My daughter Emma turned nine last weekend. As usual, the birthday had ramped up expectations it couldn’t possibly meet. I did my best to scramble around, spend every dollar I had to make it one to remember and it was okay. She got an American Girl doll, which was the only thing she wanted. I also bought her an antique gold locket. We had spent a very loud, very chaotic dinner at El Torito with the family the night before. As it turned out, the strawberries and cream cake of legendary status from the Phoenix bakery in Chinatown wasn’t as good as expected. Walking into the bakery once, my daughter and I sampled the individual cakes they sell that are square and covered with cream frosting. The famous cakes are the ones with almonds on the side. They are lacking in strawberries and a little bit dry. I think I can make a better one.

But the real change in Emma happened yesterday. In first grade, she liked to be walked in, which meant finding parking where there never is any parking, and walking onto the campus in whatever I slept in the night before. That’s how it usually goes. We had yet another morning meeting for parents and so I was showered and looked almost human. But Emma was walking about five feet in front of me. I walked faster to keep up and then I realized that she didn’t want me to walk with her. She was —embarrassed—to be seen with me. Egads.

I asked her, “Emma, are you embarrassed to be seen with me?” And she answered me simply, “yes.” “Why?” I pleaded, desperate to hold on to that mother/child bond I’ve grown to love after eight years. “None of the other kids have their moms walk them in.” “Oh.” And then I repeated the mantra, “don’t suffocate your child, don’t make her feel guilty for being normal and growing up, stop thinking of yourself, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU for godssake.”

A moment later, I felt her little arms wrap around me with a guilt-hug. Just by asking the question I’d thrown the poor kid into a wave of that kind of mother guilt that ruins lives. I plan to give her her space and never walk her in. They look so small and harmless, those screaming children on the playground. But they represent Emma’s whole world in ways I can’t see but certainly remember from my own miserable elementary school experience. The mean kids shoot looks only other kids can see. That’s just the way it is.

It’s a shame we can’t stop time. We can’t keep kids from growing up and we can’t keep ourselves from growing old. It is the way it all works. Life moves in one circular direction, dragging us with it like dirt on a tire.