Yesterday, my world stopped, and a fear arose. I am still shaking off the ghost of what happened. Sleep has not gone well.
This weekend was a long and busy one. On the list of activities was getting together with my Dad, stepmom, and family. We wanted to hang out, and have the kiddos go swimming at the hotel. So, we packed up and headed to the other side of town. The overcast, rain-laden clouds hung heavily in the sky, however, this did not affect the interior of our minivan as we traversed through the city. The littles knew we were on our way to see Grandpa and Grandma. Their conversation was peppered with comments about pizza and even the word “pool.” As for Kati and I, our conversation was more softened about the busy times we have found ourselves in.
We arrived. Like a heard of animals we descended upon the hotel’s atrium. There, family and pizza boxes awaited. The boys took over a table to snack, juggle children, and play cribbage. Some of the children wandered over asking what we were playing. Smiles flippantly appeared upon all of the dad’s faces, it was about time to pass this game on to the next generation. Such a stoic torch, one that has been passed throughout our family for longer than many of us know.
After some pizza, and cribbage, the locals were getting restless. It was also at that time that some of the other children needed to go home for naps. So, the gaggle was reduced to our three and one of my nieces. My brother stayed to hang out with us, and to see if his daughter wanted to swim. So, a quick change into swimsuits was had. There is something amazing about the sound of little feat running down long halls. The heavy padded carpet making a thud, thud, thud that reverberates as the base, below the trill of their voices. The anticipation and excitement crescendos with each and every spoken word. I am thankful that it was mid-afternoon. This lessened my fear that anyone could be sleeping. We opened the door to the small indoor pool and all worked to contain the excitement of the children.
I hopped in the pool. Like children looking at a puppy both Zoey and David circled around the pool, they wanted to jump in. They listened. Many of the methods that I have learned, and those that were added by family swim lessons at the Y took hold. I watched as they both sat down, feet dangling in the warm water. My children don’t fear the water. Heck, they do not really fear anything. They know that they are strong, I know that they are resourceful, and my fear is that they are fearless.
When it comes to water, I have a long history. I have been on swim teams since I was a teenager. Though not the fastest, there was a passion. This passion still exists today. I would rather be in a pool swimming endless laps over a short sprint on a track, any day. I took scuba diving for credit in college… because I wanted to. Since then I have used my certification speeding time floating in the endless abyss. As a result, I have learned not to completely fear, but to respect the water. Most of all, I have learned that things can happen in a second that can change your life, or even end it.
Much like looking to the stars and running barefoot in the grass, I have been working with my kids on learning how to swim. Teaching them that some fear is good, and a ton of respect is better. We have taken family swim lessons, and have plans for more. My comfortable relationship with water is something that I want to pass on. For both its power and its beauty are mesmerizing.
I pointed to Zoey. She stood, hands exactly wringing themselves. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and with a high-pitched, gleeful scream, she jumped to me. We laughed, and giggled. I moved her back to the side to hold on. As she was climbing out, I pointed to David. He stood, and I could not see any fear, just the contained excitement shivering through his little body. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and he leaped into my arms with a scream of joy. For what seems like forever, this rotation continued.
Eventually we ended up in the shallows. 3 feet deep, stairs with a rail. I looked and there was the rest of the family. My niece was playing in the shallows, showing me how tall she was. My dad and brother were playing a game, while Kati and my step-mom were chatting (Jacob in tow). Meanwhile, my two wanted rides. So, I started with Zoey. David sat down on the steps, holding onto the rail, as we had practiced. With a whoosh I was off with Zoey. As I made it to the middle of the deep end, I turned to look… and my heart stopped.
David had decided to stand up, his foot slipped, as did his hand. He was in water over his head. His arms began to flail, he tried to call out for help. My son was drowning.
Fear gripped me like a vice, and my heart stopped.
In a flash I jerked towards him, arm stretched. I needed to get to my boy. Zoey was on my back, arms around my neck. As I made this move she tightened. My scream for help, for anyone on the side to help my boy, it was cut off as her little arms held on for dear life.
He just kept flailing, and bobbing, struggling to float, trying to breath. I tried to lunge towards him again. Fear riddled me as I tried to reach my drowning son. One arm outstretched, with every tendon and fiber reaching for him in vain. I tried to scream again. My chest pounding against my daughters little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I reached up to pull Zoey’s arms off my throat as a blur came from the right of the pool.
In the wake of it all, by pure chance, my brother happened to look at me. He saw the look of horror and fear on my face. Following my gaze, he saw David. He leapt to action, and leapt into the pool. He pulled David up and held him close as I finally reached them.
In that moment, all were on their feet. My brother placed David on the side of the pool, he sat there coughing and crying as we flocked to him. I have never been so happy to see a coughing little boy in my whole life. I reached out for him as tears filled my eyes.
My heart began to beat, slowly. But the fear remained.
I hugged him, looked in his eyes, asking over and over again if he was ok.
“Oh-tay daddy” he replied, over and over again.
Finally, after a few minutes, many tears, and some towels, we continued our play, though a bit more restrained than before.
Now we watch and make sure that there are no signs of Dry Drowning. This is something that all parents should be aware of, and never experience. It will add a whole new level of fear regarding the pool for your kids. Long and short of Dry Drowning is where some water enters the lungs. It causes some swelling that limits the oxygen exchange, and has the same result (and effects) of drowning. It can happen with a delay up to 24 hours before the person shows any signs that it is going on. Though rare, it happens. We, as parents, should know about it, and fear it. This is especially relevant as summer is near. The time of pool parties, and swimsuits eagerly is ahead of us.
Fear be damned, today is another day.
But, as I said, I cannot shake the ghost. As a result, I fight to get sleep. While I lay there, exhausted, I see those moments over and over. Almost as soon as I close my eyes, I am taken back. I watch it playing from a birds eye view. I consequently rip myself apart. How did I let myself get so far away? It does not seem like it was that far. It is because of this that I will fight to be a better dad. But, since I know myself well enough, I will also never cease chastising myself for not getting there sooner.
Most of all, I will never cease being thankful for my brother jumping in. My brother is a hero. Seconds matter, and in those seconds, he jumped in. Nicholas, if you read this, know that I love you, and that I owe you. I will never thank you enough for jumping in to help my little boy. You said it was no big deal because I would have done the same, and I agree with you. But it is a big deal, to me. Thank you Nicholas, a thousand times, thank you.
Later that day, when I was talking to David about what had happened, and that I was scared, I could see that he was too. When I told him that I loved him, he looked at me. His beautiful eyes filled with love and he replied,
“I love pizza”.
Finally, all was right with the world.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.