I know about parenting books. I’ve referred to them for things like teething, temperatures, and tantrums.

Looking back, now that Maggie is in high school, I believe those were the easy times. The really big things that happen in the teen years are not so neatly covered. There’s no easy way through these disappointments or resentments or misunderstandings. These are life’s bitter-pill lessons.

I long for the years when it was just me, a baby, a thermometer, and chapter three.

Maggie came home last night, discouraged by a faculty decision. She was devastated because she’d followed her father’s advice: Always have a Plan B. She’d presented the teacher with her Plan A. If that didn’t work, she handed him her Plan B. He said he understood.

The next day he handed her Plan C.

She wondered how it collapsed and why the teacher would get it wrong. She was so certain she had all her ducks in a row before the meeting.

There isn’t a book on the face of the earth with the right answer.

It was up to me, armed with a cup of coffee, to help her corral those honking ducks. So I reminded her of the adage that the journey is more important than the destination. But the journey is the hard part, I told her.

You thought you were headed to India with the right map in hand, only to realize you’d ended up in Peru. After wailing and whining, all you can do is settle down and recalibrate.

Whatever happened, you have to make another decision. Stay put and make the best of it? Return home? Get another map? Resent the person who sold you the wrong map?

No one ever knows. No one. Especially the people who are convinced they know precisely what you should do.

Sometimes those unexpected detours turn out to be the best thing. While you’re puzzled under a Peruvian shade tree, hopeless and alone, the carriage of a lifetime can stop and offer a free ride. Getting sidetracked can be a blessing.

How do you know? You don’t. Blessings always come disguised as something else–something that wasn’t intended, something that’s a last resort, something that’s impossible.

Still, mistakes can work magic.

Ultimately, you have to believe in yourself. You have to be brave, even if it requires pretending. Courageous folks learn to find the way, step by step, map or no map. By flashlight or full moon or candle, there’s a passage through the dark. Even if it means crawling on your hands and knees.

Decide. You have to know at the end of the day that you tried like crazy to organize those wing-flapping ducks. And even if they’re still zigzagging ahead of you, at least they’re running for the horizon.

And the horizon, the place of promise, belongs to no map. It defies paper. It is the clear, vertical space ahead that only your eyes can define, that is colored your particular blue. The horizon is different for everyone.

Even for ducks.

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