Spring is finally here and summer will be following soon after. It’s never too early for this lifesaving reminder as you hit the water: Drowning is silent.
I had a drowning scare with my son this morning and I saw firsthand the truth behind that sentence. My 3-year-old had just finished his first ever swim lesson and wanted to play in the water a little longer. My gym pool is the kind where it just gradually gets deeper and my boy likes to stay in the super shallow area so I said yes. But I made him stare at me as I explained I was in my work out clothes and not a bathing suit so he had to stay close, since I couldn’t come in with him. We’ve done this before, since he’s a good listener and usually stays in the super shallow end.
Today, he was enjoying jumping in from the side of the pool, around the 1-foot water height. I watched as he jumped in and popped back up, over and over again, each time smiling at me and hoping for my applause. Except, one time he didn’t pop back out.
He had moved down a little further to slightly deeper water, right next to where the lifeguards sit on watch. When standing, his head would still be fully above the water. He jumped in and tucked his legs so he’d go under water. But this time, he couldn’t get his feet back under him, which meant he couldn’t stand up and lift his head out of the water. From across the pool, I watched as my baby struggled to lower his butt, which kept floating to the surface, and find his footing. I realized what was happening as I watched his arms flailing out to the side and down, and his face never turning far enough for air. And I watched the lifeguards, though 2 feet away from him, chat and distract each other, missing this entire thing. I ran, watching him fail each attempt to roll over or drop his feet or get back to the side of the pool. No doubt he was panicking and that only made him clumsier. And it doesn’t help his head is abnormally large so he’s a bit top heavy to begin with.
I made it in time to pull him out. Even though the lifeguards were two feet away, it was me who got soaking wet pulling him out as he coughed water on me and began crying. I’ll never forget his whimpered, “Mommy can I cuddle you?” right after. It was me who pulled him out because, despite the close proximity to the lifeguards, he is small enough that his flailing arm splashes weren’t loud enough over the din of the huge indoor pool and the guards’ own conversation. His face never broke the surface of the water so he couldn’t scream or cry for help.
The lifeguards finally turned and saw me as I pulled him out. I hope they realized what had happened. I was in too much shock and too focused on remaining calm for my son that I didn’t think to tell them off for not doing their job.**
But this is the true point: As a parent, it’s your job to always be vigilant while watching your kids around water, especially your little ones who aren’t strong swimmers yet. As a parent, it’s your job to remember that drowning is silent—not the gasping, dramatic cries for help you see portrayed in movies and TV shows. It’s the lifeguard’s job to watch, sure; these scenarios are what they are trained and paid for. But they are humans, too. They won’t catch everything, even when they’re watching the entire pool closely. These lifeguards today made the mistake of talking to each other for an extended period of time, focusing on each other instead of scanning the pool, and that could have cost my child his life. But a parent’s job is never done, so I was watching, too. And now I know better–next time, I’ll make sure my son is wearing a puddle jumper floatie jacket until he’s a stronger swimmer. But it never hurts to have more sets of eyes scanning the pool from each parent, even if our kids are older and strong swimmers. So lets all resolve to pay closer attention. Let’s all learn the 5 steps of water competency. Let’s remember what drowning, and a child in distress, really looks like. Because it only takes a few moments for a silent drowning to occur.
I was fortunate today. Fortunate to be watching when all this happened so I could act quickly. I was fortunate that I knew the signs of drowning and recognized it happening to my son. And once out of the water, I was fortunate that he didn’t show signs of any major problems. We got lucky; others aren’t. So I wanted to pass on this reminder once more: Drowning is silent. Watch your kids around water and be hyper vigilant, even when there is a lifeguard on duty. Because you just never know what can happen.
Here’s a helpful video explaining the signs of drowning.
***(Don’t worry, a few hours later once I calmed down, I emailed them about the incident, politely but sternly imploring them to train their guards better in this area of distraction so this won’t happen to another child.)