"What's material science?" my daughter asked on our way to school one morning.
Uh. I wasn't sure. 7:30 AM is not the best time to ask me questions - especially when I haven't yet enjoyed my first sip of coffee.
"How about sociology?"she asked.
I dunno. The study of people and their social structures? Does that make any sense? Gawd, I need a latte.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I have to fill out this form for the PSAT," she replied. "And they want to know what I'll be majoring in when I get to college. I don't think it looks good to check 'Undecided.'"
Ah. In my day, you took the PSAT in 11th grade and the SAT in 12th, and that was it. Forty years later, they start administering it in middle school. Megan took it last year and this year, she took it again. This was optional; but I figured that they must be encouraging it for a reason -- and the more practice she had taking the test, the less nervous she might be when the results finally count (in another two years).
"You're only 14. It's OK to be undecided," I said.
"What's Communications and Media?" she asked.
Well, that's one I know well. I ended up majoring in Radio-Television-Film with a minor in Journalism.
"It's exactly what it sounds like - the study of how people communicate with one another and the means they use for it, like publishing, broadcasting and film."
She nodded her head. "That sounds interesting. And like you can make a lot of money, if you're good at it."
Yeah. Some people working in entertainment earn a ton of money. That's why so many people are drawn to it. That's why the competition is so fierce. That's why it's a business that is likely to break your heart. I speak from experience.
My daughter is NOT me. She has talents I could only dream of. She has resources (like self-confidence) that I still have trouble finding in myself. She's athletic. She's good at math and science - the areas where she's likely to have the easiest time finding a scholarship; the fields that are the likely source of the better jobs when she graduates.
But she's also very creative, and drawn to the arts. She's good at math. She doesn't love it.
I remember being shocked in a high school guidance class when I took an aptitude test and scored a 98 percentile for mathematics.
Then I took a test to see where my interests were. In math, my score was a measly 2. I think that's the reason I barely passed algebra and geometry.
She's more like me than I thought. I don't know whether to be proud - or panicked.
And I don't know how to respond.
I made a lot of mistakes when I was young. I still make them. I have always felt that you never learn anything without screwing up a few times, and I've raised my daughter with the freedom to make a few of her own.
But when you see your kid walking down a path you know very well, shouldn't you point out the potholes on the way? Especially if you think you could help her avoid the same kind of pain you suffered, because you may not have seen a bump in the road?
And at this age, any suggestion I make is usually met with protest and a resolve to do the opposite. She's fiercely independent. She wants to go her own way, even if she makes a wrong turn here and there.
In fact, that is something she NEEDS. And if she falls, I will catch her.
And let her know I understand.
And urge her back on her journey.
By Donna Schwartz Mills. Donna is a writer from Los Angeles, who also contributes to CBS Digital Los Angeles and AskPatty.com. This article is an update of one that originally appeared on Donna's personal blog, SoCal Mom.