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When my daughter was in fourth grade I encouraged her to be in the variety show at her elementary school. Her brothers had had a great run of it, testing the idea of standing up in front of their peers and entertaining them in whatever way they could find. They were stand-up comedians, or musicians, usually.

My daughter wanted to be at the piano playing a song called Jazzy Cat, and she wanted to wear cardboard cat ears stapled to a headband, and a cat tail that hung down from her waist and across the piano bench. She also had whiskers painted on her face. This was all her idea. Nobody else wore a little costume if they played a piano piece. In fact, the kids who played piano pieces typically play classical music and wore more serious clothes as if they aspired to be concert pianists.

The point is that this is what she wanted to do and just because no one else was doing it didn’t seem to figure in for her. She had a vision of who she might be, and trying it out at the variety show was a safe enough place. Since then she has not turned into a jazz dancer, a serious pianist (although our duets are pretty fun on a Friday night), or a theatre kid. None of it was literal. It was all for the fun of the moment and I am sure informed her about herself in some way I cannot appreciate.

Now we are on the college search. I feel the same desire to let her figure it out again, defining for herself who she is and where she fits in. In both cases I am right there talking it all through with her, doing what it takes to help support her as she explores her own identity. But what I am not doing, and very deliberately, is tell her who I think she is or what I think she should do. If she asks, I have opinions, but I try hard not to impose them on her.

It turns out that if I’d had it my way at the variety show she would have done something entirely different that I won’t even mention here, and I can see now it would not have been half as cool as a jazzy cat.