It’s a scary thing, seeing your child’s head just below the surface of the pool, there in the deep end, his pudgy hands moving frantically, his feet kicking futilely.
Time ripples and blurs as you struggle to get to him, a table full of appetizers between him and you. And scattered lawn chairs. Party guests. A diving board. Three lifeguards.
Lifeguards who don’t see him. Who continue to scan the surface of the pool. While your son bobs just below their line of sight. (In their defense, these lifeguards are young and there are lots and lots of kids splashing and playing.)
Did reflections hide him? Inexperience?
You hear yourself scream at a friend. A friend already in motion. A friend halfway between you and your boy. A friend half a second ahead of you. And every second matters. Every fraction of a second.
Seconds at a swimming pool are slippery. In a blink, time is up.
The experts say young children can drown in as little as twenty seconds. They panic and inhale water. And their heads are heavy and disproportionate to their bodies, so they don’t splash around and yell for help. They can’t get their mouths above the surface — or their arms.
So everything that happens, happens quickly and out of sight and sound.
Luckily, when my son fell in, there were two sets of eyes who noticed him. My friend’s and mine.
I’ll confess, though. I wasn’t watching him very closely. I have twin boys. Five years old. So, I was scanning from one boy to his brother. But only haphazardly…
Because, I was having drinks and socializing. It was a party, after all. And there were lifeguards on duty… hired by the hostess with the express purpose of allowing her guests to relax and have adult beverages while some fully-trained experts kept an eye on the kiddos.
I did three things wrong.
- I trusted the licensed teenage lifeguards more than I should have. They are teenagers after all.
- I trusted my son to not go in the deep end because he knew he couldn’t swim. (He didn’t go in… voluntarily. He slipped. Quickly and silently.)
- I had drinks and let my guard down. A mother drinking with young children swimming is never a good combination.
He was probably only under for ten seconds. But those ten seconds felt like an eternity. All I could see was water distorting his small frame, a halo of hair drifting below the surface. All I could feel was his panic.
My friend flung herself into the pool ahead of me, her years of life-guarding kicking in, even as I yelled hoarsely for her to get him.
I followed close behind. I didn’t need to jump in, too. She had him. But I NEEDED to jump in. To be there. To feel him close and safe. And he needed me there. To feel close and safe.
We snuggled at the side of the pool for a while. Until his little heart calmed. Until my need to vomit subsided. Then my friend took him from my arms and pulled him back into the water.
When you fall off a bike, you get back on. When you nearly drown, you get back in. She didn’t want him to fear the water.
And he doesn’t. Before twenty minutes were up, he was back splashing with his brother in the shallow end.
Before the weekend was up, we had signed both boys up for swim lessons. At five-years-old, we can’t wait a minute more. We shouldn’t have waited this long.
But life is busy. And time is slippery. It got away from us. And here they are five years old and not knowing how to swim. We were incredibly lucky. Not everyone is so fortunate.
I will not make those same mistakes again. Seconds (and second chances) at a swimming pool are way too slippery.