As a parent, the darkest place you could be in is if your child gets injured (or worse) because of something you caused, either directly or by neglect. The regret and guilt are debilitating and overwhelming.
Ask me how I know.
A few summers ago, something happened that shook me to my very core and changed my life forever. Now, with 20/20 hindsight that allows me to stand on my soapbox and preach the gospel of water safety, I can tell my story in hopes that it changes your mindset.
We live in Texas where it’s hot for most of the year, so we put a pool in our backyard for the kids to enjoy and get some exercise. We knew there are risks with a pool and small children, so we were always careful and took the necessary precautions. Or so we thought.
It was summer day, early in the morning. My husband and I were working in the yard and our kids were playing in the grass. My husband was on the side yard pulling weeds and I was folding towels and swimsuits on the adjacent porch. We both assumed that because we were both outside, the other was supervising the kids.
I went into the house to put another load of towels in the washer when my middle son (age three) came inside. He casually told me that his little brother was swimming. Since I knew they weren’t swimming, I really didn’t think much of it and just figured he was confused. Another few beats went by before it hit me. I raced outside at record speed to find my toddler at the bottom of our hot tub.
His enormous petrified eyes and the look of abject terror on his face are forever seared into my memory.
I grabbed him and pulled him out. He was vomiting water and I was screaming and wailing at the top of my lungs. When he heard the commotion, my husband ran to us and took over. He is a physician and one of the most cool-headed people I’ve ever met. After my husband worked on him, my son began coughing and crying which were the most beautiful sounds in the world because it meant he was breathing.
After he calmed down, our toddler was completely fine. I, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of completely fine. I was so rattled by the incident that I became physically ill. I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. The anguish over what could have been made it hard for me to breathe.
A few days went by and I was starting to feel an inkling of calm return to my life when the headline about Bode Miller’s daughter, Emeline’s drowning death appeared on my screen. I ran to the bathroom and vomited because the story was eerily familiar. My son and Emeline were the exact same age, 19 months. The images of that sweet little girl hooked up to tubes in the hospital before she passed away were absolutely heartbreaking.
Our stories were almost identical, except this little girl lost her life and my son didn’t. The injustice and horror of it all was too much to bear. It was difficult to witness the torment and agony her parents were suffering because had my son been submerged 15 seconds longer, we would have been in their position.
While I was reading their story, I was sitting on the ground watching my son play happily with his blocks. It occurred to me that had things gone differently that fateful day, instead of watching my son play this morning, I would be planning his funeral. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that a few short seconds was the difference between life and death.
Our baby is okay not because of anything we did right. He is okay because of God’s grace, pure luck or whatever you want to call it. If our middle child hadn’t come in to warn me, I shudder to think what could have happened.
We royally messed up that day and to be honest with you, I’m not sure why our son’s life was spared when so many others were not. But I do know this: every single day, I wake up completely overwhelmed with gratitude for it. I AM SO VERY THANKFUL.
I vowed in that moment that I would not squander the second chance I was given with him. Immediately, we spent a small fortune on a swim coach to give him water survival lessons. I couldn’t go another minute with him not being able to swim. It was worth every penny to know that he is water safe.
But more importantly, my mentality about water safety has completely changed. Gone is my complacent attitude about drowning not being something that could happen to my kids. I no longer assume that just because my kids are all proficient swimmers that they are safe in the water. My boys sometimes get hair brained ideas and one day I had to put the kibosh on them underwater wrestling. Thank goodness I was watching them to nip it in the bud before something happened.
Summer is officially upon us and it is boiling hot already, so pools and lakes are a great respite from the heat. But bear in mind that while it’s fun and refreshing, a pool can also be a death trap for small child. Anytime you are near water (even if your kid isn’t “swimming”), consider that body of water to be an extreme hazard and take necessary precautions and supervise them accordingly.
I implore you to let my son’s story be the catalyst to making a change in your actions and mindset regarding kids and water. If you do nothing else this summer, enroll your child in swim lessons and practice with them as much as you can until they are fully comfortable in the water. If you have a backyard pool, ensure you have proper fencing and/or an alarm.
Our huge mistake was assuming someone else was watching the kids. At large gatherings, I often find that the more adults present, the less supervision is actually taking place. Since there are a ton of people “around” everyone assumes that someone is watching the kids. Usually this is not the case. I have heard countless stories about drownings occurring while multiple adults were a mere few feet away. A designated “water watcher” is the best way to combat this. If you don’t want to hire a lifeguard, take turns with the other adults to be the one vigilantly watching the pool. And, never assume that just because the kids are “done” swimming that they can’t fall back in.
The memory of that awful experience will haunt me for the rest of my life. To this day when I think back on it, I’m overcome with anxiety. But instead of dwelling on the negativity, I try to turn it into action by warning others to be diligent about water safety. Trust me, your peace of mind and child’s life are worth it.
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