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Smell The Coffee: The hardest part of parenting is knowing when to keep your mouth shut

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back during the days when my daughter was a sweet, easy infant, I remember another mom telling me that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside of your body for the rest of your life. The thing is, once they become teenagers, it becomes more like prepping for a colonoscopy. You know the crap's about to start any second, and it's gonna be bad.

For the most part, my teen hasn't been all that difficult--yet. She's generally upbeat and drama free, and if she rolls her eyes when I speak, does so with such skill that I've yet to catch her.  She's now more than halfway through her junior year, so there's been much discussion lately about what's coming next. Much like me at that age, she's tired of school and wants to jump into the workforce "for a while," and little I say seems to dissuade her.

It's hard to step back and allow missteps to happen. I remember when Celeste was four years old and we were rushing around, getting ready to go to a birthday party. She was hell bent on tying her own shoes, even though she wasn't even close to having mastered this skill.

Not only was she determined, but she was also fully immune to being rushed with no desire to experience what it's like to arrive somewhere on time (traits she retains to this day). Even though I badly wanted to just grab her little feet and tie those blasted shoes myself so we could go, I knew it would result in the kind of melt-down that could affect the whole day.

Maddening as it was to watch her fumbling with the loops while ignoring my instructions, I made myself sit back and let her figure it out on her own--which is something I've found, time and again, to be one of the hardest parts about being a parent. But eventually, she tied those shoes, and did it with such pride and celebration that I was glad I stayed mum.

The ensuing years swapped out tying shoes for a variety of other skills and decisions. When she was small, I could warn what to look out for and she'd listen and mostly heed my advice, but now, at 16, not so much.

It's difficult to know how the game should be played, to know strategies and hard-learned lessons from all our years on the field, yet have to sit quietly as this person we love more than any other bumbles around, shunning opportunities and experiences we'd have given most anything to have a chance at ourselves.

In some ways, having a child who is like you even in some small way-looks like you, acts like you-is a bit like cheating death because it gets you back to Start again. You get to live a second time, but in an entirely different way, with a whole new set of talents and chances. Except you have less and less say over decisions and choices.

A few days ago, I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when Celeste came in and, without being asked, began dicing potatoes for me. She chose our biggest, sharpest knife for the task, one that would make a parent anxious no matter what their child's age. I wanted to say something, but didn't.

Soon, she'd completely taken over fixing the potatoes, and I watched as she added in the most bizarre combination of ingredients and then cooked them longer and hotter than I probably would have. Several times, I nearly interjected with some bit of potato wisdom I'd acquired over the years, but I wanted to see what she'd do on her own.

They were the best skillet potatoes I've ever had.

I need to learn to trust that I've given her enough of what she needs to take it from here. But it's hard. I'm nowhere near ready.

One of my favorite writers, Joyce Maynard, summed it up in a way that makes more and more sense.

"It's not only children who grow.  Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself."

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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