I have shared some version of this article before, but having read it may have saved my child’s life today, so I’m sharing it again. Please, please read it, share it, and internalize it, because drowning doesn’t look the way we think it does. And now I know from experience.
My son almost drowned right in front of me this afternoon.
We were at the lake, in between swimming lessons for my two children. My 7 year old was on the beach near me, playing with sand toys. HIs 5 year old brother wanted to go back in the water, and I gave the go ahead. I had reminded both boys multiple times already not to go out so far that they had to be on their toes or or jump to keep their heads fully above water. Still, there was a lifeguard on duty, and multiple others, the swim instructors, hanging around, so I’ll admit I let my attention drift a bit.
When I looked at the water, my 5 year old was up to his chin. “Too deep!” I called. “Come in closer!” I glanced at his brother for a moment, who had asked me a question. When I looked back, the 5 year old hadn’t moved. This was not particularly unusual; recently, listening and following instructions have been challenging for him.
“Hey! That’s too deep! Come closer!” I yelled, a little more stern. He was looking right at me. He didn’t move, still bobbing with his head slightly tilted back, chin above the water.
His brother asked me something else, maybe about what his brother was doing. “I think he’s too deep,” I said, realization dawning. “He’s too deep,” I repeated as I stripped down to my swimsuit and ran into the water, watching his chin dip into the lake.
Just as I got to him, his mouth and nose went under, but he reached his arms out to me. I scooped him up and he started gently crying, holding on to me tightly.
I turned around to see the lifeguard standing at the edge of the water. I don’t think he’d noticed what was going on until I ran in. I was not upset with him at all; there were lots of kids, many jumping off the raft, and mine was away from the crowd and off to the side of his vision. But after checking in to make sure we were ok, he said, “Hey, buddy, next time, if you’re in trouble, just give a wave, ok?”
He didn’t wave. He couldn’t. He didn’t splash. He couldn’t. He didn’t make a sound, though he asked me later if I’d heard him ask for help. He couldn’t. He was solely focused on surviving.
And though his face was out of the water almost the whole time, he knew he was in trouble. He told me, while we cuddled on the beach afterwards, that he was sad. That he hadn’t wanted to die. He repeated multiple times over the rest of the afternoon and evening how scared he was. He asked me why I didn’t come quicker. I told him I hadn’t realized, I didn’t know, that I had jumped in as soon as I figured it out.
He went to his swimming lesson 30 minutes later. I held his hand as we walked over, having told him he could just watch or join in as he felt comfortable. He had said he didn’t want to go back in the water, but he went right over with his group, and did the whole lesson with no problem.
Still, I can tell he is shaken. Something has shifted in him. He is still 5, complaining about his brother’s stinky fart butt, and yet I sense a new awareness in him, a recognition that life is not a given.
I know that I, for certain, knowing full well how quickly and suddenly life can change, am feeling deeply grateful that things didn’t go the other way, and for this article which gave me the knowledge to understand what I was seeing before it was too late.