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One of those scary child vs. pool moments {take 2}

2012 July 7
by Emily Hill

I am still a bit shaken and it’s been almost 24 hours. And it’s not like it was a super scary pool moment involving 911 and CPR. Doesn’t matter. When you see your child (and I can still picture it all vividly in my head) desperately trying to grasp the side of the pool wall, knowing full well he thinks he can swim but really can’t, your heart goes from skipping a few thousand beats to beating so fast you’re sure it’s going to burst out of your chest. It’s not a fun experience.

It all started innocently enough. I had just finished my swim workout and was going to head home to shower before picking up George from swimming lessons. I was meeting my mom for lunch at Gardner Village and didn’t want to be late (because I’m usually late). But for some reason, and I’m so glad there was “some reason,” I decided to stay and watch him.

The lesson was a typical swimming lesson full of bobs, kicks, back floats and preschoolers who couldn’t keep their bums on the steps even if they wanted to tried. My George loves to put his head under the water, jump off the steps and even do his version of freestyle (i.e., kamakaze arms and legs moving him in a generally forward direction). I had already gone over once to tell him to sit on the steps while his teacher was helping the other kids in his class. “The look” from Mom kept him in line…until his class made its way around the corner to a deeper part of the pool.

I watched as the teacher took each child in turn and had him practice “swimming” to the wall from a foot or two away. Having taught swimming lessons myself, I recognized this as an important safety skill to teach young children. We used to dedicate an entire lesson to pool safety and spent most of it on this skill, especially with the younger children. If you can make the “turn around and grab the wall” an automatic response, they at least have a chance at saving themselves if they fall into a swimming pool.

While this was going on, George thought it would be fun to do his own basic training. He would jump in close to the side, turn around and grab the wall. I was actually impressed and rather proud my four-year-old would jump in where he couldn’t touch…and better yet, got himself back to the side. Of course he was less than a foot away when he jumped in, so it wasn’t too much trouble for him. That is until he jumped a bit too far.

As I type this I can still picture George jumping into the water and then turning around, only to find the wall was further away then he thought. His arms flailing in a combo of doggy paddle and freestyle, I watched as he struggled to grab something, anything. I very quickly realized he wasn’t going to make it and took off running faster than a bat out of hell. In fact, that bat had nothin’ on me.

Just as I got there, two things happened. One, the teacher finally saw George struggling for his dear little towheaded, scrawny life; and two, George grabbed the wall with one tiny, precious little finger. He came up choking and gasping for air, tears (and a gallon of pool water) streaming down his face. The teacher offered an “I’m sorry” and I offered an “I think we’re done for today.”

I picked up my soggy little boy and carried him back to where I’d been sitting, wrapped him in a huge, warm towel and held him close. And THEN I turned it into what my mom affectionately calls a “mother’s moment.” That George and I had a heart-to-heart about how important it is to patiently wait his turn during swimming lessons, and how even though she’s watching the class, scary things can happen in a split second. I think he got it. His sad, “Mommy, I was scared because I couldn’t take a breath” moment drilled the message home.

Of course I didn’t want him to leave scared or too traumatized to come back to swimming lessons. Heck, I’d love for him to still enjoy jumping off the side of the pool (with adult supervision), so I told him how very brave he was and how very smart he was to do what he did. He did the right thing by not giving up and trying his hardest to get to the wall. His moving his arms and kicking was EXACTLY the right thing to do. Hearing that put a slight smile on his face…wish I could say the same for myself.

I was traumatized, perhaps more than he was. When I finally went to bed at 2:13am, I couldn’t sleep. My heart started pounding as I relived the experience, which I’d already relived a dozen times that day. And then like most moms, an imagination that fails me when it comes to Barbies and My Little Ponies kicked into full gear in the wee hours of the morning. What if this, what if that, and remember the time when Lauren was little and your friend was watching her in the pool but didn’t notice she was losing her footing on the slope to the deep end and if you hadn’t walked through the door at that moment and dove in and grabbed her (strapless swimsuit top around your waist and all), she might have drowned? Yeah, that kind of imagination.

Fortunately I was tired enough to fall asleep, and today, though my heart still skips a beat here and there when yesterday’s experience pops into my head, it is a new day and the scary “child vs. pool” moment has come and gone. George is at summer camp as we speak, only a half hour away from another swimming lesson. And he can’t wait.

I’m leaving in 20 minutes so I can be there to watch.

swimming pool

P.S. Thank you for letting me use today’s post as a therapy session. I’m feeling better already.

P.P.S. I don’t blame the teacher…too much. I’ve taught swimming lessons and know from personal experience things can get crazy when you combine four preschoolers, a lot of water and a ginormous amount of energy.

P.P.P.S.. I do wonder what the heck the lifeguard was doing. For heaven’s sakes, there were at least three of them!

P.P.P.P.S. I can run really, really, really fast when my child is in danger. I’m more like a super jet-fueled, sound-barrier-breaking, can’t-even-see-me jet out of hell than a bat.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for free is this REALLY my life? updates via RSS or email.

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