By Cristin Whiting

Today I spent the afternoon with my daughter, the last afternoon in her single digit years. Tomorrow she turns ten.

She came home early from school today. She said she wasn’t feeling well. Sometimes with Julia stomachaches and headaches translate into needing some quiet time at home to regroup. No matter the case, I honor the request because she is not one to abuse the privilege of an afternoon home with mom. So I sit with her as she soaks in the tub with bubbles piled up to her chin. We tell our favorite stories about when she was little and laugh at the punch lines we already know so well.

My mind takes a serious turn as I’m aware that this is one of those moments that marks a milestone in her life.

I asked her, “What do you think it will be like when you turn ten?”

“Probably just like it has always been.” She replies with a smile. “It isn’t until I am a teenager that it is going to be drama city.”

She is probably right on both accounts, and yet for me, this birthday seems different. I find myself taking snap shots of her in my mind all afternoon: her long slender legs into which she hasn’t yet fully grown; her beautifully crooked smile and soft waves of caramel colored hair. Her whit and sense of irony that surpasses her years and which flip unpredictably into silliness that is precisely of her age; and not to forget her free and open heart that gushes love.

That is Julia on the eve of her 10th birthday.

I see her for what she is: An amazing little girl that is pretty darn well adjusted for having had a bit of an unconventional childhood so far.

I wonder about those rough patches she will bump up against in those “dramatic” years to come. I find myself fantasizing that I can perch myself on the front porch of her heart ready to pounce on anything that comes to prey on her innocence.

“Leave this one untouched! Don’t let her go through the self-doubt…the heartache…the confusion. Do those years really have to be so dramatic?”

But those aren’t her experiences that I am anticipating. Those are the left over fears and memories of my own drama years, experiences that really don’t have anything to do with her, unless I put them onto her.

Then suddenly there is freedom. The hackles of my protective mother-brain soften back down. I am no longer the self-appointed guardian of my daughter’s heart. She is the champion of her own heart and her own life.

She is going to go through whatever she is going to go through in this new land of double-digits. What’s more, she even needs to go through it with some degree of privacy, and in certain spaces of it, without my direct help.

No, I cannot do this for her. To try weakens her, diminishes her, as if she is unable to navigate the increasingly complex terrain of life in her own way. As if she is unable to recover from the spills and missteps she will inevitably take and that will serve as lessons that will enrich her life.

As I think about the years that are just around the corner, I hear the hum of my own fear. It is that fear as much as anything else that can trip her up. It is my own self doubt of my parenting of her that creates any doubt I have in her ability to forge her path powerfully in life. Therein lies the key to raising a daughter who believes in herself.

The key is to trust myself that I provide her with exactly what she needs for each chapter of her life and to trust her strength, her intelligence and her own knowing. The key is to get up underneath her and to launch her out into the wild, cheering for her as she goes. And finally, to be the steady and soft place for her to regroup so that she can venture out again.