It wasn't a big deal, but I was afraid. What if somebody nabbed her? What if they hurt her? What if, what if? And then I let her go. Would you call me a free-range parent?

So we were camping in Mendocino, California (way up north where the redwoods meet the ocean and it's cold and foggy and rocky and gorgeous), and our spot was at the very end of the campground. It was a family run place across from a cove right outside the little town of Mendocino. Off the main street, the gravel road through the campground just went straight back and ended at our site. You had to make a U-turn in front of our spot to get out of the campground.

So one evening we're making our hamburgers for dinner and I realize we have no ketchup. Clearly, a hamburger deal-breaker. Also, why yes. Yes, I am a super organized master packer. Why do you ask? (I mean seriously, who forgets ketchup on a camping trip?)

In a stroke of genius, I remember the little camp store at the front of the campground and say "Oh, we'll just walk down and buy some."

As I grab my wallet, my oldest daughter, who is 11, said, "May I go, by myself?"

I've devoted my adult life to learning how to not say the first thing that comes into my head. As my friends can attest, that process is rather touch-and-go.

It was as if those last two words were heavy bricks smashing across my face.

My instant reaction was, "Oh hell no," but I didn't say that, because I've devoted my adult life to learning how to not say the first thing that comes into my head. As my friends can attest, that process is rather touch-and-go. Anyway, I suggested she go with her brother, really thinking she'd buy it.

On my own

She looked at me so seriously, with eyes that said "Mama, trust me," then responded: "No, I want to do this on my own."

I looked at her standing there in her flannel jacket and shorts, her frizzy hair and flip-flops. I thought of how she played in the creek all day and put a banana slug across her face. I thought about the chipmunk trap she rigged up just hours earlier. I thought of my little girl, standing there so tiny and so not tiny at all.

I thought of my life and how it swirls into hers, from the moment she was born nearly 12 years ago.

And I thought of all the things that could happen: Somebody could grab her. Somebody could pull her into their car. Somebody could… somebody could.

And I wouldn't be there, to stop them, to run, to tell her what to do.

I wouldn't be there to grab her hand and hurry along or kick him in the, err, face, or just serve as the mama by her side, eying the creeps without even knowing it, deterring them by just being there. "Oh, not that one. That one's with her mom."

At some point life requires me to watch her little body walk away, to try something new, on her own.

But there she was, standing in front of me, and she'll be 12 years old in November, and she's just walking down a road in a campground in Mendocino, to go to the store to buy ketchup, and at some point life requires me to watch her little body walk away, to try something new, on her own.

Let her go

I knew I had to let her go, let her try.

I handed her a five dollar bill and said "OK, Ava."

And her eyes brightened and she was so damn proud, and I may or may not have said something about yelling if somebody bothers her.

When she got back 20 minutes later, she said "Thanks, Mama. I wanted to show you I could do that on my own."

I was glad I had given her that.

Janelle- kids free-range parenting

You know they talk about "free-range parenting" and letting kids hang out in subways and parks in New York City by themselves. Yeah, I won't be doing that.

But there is a point when I have to be honest with myself about who I am protecting.

Is it her?

Or is it me? Is it my heart, my sense of security? Am I keeping her safe or am I cradling my own fear, my own anxiety? Am I pulling her in and holding her close for "her own good," or my own, and when I meet the moment for letting go, will I respect and love her enough to let her shine, as she goes, walking away into her own person, trusting who she is, and what I've given?

For that's really my job, I guess, and yours: We're working ourselves into nothing for that day, the day she says "I want to do this on my own."

And we say OK. Good luck. I'm here when you return.

More on parenting tweens

Foster your tween's inner geek
How to deal with tween tantrums
Is my tween old enough to stay home alone?

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