I’ve run in front of a moving Mack truck and I’ve climbed ladders. I have a well-developed search pattern technique and I have more than a passing familiarity with the Poison Control Hotline people.
All for the sake of my son.
But none of his exploits were quite as scary as the time he was so close to drowning and I couldn’t save him.
We were at our friends’ house, enjoying the warm weather and splashing in their pool. Our 3 children and their 4 have known each other almost since they were born, and they all look like siblings. I was in the pool with the kids, while the father of the other 4 children sat on the deck. My husband and his wife were inside the house figuring out some computer issues, and all was well.
My kids have never taken swimming lessons. The oldest has taught himself, and the other two are still working on it. They wear life jackets or use floaties if the water is too deep.
For whatever reason, my death-defying son got into the deep end without any of that. Or maybe his floatie got away from him. Whatever it was, I was in the shallow end with my daughter when I saw him start to struggle.
He’s a bit of a panicky kid, so when I saw him start to flail, I knew I better get him to the side before things got worse. I asked him a few times if he was alright, and he didn’t say much, so I moved over to where he was. Hitting the start of slope that signaled the deep end, I pushed off with one foot and swam to where he was.
Grabbing his arm, I thought I’d guide him over to the edge of the pool, and the crisis would be averted. I was talking in my best “this is no big deal” voice, hoping to calm him down enough to dog paddle to the edge.
Instead, he pushed me down. He grabbed on to me like a drowning man.
The water began closing over my head, and I couldn’t speak. I could feel him grasping at me, as if he wanted me to carry him. He was 12 years old, as tall as me. He wasn’t thinking straight. He was in panic mode.
I struggled underwater, trying to push against the water itself and somehow move towards the edge or at least up to the surface.
I heard a voice calling my name, asking if I was alright, but I couldn’t answer. My head was underwater. When the surface did break, I took the opportunity to breathe and fill my lungs before going back under. It seemed like forever.
I strategized. I thought, if I let him push me to the floor of the pool, he can stand in my arms. He’ll be able to keep his head above water, he’ll be able to breathe. I wouldn’t last long, but at least he’d have a chance to make it to the side.
Through the water in my ears, I heard a sudden, loud splash behind me, and felt the weight of my son being pulled off me. I reached and swam and was probably pulled over to the edge, water burning in my eyes and my throat.
I sat there for awhile. My son was scared but fine.
I, on the other hand, realized that I had screwed up. Big time.
If another adult hadn’t been there, this story would have a very different ending.
I should not have gone after my son. I should not have tried to pull or carry him through the water.
I should have grabbed a life jacket, a pool noodle, or a kick board, and handed it to him. I should have helped him put his weight on something else, so that he could keep his head above water. Then I could have pulled him, on the floatie, to the edge of the pool.
I’ll do it differently next time. I thought I could help him myself. I always think I can do things all on my own. I couldn’t. I needed something or someone else. There’s a reason lifeguards carry those buoys.
Now I have a plan, if something like this were to ever happen again. Grab a flotation device, put it in front of the child and guide their arms to it if necessary. Then, pull them to safety. Drowning doesn’t happen the way you think it will.
What’s your plan? What would you do if it happened on your watch?