. And again, she went ahead and got duplicates of the clothing, too.

But again, I didn’t want to burst her bubble.

A rack of children's clothing | Source: Unsplash

A rack of children’s clothing | Source: Unsplash

One morning, River, brimming with newfound responsibility, declared that she wanted to pack her own lunches to foster her independence.

I was standing at the counter sorting out River’s breakfast of cereal and juice while starting her lunch for the day.

“Mom, I think I should start packing my own lunches,” she stated firmly, watching me add her things to her sandwich.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich | Source: Unsplash

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich | Source: Unsplash

“That’s a great idea, River. I’m so proud of you for taking this step,” I said, encouraging her self-reliance. “But you’ll have to ask me for help when it comes to knife things.”

Our routine continued like clockwork. We had breakfast together, and I walked River to the front of our yard, where the yellow school bus picked her up.

But a few days ago, something changed.

A yellow school bus | Source: Unsplash

A yellow school bus | Source: Unsplash

As we got to the bench my father had installed in our yard, I asked River to put her backpack down so I could help her into her jacket.

Moments later, as I pulled the jacket closed, a slight wince escaped her when I tapped her back.

“What’s wrong?” I asked immediately.

River shrugged her shoulders and dismissed it as the weight of her schoolbooks causing discomfort, but the mother in me stirred with worry. River covered her face.

A little girl covering her face | Source: Unsplash

A little girl covering her face | Source: Unsplash

“Are you sure you’re okay? That seemed like it hurt,” I probed, concern lacing my tone.

“It’s just the books, Mom,” my nine-year-old said. “They’ve been really heavy this week,” she brushed off, avoiding my gaze.

“Do you want me to take you to school, then?” I asked her as I checked my watch for the time.

“No, thank you,” River said, as the bus honked around the corner.

A red backpack on the floor | Source: Unsplash

A red backpack on the floor | Source: Unsplash

That evening, as I plated up pasta for dinner, I asked River about her back.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked her.

She nodded and set the cutlery on the table for us.

“I went to the nurse, and she applied an ointment,” River said.

A person holding a bowl of pasta | Source: Unsplash

A person holding a bowl of pasta | Source: Unsplash

The next day, her backpack felt unusually heavy, laden with more than just textbooks. But River’s vehement refusal to discuss it further piqued my alarm.

“Why is this so heavy, River?” I asked her. “What’s all this stuff?”

“It’s just school stuff, Mom. Really, it’s fine,” she snapped back, an unusual edge to her voice.

Driven by concern and curiosity, I got to my office and called the school.

A woman on a phone call | Source: Pexels

A woman on a phone call | Source: Pexels

“No, Juliet,” the secretary said. “We don’t allow the kids to take textbooks home because of how heavy they are. So, they use them at school only.”

Then what was River taking to school?

I decided to leave work early. I wanted to pick River up and talk with her about whatever was going on.

A woman driving a car | Source: Unsplash

A woman driving a car | Source: Unsplash

River was a responsible child, and I knew that she wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. But if she was hurting herself in some way, I needed to understand why and what was going on with her.

I parked next to a school bus and waited to see River run out.

But, of course, River didn’t know that I was going to pick her up—so when she got out of class, she headed straight for the bus. I followed her to the school bus that did our route and caught a snippet of conversation between River and the bus driver.

A parked school bus | Source: Unsplash

A parked school bus | Source: Unsplash

“Did she like everything?” River asked the driver.

“She loved it!” the driver said. “Are you sure that it’s okay that you’re bringing things for my Rebecca?”

“Yes,” River said. “As long as Rebecca is happy.”

Who is Rebecca? I wondered to myself.

“River!” I called as other students started to get on the bus.

“Mom!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “What are you doing here?”

“I left work early,” I told her, ready to take the immovable boulder that had been her backpack on her shoulders, which was now suddenly light as air.

A woman holding her face | Source: Unsplash

A woman holding her face | Source: Unsplash

“Honey, where are all your things?” I asked.

River hesitated as we walked to the car.

“I’ll tell you at home,” she said.

I drove us home in silence, often glancing at River sitting in the backseat. She was staring out the window, and I knew her little mind was racing.

A woman driving a car | Source: Pexels

A woman driving a car | Source: Pexels

We got home, and just as we stepped into the house, River’s small frame shook as tears began to flow.

“Mommy,” she said.

Taking her hands in mine, I knelt to her level.

“Tell me what’s going on. You can tell me anything, River. And you can trust me,” I encouraged her, trying to soothe her distress.

Through tears, River told me everything.

A crying little girl | Source: Pexels

A crying little girl | Source: Pexels

The new bus driver with whom she had made fast friends had a daughter who was battling leukemia.

“I saw her photo next to the steering wheel, Mom,” River said. “Mr. Williams makes me sit on the seat behind him because I’m so small. So when I saw the photo, I asked him who the girl was.”

I sat back and let River continue. She needed to let the story out—and feel seen and heard.

“Mr. Williams said that Rebecca is only two years younger than me, and that she hasn’t been in school at all. Because she’s stuck in the hospital.”

A sick little girl in hospital | Source: Unsplash

A sick little girl in hospital | Source: Unsplash

I nodded.

“So, when we got the art supplies for school, I took two of everything so that I could make a pack for Rebecca, too. And even the clothes, because she said that the hospital is so cold.”

“You’ve spoken to Rebecca?” I asked.

“Yes,” River said, tears streaming down her face again. “Mr. Williams has been taking me. I don’t go to any after-school clubs.”

River sucked in her breath and held it until I spoke.

“Oh, baby,” I said. “You should have told me.”

A mother hugging her daughter | Source: Pexels

A mother hugging her daughter | Source: Pexels

I was moved by River’s story and the fact that her heart had such a large capacity, holding love and care for a girl she had only met recently.

“Mr. Williams is so nice, Mom,” she said, sniffling and taking a tissue. “Rebecca needs these things more than I do.”

On hearing River explain her secret missions of kindness, I was torn between admiration and fear for her safety. We agreed to meet Mr. Williams at the hospital later in the evening.

And upon meeting him, his sincerity and gratitude washed away my fears.

A smiling man with folded arms | Source: Pexels

A smiling man with folded arms | Source: Pexels

“Thank you for allowing and supporting River in this,” Mr. Williams thanked me, assuming that I had been aware of River’s actions.

“Your daughter is wonderful, Juliet,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. “I would love to do more.”

Mr. Williams smiled at me and led us down a hallway to Rebecca’s room.

The rest of the day was spent in laughter and shared stories as River and Rebecca played in the hospital room, their joy echoing off the walls. Watching them, I realized that my daughter had taught me a valuable lesson in compassion, one that I would cherish and nurture as she continued to grow.

An empty hospital hallway | Source: Pexels

An empty hospital hallway | Source: Pexels

“I feel like some cookies and milk,” Rebecca said to us.

I left River behind at the hospital and drove to the nearest bakery for the kids.

As I drove back to the hospital, I realized that my daughter was the best person I knew. And that she could only get better from here.

A box of cookies | Source: Pexels

A box of cookies | Source: Pexels

What would you have done?

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