Reflections on carrying all kinds of cool

Recently, as I watched my two-year-old daughter attempt to put an unzipped backpack on upside down, it reminded me of how much cooler and “together” I was as a young person than she is. I almost feel bad about giving her that wedgie.

But I wasn’t always the James Bond playboy manly man I am today. Even I went through an awkward phase when I was attempting to figure everything out. Thankfully I nailed that by 16. Shut up, dad.

See how manly I became?

Before that, it was a struggle. Even Mike Tyson probably got punched a couple of times when he first started boxing, so my “coming of age” should be seen from the perspective of adorable warrior. Please keep that in mind.

Several questionable decisions conspired against me from becoming one of the “cool kids” at just about every grade level. Backpack selection was certainly among them.

My elementary school backpack that I remember excitedly selecting on my own and not at gunpoint, sported two attractive, if in hindsight rather emasculating, bee wings. They were from a cartoon called the Wuzzles, where main characters were hybrids of two different animals. Amazingly, this wasn’t as creepy as it sounds. My selection was the main character, Bumblelion, who was half bumblebee, half lion, and all macho jungle cat probably best not trifled with even if he was never shown mauling anything (I figured it was an off camera thing not suitable to younger, less mature kids). Unfortunately the lion part wasn’t represented anywhere on the backpack, just the bee.

I still remember the looks I received as I mistakenly thought everyone was jealous.

“Do you think he can FLY?” I imagined everyone was thinking. “I bet he can. Let’s give him all our baseball cards and juice boxes so he’ll be our friend.”

I might as well have introduced myself to my classmates wearing a bonnet and my mother’s high-heel shoes.

There should’ve been a warning label on the backpack that read, “WARNING! This backpack should never be worn by boys unless you’re looking to spend some quality time being pelted by dodge balls under the pseudonym ‘Butterfly Boy.’ If that’s the case, what’s wrong with you? Also, girls will think you’re a nonthreatening version of them with shorter hair and invite you to play something called ‘House.’ DON’T DO IT.”

Even though the wings were, technically, bee wings NOT butterfly wings for some reason shouting, “They’re BEE WINGS, guys, not BUTTERFLY.” didn’t turn the situation in my favor.

In middle school I was looking to shed my wings and spied a commercial for a large, unique-looking land-based unit. The gimmick of this particular backpack was that it was advertised as being a portable locker thanks to its excessive size, separate compartments and shelf for shoes. I thought, “Hey, that looks neat!” because nothing screams, “I’m a cool cat that should be invited to video game and pizza sleepovers” quite like compartments. It was called The Wiz, because developers figured their product alone wouldn’t be enough to ensure teenage ridicule. In my eyes, it was the coolest thing ever. With this bad boy attached to my back, this is how I imagined conversations were going to go:

Cool kid: “Hold up a second, Lightning [I figured the cool kids would give me an awesome nickname]. What is that?”

Me: “You mean my backpack?”

Cool kid: “That’s a backpack? Whoa. That’s huge and awesome, like you clearly are. Wait, does that have a compartment for your books?”

Me: “Yup. You can fit them all here. VERTICALLY.”

Cool kid: “Shut up, dude. No. Way.”

Me: “Way, dude. Way.”

Cool kid: “What’s that up above the compartment?”

Me (nonchalantly): “Oh, that thing? Just a shelf for my shoes.”

Cool kid: “You’re joking. A SHELF? You have a shelf?!”

Me: “You got that right, buddy. For both my shoes. The right one AND the left one.”

Cool kid: “That’s it. Here’s my sister’s number. Just try not to break her heart. You’re so cool. It’s chili day; let me buy you an extra cinnamon roll.”

In the advertisement the “Wiz kid” was getting all kinds of attention and was the envy of school and, I imagined, the rest of the world. It’s probably what Rambo would’ve worn and I knew the same fate awaited me as I kind of had the same haircut as the boy in the commercial. I was convinced I would be a Mustang convertible amidst a sea of two-toned Chevy LeBarons.

“Ha, NOBODY has one of these,” I thought as I strode triumphantly into the hallway on the first day of sixth grade, kicking the bottom of the thing with my heels because I was only a few inches taller than it was.

“Wait,” I thought as people were giving me awkward looks as I banged into them having taken up half the hallway, “NOBODY HAS ONE OF THESE.”

I suddenly realized instead of a Mustang amidst a sea of LeBarons I was a pink tricycle with training wheels amidst a sea of monster trucks. Reality had set in. It was nothing like the commercial. Thankfully the neon Smurf blue wasn’t overly attention-grabbing or anything.

I attempted to banish The Wiz to my locker for all eternity, but of course didn’t fit. So I just left it outside on the ground to be taken. At the end of the day it was right where I left it.

As my daughter struggled to shrug out of her backpack like an inmate in a straight jacket I knew it was up to me to teach her the ins and outs of “cool.” She’s doomed.

Kelly Van De Walle is the senior creative & marketing writer for Briscoe14 Communications ( He can be reached at or via love message carved into a tree with a pocketknife. Follow Kelly on Twitter @pancake_bunny in order to be invited to the “cool table” of the Internet. This classic column originally published in January 2013.