Ben had been bobbing around for hours, doing his own thing, not interested in playing with the other kids. But suddenly I couldn’t see my 7-year-old, a really great swimmer.
I scanned the pool and noticed the blur of his red bathing suit, against the wall, underwater, not moving. I raced over and Ben’s head was wedged behind the ladder. I tugged. Nothing happened. He was stuck. Really, really stuck.
It was my worst moment as a mother, as horrible thoughts flitted through my mind. Could I free him? What would I find if I did?
I pulled again and, miraculously, he came popping out, taking a big shuddering breath and opening his eyes as I swung him up on the side of the pool. We both dissolved into tears. As I hear about the tragic drownings in our area this summer — a 6-year-old in New London, a teenager in a state park — I realize that an accident around the water can happen so fast.
“It can happen in seconds. It can happen in 6 inches of water to 10 feet of water,” says Christian Engle of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA. “You have to be diligent. Even if there’s a pool with lifeguards on deck, you, as the parent or the guardian, you still have to pay attention. It’s your child.”
He believes we sometimes take our safety for granted and should routinely review a mental checklist of precautions. Kids should buddy-up in a pool, resist playing “how long can you hold your breath” games and keep the horseplay to a minimum. Moms and dads should check that there is a ratio of one lifeguard to every 25 kids and insist that a child take a “swim break” every hour.
“Give them a chance to drink some water, you can check and see how they’re feeling, re-apply sunscreen,” says Engle. “At the same time, as a parent, it gives you the chance to breathe for a minute and relax and know that your child is safe.”
At a private pool, make sure someone — a parent, babysitter or friend — knows CPR. “Those few minutes that it takes for 911 to respond and get to your house, not to sound overly dramatic, can mean the difference between life and death,” says Engle.
Lakes present visibility challenges, while swimming in river and ocean water could involve unpredictable undertows and currents.
“Inspect the environment, go out on the water with your children and maybe determine a safety point,” he says. And, no matter where you are, put down the magazine and pay attention to your kids: “You should participate with them, be vigilant in what’s going on with them.”
I shouldn’t have let Ben split from our group in the pool. Our frightening incident taught him a lesson about the potentially dangerous consequences of impulsivity. About a year has passed, and I still sense a cold fear pass through my body when I recall the sight of him, the feeling of panicked helplessness, the realization that our lives could have been irreparably altered in a matter of minutes.
I am forever grateful…and forever changed.