In July we stayed near Bend for a couple days and spent an afternoon floating on the Deschutes along with, according to one of the shuttle drivers, at least 2,000 other people on that particular day.

I’d never seen anything like it: once we piled into the water we joined a truly jaw-dropping amount of floaties and humans blanketing the river, and we slowly moved along like a gigantic collection of colorful, music-blasting flotsam. It was like watching cells divide, then merge together, over and over as people gently bumped up against one another before moving in other directions.

It had all the trappings of a good time — hot sunshine, cool water, lots of people enjoying themselves and their access to floating coolers filled with beer and those spiked seltzers I like to make fun of but who am I kidding if I still drank I would LOVE those stupid things — but the kids had been arguing with each other for hours and kept at it while we bobbed our way towards the take-out. I had that feeling I sometimes get, where I look around at other families and everyone seems to be getting along, while my children are busy trying to one-up each other in some sort of Who Can Be the Most Toxic, Insufferable Jackass contest where the prize is parental ennui.

I tried valiantly to keep our foursome together, that day on the river. If we draped an arm or foot over each other’s tube, we’d float side by side, but if we let go, we drifted apart. While I’d pictured us spending the whole float locked together, no one wanted to be that close. It was impossible not to think of metaphorical actions as I had to relinquish my grip on a grumpy child’s float and watch the water swirl to fill the space between us.

If they were little, we would have stayed together, for safety. But they’re older now. They’re capable. They’re becoming more and more independent, they have their own preferences.

Riley will be 14 at the end of the month. Dylan is 11. Everyone said those early years would go by so quickly and it’s true, it has. The future seems to be hurtling towards me at faster and faster speeds, the last fleeting wisps of their childhood fading away even as I reach for them.

I wouldn’t go back even if I could, really. (Or maybe I would if there were some complex Starbucks-order method of cherry picking the past: Yeah, could I get, like, the total lack of cynicism and all of the cuddles, but with no sleepless nights, diapers, or paralyzing anxiety about choking hazards?) These boys are complicated, slightly smelly china shop bulls, funny and infuriating in equal measures, and I could not love them more. But this always-changing landscape is so challenging. It’s easier than it used to be in some ways, harder in so many others.

My arms used to be so tired, from carrying and coddling and guiding. Now there is a new ache, from the staggeringly difficult business of letting go.

I bought earrings at Old Navy the other day, three pairs of gemlike plastic oblongs in deepening shades of blue. They’re cute, little eye-catching bits of color that I like to dither over: does this one go best with the chambray shorts, or this one?

They were all of nine dollars, or three dollars a pair, if you want to think of it that way. I’ve bought enough earrings lately that I got a special jewelry tray with a velvety grid to store them in. My favorites are the swooshy gold leaflike danglers from Cost Plus World Market, but the giant sparkly beaded hoops from Target are a runner-up.

When did I finally try a pair of delightful cheap earrings, after an entire lifetime of believing I could only tolerate fancy metals? I’ve worn the same gorgeous but subdued studs forever, convinced the fun stuff just wasn’t for me. I remember, years ago, the flaming itchiness of aggravated ears, a flush that would spread to my cheeks. Maybe just a particularly crappy piece of jewelry, or maybe somewhere along the line my ears stopped being hoity-toity about what got jammed up in their holes? (Well! That took an unpleasant turn.)

Anyway. My point is, there is an entire new world that’s open to me, adornment-wise! I’ve gone the minimalist route with jewelry for a very long time and I’m charmed by the peacockiness of adding spangles to my own self. It’s pleasing in the same way stringing a trail of sparkle lights on the mantle is: a bit of shine, a little something extra.

Duh, you’re probably thinking. So you’ve discovered ACCESSORIZING. I know, I know. It’s a small thing. But a reminder that there are plenty of happy surprises left in life.

When we did our family rafting trip on the Rogue River last month I spent quite a bit of time in an inflatable kayak, mostly paddling along but also navigating some actual no-shit rapids. Here’s the thing I could never have predicted in about a million years: I was pretty damned good at it. “You’re a natural,” shouted our guide at one point, and you guys, I cannot tell you what that did for me. Like no big deal but go ahead and etch it on my gravestone, okay? A natural at whitewater kayaking.

It’s true I managed to get dumped at one point so perhaps it’s a bit early to call myself a natural, but it was a scary thing and I was brave enough to do it, and not only was it fun, it was like dancing across the water. Like feeling some great cosmic torrent of energy and being fully plugged into it, like being deeply alive on every level. Like being a purposeful part of the world.

It’s all too easy to get tunnel vision, these days. I mean in the narrowed-in sense, but also in the sense that there is darkness all around us. It feels helpless, like being swept in a current of shit. But then there are all these gifts, these moments of beauty big and small.

I don’t really know where I’m going and I never have. Lately, though, I feel like I’m on the surface of things. Dancing, even. Wearing, like, the most adorable earrings.