Have you ever read the story of a kid drowning in a pool and thought judgingly: “where were the parents?” perhaps imagining they were tossing back drinks inside the house while their children played outdoors unsupervised.
Well, experience tells me the parents could very well have been right by the pool. There could’ve also been other adults around. When a parent feels his or her kids are being watched by a number of people, well, he or she may let their guard down. They may have their hands full, maybe with another kid. They may trust that those mommy-and-me swimming lessons they took when baby was four months old paid off. But they are most likely wrong on all accounts.
I know all of this first hand.
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending, but it could have gone very wrong very fast.
My youngest wasn´t even a month old when we took a family trip to a beachside resort with my father in law. My eldest, then three, had taken swimming lessons even before she could walk. And yet, she still relied on “floaties” to swim.
One morning, I walked over to the resort pool with both kiddos and parked myself in the shade. As I breastfed my baby, I blew air into the floaties for my eldest, who was right next to me, jumping up and down, squealing: “The water is SO blue, mami!”
I closed my eyes as I blew one last time to finish inflating her floating devices. I opened my eyes and my daughter was gone. I turned my head. She was nowhere to be seen. I instinctively looked down at my chest. Baby was happily suckling.
I stood up and offhandedly glanced into the pool. My heart stopped. I could see my three-year-old daughter´s head bobbing under the water. It was the shallow end but it was deep enough that her little feet couldn´t reach the bottom. I expected her to swim up, but she just flailed her arms.
I looked around to see whether someone else was watching. I had my baby in my arms and I suppose I hoped someone would jump in and help. There were other people at the pool, including her grandfather. Time seemed to stop. That´s when I quickly placed my baby on the lounge chair I had been sitting on and jumped into the pool.
I grabbed my three-year-old and pulled her up. She gasped for air and cried. Only then did I realize how quick my reflexes had been, beating everyone else´s. By then someone had jumped in, and as this person caught up with me, I was already climbing out of the pool, shaking.
Several lessons were learned that day: that a mom’s reflexes are faster than anyone else’s. That it was a mistake to assume that at three my daughter would know not to jump in without her floaties. And third, that no matter how many adults are around, you can’t take your eyes off your child around a pool—not even for a second.
When I later moved to Florida, where swimming pools are a year-round thing, I made sure to take both girls to proper swimming lessons until they were able to swim on their own. I realized all the baby swimming classes were for naught when it came to pool safety. It had simply served to make my eldest fearless, but it didn´t teach her to avoid jumping in without her floaties.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”
Although my kids are teens now, I don´t allow them to swim in the backyard pool if nobody else is in the house. Prevention is always the best measure no matter the age.