As we drive to the hospital, she announces she might want to become a social worker.

You know, like Auntie M. So I can talk with kids and try to help them with their problems.

What about teaching, I ask, as we pull into the parking lot.

Maybe, she says, I want to do both. Can I be both a teacher and a social worker? She asks.

Of course, I assure her. You can do ANYTHING. Anything you want if you put your mind to it. And then she rolls her eyes, her subtle-not-so-subtle way of telling me she’s heard this pep rally before.

Raising a tween is a lot like navigating a ship. Monitoring and guiding from one place to another is often dependent on the weather. When it’s sunny and breezy, it can be a beautiful afternoon sailing among the waves. A minute later and a sudden dark cloud looms overhead, making the position and direction change almost immediately. And if you are not on top of the helm, the journey can be a rocky at times. (I am not a sailor, so forgive this horrible sailing analogy.)

Since she was five (a mere 10 seconds ago, but in reality, seven years ago), my oldest has informed me she was going to be a teacher. She knew the minute her sister was born, she would be her second mother, and anyone who came too close to her without washing their hands was quickly reprimanded. She told anyone who would listen she was going to be a teacher, and decided early on she wanted to work with young children, not the older ones. Something about holding their hands, and teaching them endless nursery rhymes, and how to read and write.

She has a knack for being with children, and truly loves them. A combination of affection, creativeness and endless patience, I have always thought she would make a wonderful teacher someday. At 12, she is the oldest of six cousins, and truly relishes this title. They say that birth order typically affects a child’s behavior, and while it’s true that she is the overprotective-plan-everything-in-advance-Type-A sibling and cousin, I think it truly has more to do with her medical history than anything, which has shaped her generous and emphatic personality.

By the time she was five, she had a number of surgeries, including open heart surgery. She is now 12 and currently preparing for an eye surgery next week. The hospital visit today is to clear her for this procedure. It seems with each surgery, her bravery increases, as well as her empathy for others. Well, not so much for her little sister –  I think sibling rivalry trumps empathy every time.The typical sibling love-hate relationship, and she-is-sitting-on-my-side-of-the-couch is a common theme in our house.

Me & 12

Me & 12

But I digress…. oh yes, the career discussion. We are driving along, and just beginning to talk about her upcoming surgery, when BAM, subject change and she announces her social worker plan. It catches me by surprise, how quickly she changes the subject – although to be truthful I secretly love that she is already thinking about her future and making plans (yes I am the oldest sibling as well) – then it hits me. Of course. She is changing the subject on purpose. She doesn’t want to talk about the “S” word, so this is safe and happy subject.

What is surprising is that I am surprised by this. How does she know how to do this? This changing of the subject, this tactic. The one I know so well? How has she grown up from being a five year old “teacher” to a 12 year old conversation changer navigating her own journey?

I decide to go along with this sudden plot twist, ask the customary follow up questions, and listen contently as she lists her reasons why this would be the best job ever, ending with how great it would be to help children who need help, like her Auntie does at work.

I am beaming with pride, but at the same time, wondering if I should approach the “S” word again. The procedure is five days away, and although she seems perfectly at ease discussing it on the surface with family and a few friends, she has been quick to change the subject when it’s just us, or it gets too deep. I know she is anxious about it, so I don’t bring it up, and honestly I don’t think I’d want to talk about it either if it was me.

I decide I will let her navigate this one. She is on the cusp of becoming a teen, and starting to figure out a lot of the hows and whys and whats of her thoughts. I don’t want to push a particular conversation, but I also want to make sure she knows I am here for her if and when she wants to talk. I know from every parent article/magazine/website I’ve ever read, the key to a healthy parent/child relationship, is to keep the lines of communication open. I KNOW THIS. ESPECIALLY AS THEY GROW OLDER. But it’s tricky. Be interested, but not TOO interested. Ask about her day, but not TOO much about a particular person. And the social medial monster. One slight move the wrong way, and you get my favorite eye roll.

So for now I will take her lead, and let her steer the ship. It’s her journey, but I will continue to navigate alongside her, through these uncharted waters. I will listen, guide, annoy and be her biggest cheerleader… despite the eye rolling.