When I heard the tragic story of Bode Miller, the most successful skier in American history, and his wife, whose 19-month old daughter drowned in the pool, I was devastated for them. As a parent, you can’t help but relate. A couple weeks ago, another similar and tragic story caught my attention. This 6-year-old boy was the same age as my kids and born in the same town I grew up in and still call home.
I know parents are aware of the dangers that come with child drownings, but a topic like this can never have too many warnings or cautionary tales. If there’ s anything I want you to take away from this, it’s that child drownings happen quick — quicker and quieter and easier than you’d think — and you could never be too vigilant.
When our daughter was about 2.5-years-old, we went away for the weekend to a place we’d been before. I was feeling some typical mom guilt because I hadn’t taken as many photos of our son and second born as I had of our daughter. By the pool, we sat him on the ledge while I held him up and Husband snapped pictures. We had only taken a couple pictures when I saw the lifeguard running towards us and screaming. We turned to the staircase — right behind us — to see our daughter completely submerged underwater.
She wasn’t kicking or flailing. Didn’t make a sound when she went under. In fact, there wasn’t even a splash because she walked right in. She took one step in and then another and then another until she could no longer reach and was under. It was that simple and that fast. She didn’t think to take a step back up to the stair she could reach; she just stood there, her eyes eerily wide open looking up at the sky from under water when I got to her.
It was motherfucking terrifying. Like, sorry about my language, but it needs to be said. We told this story to other people as a cautionary tale and yet — and yet — it happened again.
This time both kids were in the pool with their floats on while Husband and I watched from lounge chairs. Our eyes on them. We started talking about what to make for dinner when our daughter called us, “Mami. Papi.”
She spoke so calmly. “Hold on,” we said.
Again with no urgency she called us and again we told her to wait.
When she called us a third time, she added, “Santi took his floats off.” Santi was 2. We jumped in the pool and literally pulled him up by his hair.
Same as with our daughter, there was no noise, no panic. There were tons of people in the pool and no one — not one person — ever noticed a kid was underwater and not coming up.
Those moments shook us to our core. We had always assumed that someone drowning would be louder, bigger, arms struggling, screaming. But there was none of that. It was quiet and quick and unnoticeable — even in a pool full of people. It takes one minute. Let that bone-chilling detail wash over you; it takes 60 seconds for everything you cherish to be gone.
So now, even now that they know how to swim, I have my eyes on them. If I go to the bathroom, I make sure someone specific has their eyes on them. I don’t assume. I pick one person and say very clearly, “I’m going to the bathroom. Watch them, please.” If they are taking a bath and I have to leave the room I call their name and have them answer me until I get back. If there are big floats in the pool, I wait about 1.7 seconds without visibility before I’m up and heading over. I really hate floats.
I share these stories in total vulnerability, embarrassed that it took us twice to learn this lesson but in hopes that it may help anyone reading this understand the gravity of what this could be.