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?
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.
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.
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