It's my son's senior year of high school, and this time next year he'll be in college. I woke up a couple of weeks ago and said, "Time's flying." And that is how my children and I ended up on a raft, stranded on a rock in the middle of a river.
This was the "togetherness" I had in mind when I booked the trip, a chance to grab a few hours of enforced communal fun.
And so Labor Day weekend, we headed to the Youghiogheny River to go whitewater rafting. I envisioned a few hours of splashy paddling.
And here is what my kids envisioned: Lounging, butt-side down, on inner tube rafts, much like the Lazy River at the water parks we've visited.
Turns out we were all wrong. A whitewater rafting trip is five hours of vigorous, physical work done in frequently dangerous conditions. There's a reason they make you wear a helmet, not to mention the life jacket.
And as it turns out, there's a reason we brought my friend Patrick. He was the captain, and if it weren't for him, we would all have spent the day bobbing like corks, waiting for someone to toss us a rope.
I knew we were in trouble when, upon climbing into the raft, my foot slipped on a rock and I did what figure skaters call a camel, sliding my leg along the rubber with a sickening squeak, and ending with a death spiral under the raft.
Panting, I took my seat next to Grace at the front of the raft, and we were ready to begin.
If four people paddle at their own leisure, a raft will tend to go in a circle. The other dozen rafts in our group were proceeding down river in an orderly fashion and there we were, three feet from shore, swirling in a circle like a red rubber screw.
"We're the worst raft out here," Grace said.
Patrick would yell out commands to keep us moving forward. Right forward! and Left backward! In theory, this would steer us around boulders.
But each of us had his own compass; if there was a rock somewhere under the waves, we would find it and run up onto it.
The guides tell you that if you're stuck on a rock, everybody bounces until the raft is freed. We four spent the morning doing the bounce of shame, flailing about as raft after raft of more competent families paddled by us, probably snickering.
The first rapids approached quickly.
"Backwards left!" Patrick yelled, and I accidentally paddled forward, and there was a big bump, and the next thing you know I was in the river.
The kids tell me I did a one-and-a-half back gainer, but I don't remember that part. I just know that when you are tired and soaked, you do not have the upper body strength needed to pull yourself into a slippery rubber raft while the current is rushing beneath you.
After that, I was afraid of losing Grace. At each churching rapid, I would try to paddle with my left hand while clutching her life jacket with my right.
At the start, guides told us that if you feel the raft is going out of control, everybody should dive into the bottom of the raft and hold on.
We used the dive-and hide maneuver often, spending whole minutes huddled in the bottom of the raft like Munchkins hiding from the wicked witch.
By the end of the trip we were exhausted, wet, and crabby. A bucket of doofuses. But I was the only one who fell in, -- and we finished.
We laughed all the way home. And that was the point, wasn't it?
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.