I can almost track my parenting journey by looking at the years I have attended the N.C. State Fair.
My first time at the fair was in October 1994 when I covered it for WRAL as a brand new reporter. Frankly, I was a bit overwhelmed. I had never experienced anything quite like it.
But it wasn't until my children came along, that I truly began to understand what the fair was all about.
I remember in October 2000 when my husband took my oldest daughter down the big slide on a burlap bag. She was just nine months old, and I thought to myself, is this really a good idea? The look on her face told me it was not.
For years we attended the fair with babies in carriers, toddlers in strollers and, eventually, small children gripped tightly by the hand.
I remember losing my three-year-old one year for the worst 2 1/2 minutes of my life, followed by the best moment of my life when a bystander who heard my urgent pleas for help found her and brought her back safely.
I remember the bags that I had to pack for just a few hours at the fair - snacks, drinks, jackets, hand wipes - everything anyone might possibly need to keep them happy.
And then we graduated to a few years when I thought we might skip the fair. How would they even know it was going on?
In those years, I would drive out of my way to avoid that part of town so they wouldn't see the glistening Ferris wheel or the flashing lights of the midway. But somehow, they still knew.
"Mommy, when are we going to the fair?" eager little voices would emanate from the backseat of my car.
So, we went. Then they started to get interested in the rides, and I stood by holding all of the stuffed animals won at the games and watched them spin, tumble and catapult into the air. I got sick to my stomach just thinking about the machinations their bodies were undergoing.
Now that they are teenagers, we are in a new phase. It's the phase when they go do things at the fair without me and I simply give them money. When they come back, they excitedly tell me about all the things they saw and did.
Unlike when they were little, they have a budget. They have to decide how to spend their money. Will it be on rides? Food? Games? It's their choice, and I no longer have to hear the whining about: "One more game, Mommy, please!" Or, "Just one more ride. I promise."
This year, I went to the fair for two reasons. I spent time in the WRAL tent one Friday night meeting our viewers. My younger daughter dances at the Folk Festival every year, which I attend with her. But I rode no rides, played no games and ate only at my favorite booth, which is the antithesis of fair food.
I enjoyed the beautiful North Carolina weather and people watched while my kids did their thing. I had just enough - and so did my kids. It was the perfect balance.
And so the parenting journey continues…
"Where's Mom?" says a teenager about to get on an upside-down-spinning-drop-your-stomach-into-your-lungs kind of a ride.
"I think she's at the La Farm booth again having coffee and a croissant."
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books, including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.