The Day My Son Almost Drowned :: A Lesson in Pool Safety

I am writing this as my 3 year old son naps in my bed beside me. It has been 24 hours since the accident, and I haven’t let him out of my sight. I listen to him breathe, grateful for the strength of each breath. I stare at his long eyelashes, the freckles sprinkled across his nose, and watch how he smacks his lips together in his slumber – a trait he inherited from me. I feel like my heart is being squeezed tightly and a lump forms in my throat as I imagine how much different today would have been if I hadn’t been one of the lucky ones … one of the moms who barely escapes tragedy.

Tragedy. It happens in seconds.

My son almost drowned yesterday. It happened in a flash.

My husband and I took our kids to my parents’ house to go swimming, like we do almost every Friday afternoon in the summer. My mom changed my son into his bathing suit, and I told him to wait a minute for me to put on his puddle jumper. I started giving my husband instructions for the baby – when to feed her and put her down for a nap – before I went outside. And then I realized I didn’t know where Ben was. It had been less than a minute. I called his name a couple of times. Then I called it again, panicking. My stomach sank as I ran towards the pool. My baby boy was on the far end of the pool with just his forehead peeking out from the water.

I ran as fast as I could and jumped in the pool – shoes and all. My husband followed right behind me and, being a stronger swimmer, scooped my son out of the pool quickly. I will never forget the look of terror in my son’s eyes. My husband patted him on the back until he started coughing and spitting out water. After a minute, my boy was back to normal and worried about me. “Stop crying, Mommy. I’m okay. See?” But I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop crying imagining what would have happened if I had talked for one more minute or went to the bathroom or received a text. What would have happened if I hadn’t realized he was out of my sight at that moment?

Before this my son had never even attempted to go near the pool without an adult or other kids around. Later I asked him what happened. He said, “I jumped in the water and I sanked (sic). I couldn’t get over the water. I can’t breathe under the water.” He had such a false sense of security from wearing the puddle jumper that he thought he could jump into the pool without anyone around and float right to the surface.

Although he displayed no symptoms, I was worried about secondary drowning so I spoke with my son’s pediatrician to make sure I didn’t need to take him to the emergency room. I let him sleep in my bed and bribed him with snacks and movies to stay up super late. When he finally drifted off around 2:00 am, I stayed awake for three more hours just listening to him breathe and searching for any abnormalities. Not able to shake the rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach, I set my alarm to wake up every hour to check on him. I had failed my son that afternoon at my parents’ house. I wasn’t going to fail him again.

Tragedy. It happens all the time.

The child at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The child at Disney’s Grand Floridian.

Your neighbor or cousin or friend of a friend’s child.

I posted about what happened to my son on my Facebook page as a warning to my friends to be a little more alert. I was worried about judgment, but I was met with nothing but love, support, and empathy. We all get it. Our kids are fast. They are reckless at times. Even the most vigilant parents have moments where they are distracted, especially in places that feel like home (like your mom’s house). Most people who know me and have seen me parent my children, would agree that I am a helicopter mom. You can be a helicopter mom for 23 hours and 59 minutes and something bad and 100% preventable can still happen under your watch.

So where do we go from here?

Swim Lessons:

Last summer, when he was two, my son took swimming lessons for two weeks. They were enough to get him comfortable with the water, but by no means did they teach him to be an expert swimmer. This year he has been wearing puddle jumpers and has gotten adventurous in the water (jumping, going down the slide, etc.), but we have been out of town for six of the last eight weeks, so his swim lessons this year were scheduled to begin, ironically, three days after this incident at the pool. After these lessons, I will not settle for him just being comfortable in the water. If he is not a strong swimmer when the lessons are completed, he will take more lessons.

Pool Safety:

A friend of mine works for the state and, sadly, hears about drownings all of the time. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children 1-4 years old. Little boys are especially susceptible to drowning because they are often fearless balls of energy (a description that fits my son to a tee). She shared this website with me that has tools for keeping your kids safe near the water.

Hoping there will never be a “next time”

We were fortunate this time. Something in my gut told me to panic the moment my son didn’t respond to me. There have been many other days at my parents’ house where I casually call out his name several times only to find him hiding under the coffee table or playing in the play room. I keep replaying yesterday in my mind over and over again – flooding my brain with “what ifs”. It is almost unbearable to imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t been lucky. I never want to feel this way again.

OTHER ARTICLES AND RESOURCES:

Splish Splash :: Drowing Happens in a Flash

Sink or Swim: A Guide to Swim Lessons in New Orleans

When Should My Child Learn to Swim?

Love Swimming This Summer {One Mom’s Experience with Swim Lessons in New Orleans}

Why My Daughter Never Wears a Puddle Jumper

 

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Marie is the owner of Little Hometown, a company specializing in locally themed baby swaddles and apparel. Prior to opening her business, Marie was a professional event planner turned stay-at-home mom. She spent nearly a decade living in New York City, where she met her husband, Jeff (a New England native). Early in their relationship, Marie told Jeff that New Orleans is the only place where she would want to raise her children. As soon as she got pregnant, they started shopping for houses. They moved back in December of 2012, welcomed their son in 2013 and their daughter in 2015. Marie now spends her days entertaining her kids with silly songs, desperately attempting to stay organized, and balance her life as a work-at-home mom.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Tears in my eyes. I’m so glad your little guy is okay. You are right; kids are reckless and it’s impossible to have our eyes on them all of the time. My husband never learned to swim and I’m trying to convince him to take lessons along with our son next summer when our son is two.

  2. Marie, I am crying as I write this. Thank you for sharing your story. If may help save some other mother’s child. Thank you.

  3. As a grandmother of an almost 2 year old grandson who drowned in February last year, I totally understand how you feel. Your situation only proves that no matter how diligent we are as parents, accidents still happen. There are a number of preventions we can implement but I believe one that is imperative is to teach children from six months of age, water survival skills. The classes teaching this programme are increasing. There is no price you can put on a child’s life. I am so very glad your baby is ok. Sending big hugs. Xxoo

  4. 32 years ago my 2 year old active smart son removed a 2×4 piece of wood that I placed in the track of the sliding glass door to ensure he could not open it. Because it opened to the pool at my mother’s home. I went in the kitchen to answer the phone he was out of sight watching cartoons waiting to for me to take him outside to the front yard to ride his new Big wheel. After a minute or so I realized I did not hear him from the other side of the wall. I began to call out to him and checked down the short hallway to the bedrooms and bathroom. I asked my sister if she saw him she said no I went out to the front yard she opened the sliding glass door and looked in the backyard…..As she was coming back into the house out of the corner of her eye she saw my son’s Big wheel in the pool….My son was at the bottom of the deep end of the pool. She jumped in and pulled him out, he was unconscious. I began to CPR although I had not been trained. Water was expelled from his lungs his eyes opened to a blank stare and he made no sound. The ambulance came and the paramedics took over. He was rushed to the hospital and I was brought into a private little room with a Chaplin. They would not give me any information on his condition. For what seemed like forever. Finally I was told I could see him, he was connected to tubes but he was crying and he knew me. After 2 days in the hospital he came home….I was told that due to the cold temperature of the water because the pool was not heated in the winter this is what saved his life and his brain function. This experience changed me for ever. I learned that no matter what precautions we take children are never safe around a pool. Never !!!!!! And every parent should be required to learn CPR. I thank god every day he is still here a 34 year old active and smart man.

  5. Please look into water survival instead swim lessons. Infant Swim and Rescue (ISR) is the most popular. It teaches very young babies and toddlers to survive in the water by floating on their backs. This program is designed to retrain your child’s body to float. Both of my children went through the ISR program and it absolutely saved my daughter’s life. She fell into the pool at 2 years old (again, she was only out of sight for a moment) and when I finally ran out to the pool, there she was, floating on her back and calling for me. It’s so scary and really can happen to anyone. Glad our stories had happy endings.

    • Ditto to this, and here in New Zealand different swim schools seem to have different technique priorities. From my experience, survival is most important. My 4 year old tripped and fell off a wharf (I still well up and feel sick about it a year on) there were 14 of us family right there, and it still happened in a split second.
      Amongst his terrified scream from the backward fall/drop to the water below, he instinctly knew to come up to surface and to lie on his back to get his breath. All thanks to his survival swim skills from his amazing teacher. Sadly her swim school closed down, and I’m now left watching my younger 3 year have his “lessons” but not at all the same…., luckily I know the importance and am teaching him to know to survive on his back.
      ❤️

  6. I am literally in tears as I type this reply. You guys are blessed. My nephew drowned on July 7th and suffered an extensive amount of brain damage from lack of oxygen to the brain. I thank God daily that my nephew is still here with us but it’s heartbreaking to see our once vibrant and energetic kid struggle with not knowing anything or not eating talking or walking. He’s receiving rehabilitation but I find myself falling apart every time I have to leave him and my sister at the hospital/rehabilitation center. And the memories of how quickly things went from sugar to sour replay in my head over and over and I think of a thousand ways we could have prevented this accident from happening but I always just end up in tears!

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I recently moved to a house with a pool and have been having nightmares about something like this happening. I am adamant about swim lessons with my now 8 year old daughter and have been struggling to get her “comfortable” in the water. This summer I enrolled my 6 month old in swim lessons as well to help encourage her and get him comfortable as well. I’m also working with our dogs around the water and helping them learn how to get out. Swim lessons for all!!! It’s been challenging but so crucially important now that we have a pool.
    Sending you positive thoughts as you overcome this feeling.

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