My 9 years old daughter kept taking an extremely heavy backpack to school, and I realized why when I finally met her bus driver.

Juliet, a single mother, enjoys raising her nine-year-old daughter, River, by herself. River pushes her to be better. But, after a while, Juliet notices River’s intense independence—a desire for greater responsibility and autonomy. But then Juliet discovers a secret in River’s backpack, revealing a hidden companion. Life as a single parent in the suburbs is a delicate balance of joy, caffeine, and juggling acts. I’m Juliet, a financial adviser working to develop a profession strong enough to provide a bright future for my nine-year-old daughter, River.

River, as loose and flowy as her name implies, is my absolute pride and joy—and the greatest blessing I could have ever dreamed for. Since my husband abandoned us and went to a new state when River was only a toddler, the burden of parenting lay totally on my shoulders. “At least this way,” my mother replied, feeding River, “you won’t have to worry about your daughter picking up Richard’s lying and cheating habits. She’s all yours, and you can shape her any way you choose.”And that was the greatest part: my connection with River’s father had been strained since his gaze was constantly drawn to other women. When he departed, I felt relieved.

A little girl with a pink backpack | Source: Midjourney

My daughter would be completely mine. And I could teach her how to deal with deceptive males around every corner.River grew up quickly, thanks to my mother’s aid when we needed it and daycare, her independence flowering as she negotiated school days. But our weekends were precious mother-daughter time, when my daughter would tell me stories about her school pals, which foods she still liked, and which flavors she had outgrown.

We would watch movies, eat popcorn, and spend hours doing puzzles. Those were the times I treasured most.We were having dinner together a few weeks back, and River started telling me about the newest school news. River’s eyes lit up with pleasure as she recounted a new bus driver she liked and a friendly music teacher who taught them how to play the drums. “It’s very precise notes, Mom,” she stated genuinely. “It’s not just about banging the drums and making sounds.”

I wanted to giggle at her tone. “Right,” I agreed. “If not, it would just be noise, right?” “Yes!” she replied, sipping her juice. River then went into a detailed discussion of after-school organizations and decided that she should participate. “Okay,” I responded, happy with her increased interest in school activities. “What are you thinking about?” Drama? Art?”River sat and thought about it for a moment, plucking at her vegetables. “I think Art club,” she stated. “We’ll go out and buy art supplies tomorrow,” I vowed.

“I’m so excited about this!” The river gushed. I couldn’t help but feel relieved that River would have something productive to do while I was still working. The following morning, River and I went to purchase the art tools she needed. River initially stole a few items before beginning to duplicate the supplies. I didn’t want to ask her anything—River was exuding excitement, and I didn’t want to bust her bubble.

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

Then we went shopping for River’s new clothes, as she was rapidly outgrowing her current ones. And she went ahead and ordered duplicates of the outfit. But I didn’t want to burst her bubble.River, full of newfound responsibility, stated one morning that she wanted to pack her own lunches in order to develop independence. I was standing at the counter, preparing River’s breakfast of cereal and drink while also starting her lunch for the day. “Mom, I think I should start packing my own lunches,” she said firmly, watching me put her items on her sandwich.”

That’s an excellent concept, River. “I’m so proud of you for taking this step,” I told her, encouraging her independence. “But you’ll have to ask me for help when it comes to knife things.” Our routine proceeded like clockwork. We ate breakfast together, and then I took River to the front of our yard, where the yellow school bus picked her up.However, a few days ago, something changed.As we approached the bench my father had built in our yard, I asked River to set her backpack down so I could help her into her jacket.

When I tapped her back a few moments later, she let out a little wince as I closed the jacket. “What’s wrong?” I inquired instantly. River shrugged and dismissed it as the weight of her schoolbooks creating discomfort, but the mother in me trembled with concern. River covered her face.”Are you certain you’re okay? “That seemed to hurt,” I inquired, my tone betraying concern. “It’s just the books, Mom,” my nine-year-old explained. “They’ve been really heavy this week,” she brushed off, avoiding my eyes.

“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 replied as the bus honked around the corner. That evening, as I was plating pasta for supper, I asked River about her back. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked her. She nodded and arranged the cutlery on the table for us.”I went to the nurse, and she applied an ointment,” River went on to say.The next day, her backpack seemed unusually heavy, filled with more than just textbooks. But River’s adamant refusal to discuss it heightened my concern.

“Why is this so heavy, River?” I asked her. “What’s all this stuff?” “Mom, it’s just school stuff. “Really, it’s fine,” she replied, her voice unusually sharp. Driven by concern and curiosity, I went into my office and contacted the school.”No, Juliet,” the secretary answered. “We don’t let the youngsters take textbooks home because of how heavy they are. So kids just use them in school.” So, what did River take to school? I chose to leave work early. I wanted to pick River up and talk to her about what was going on.

A grandmother carrying her granddaughter | Source: Unsplash

River was a responsible child, so I knew she wouldn’t do anything wrong. But if she was hurting herself in any manner, I needed to know why and what was going on with her. I parked next to a school bus and waited for River to exit. But, of course, River had no idea I was going to pick her up—so when she came out of class, she went directly to the bus. I followed her to the school bus that served our route and overheard a chat between River and the bus driver. “Did she like everything?” River questioned the driver.

“She loved it!” the driver exclaimed. “Are you sure that it’s okay that you’re bringing things for my Rebecca?” “Yes,” River answered. “As long as Rebecca is happy.” Who is Rebecca? I wondered to myself. “River!” I called as other pupils began to board the bus. “Mom!” she shouted upon seeing me. “What are you doing here?” “I left work early,” I told her, preparing to lift the immovable behemoth that had been her backpack onto her shoulders, which was now as light as air. “Honey, where are all your things?” I asked.

River halted as we headed towards the automobile. “I’ll tell you at home,” she replied. I drove us home in silence, frequently glancing at River in the backseat. She was staring out the window, and I could see her mind was racing. We arrived home, and as soon as we stepped inside, River’s petite frame shook and tears started to fall. “Mommy,” she called. Taking her hands in mine, I knelt to her level. “Tell me what’s happening. You may tell me anything, River. And you can trust me,” I reassured her, attempting to ease her concern.

River told me everything, through tears. The new bus driver with whom she had quickly become friends had a daughter who was battling illness. “I saw her photo next to the steering wheel, Mom,” River went on to say. “Because I am so small, Mr. Williams makes me sit in the seat behind him.” So when I saw the photograph, I asked him who the girl was.I sat back and allowed River to continue. She needed to share her story—and be seen and heard. “Mr. Williams stated that Rebecca is only two years younger than me and has not attended school at all. Because she’s still in the hospital.”

Children walking with backpacks | Source: Unsplash

I nodded. “So, when we got the art supplies for school, I took two of everything so I could make a pack for Rebecca as well.” And even the clothes, because she stated that the hospital is really cold.” “You’ve spoken to Rebecca?” I asked. “Yes,” River murmured, tears flowing down her cheeks again. “Mr. Williams has been taking me.” I don’t attend any after-school clubs.” River took in a breath and held it until I spoke. “Oh, baby,” I replied. “You should have told me.”River’s story struck me, as did the idea that her heart could retain so much love and care for a girl she’d only recently met.

“Mr. Williams is so nice, Mom,” she added, sniffling and grabbing a tissue. “Rebecca needs these things more than I do.”When River described her covert missions of kindness, I was divided between admiration and concern for her safety. We arranged to meet Mr. Williams at the hospital later this evening. And when I met him, his genuineness and thankfulness allayed my anxieties. “Thank you for allowing and supporting River in this,” Mr. Williams said, thinking I was aware of River’s activities. “Your daughter is wonderful, Juliet,” the father said.

A yellow school bus | Source: Unsplash

“Thank you,” I replied. “I would love to do more.” Mr. Williams grinned at me as he led us down the corridor to Rebecca’s room. The remainder of the day was spent laughing and telling stories as River and Rebecca played in the hospital room, their happiness ringing off the walls. Watching them, I recognized that my daughter had taught me a vital lesson in compassion, one that I would treasure and nurture as she grew.”I feel like some cookies and milk,” Rebecca stated to us.

A sick little girl in hospital | Source: Unsplash

I left River at the hospital and drove to the nearest bakery for the kids. As I drove back to the hospital, I realized my daughter was the best person I knew. And that she could only improve from here.

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