When our kids are little, we watch them every second. Sometimes, we even creep into their rooms at night to gaze at them, particularly once they become mobile and sleep is the only time during which they slow down long enough to allow us to appreciate them for more than a millisecond.
Gradually, we allow them to explore the world more freely, until the time comes when they are preteens and then young teenagers, setting out to explore the world on their terms, whether we like it or not.
It is then that we need to remember that we are still in charge, and sometimes, we need to tell them so. In the process of pulling away from us, they sometimes tug harder than they should, leaving us face down in the mud in their independence-seeking tug-of-war.
As parents, it is our job to pick ourselves up, wipe the mud from our faces, and remind them of the rules because if we don't, we will soon find ourselves stuck in the mud, looking up at an overgrown toddler who believes s/he has the means - and the right - to run his or her own life. A dangerous mistake indeed.
A friend who was a stay-at-home mom and returned to the work force after her son was grown told me that he needed her more during the middle school years than at any other time. I tucked this tidbit of information away for future reference, as my own child was still in elementary school at the time.
Last weekend, as I was wiping the mud from my face, then later from my thirteen-year-old daughter's, I felt the veracity of my friend's words. Unlike toddlers who know they need us - at least from time to time - young teens are convinced they don't need us at all, except perhaps as a means of transportation.
And that is perhaps what makes them most vulnerable of all.