Once a week, a little piece of my heart walks out the door and bikes over to the animal rescue farm, where she encounters giant beasts, rabid dogs, feral felines, and hungry crocodiles.

Okay, so maybe that last bit is purely in my imagination, but just the same, it’s been harder than I’d expected to give my girl such independence.

It’s not so much that she works around animals that could send her to the hospital with one strategically placed kick; but it’s the fact that my daughter has risen to the challenge with a horrifying amount of grace and maturity. 

Scary stuff, when your first princess grows up.

Parenting is all about a slow letting go: the giving of child-sized chunks of independence, which over time equip the child to become a responsible young adult.

It is what parents work towards; it is our goal; and sometimes it is almost too overwhelmingly beautiful to watch.

Some of you may have caught glimpses of these future adults the day they stepped onto the big yellow bus for the first time, without even looking back over their primary-colored rucksacks.

Others, while applying makeup to your daughter’s cute little face for a dance recital, have experienced the sort of flash-forward worthy of a “Lost” episode, when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman your girl will become.

Some of you may wonder how on earth it is possible that your son has suddenly, almost overnight, aged out of Gap Junior.  

Others have experienced that alien feeling when a child first asks for deodorant or cologne—or when you get the first pungent reminder of the necessity for such things.

When did this happen?

To see a child suddenly and joyfully find her own niche in life is satisfying but weird at times.

At 12 years old my daughter knows more about animals than I do. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake—I like to look at animals and occasionally pet them, but I don’t get bubbly over using a machete to chop up beets for the pigs; I do not know the clinical terminology for a cat who has lost urinary control; and I certainly do not want to examine an old cow udder before tossing it to the Akita.

My daughter has always wanted to become a veterinarian—that’s her thing. Every vet we’ve met has cautioned her, “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of schooling.”

But seeing my daughter revel in the manual labor required on a farm; to see the romance of horses replaced with respect and dedication; to watch my daughter behave wisely in a place where so much danger is apparent to me; I know she is fully capable of the hard work required to make her dreams come true.

I am so incredibly proud.

But with every step she takes away from me, another little piece of my heart goes with her.

I am in awe of this beautiful journey she is undertaking.

But it can be hard to watch.

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