Last Thursday was the scariest day of my life.
I'm what I consider to be an attentive mother. Especially when it comes to the pool. I've read the infamous post about what drowning does and does not look like, and I know better than to be on the phone/texting/reading/doing ANYTHING else at the pool because I know how easily your life can be forever changed in an instant of inattention. And yet, despite all of this, I was not exempt from a close call at the pool....
Knowing that school would begin this week and that our days of lounging poolside in the afternoon were numbered, I packed up all three gals and headed to the pool to get in one last day of swimming and lunching. I had gotten plenty of sleep, was perfectly caffeinated and was on top of my game - something that a.) isn't often the case, and b.) I mention not to brag but only to note that accidents can happen to anyone and to stress all the more the importance of constant vigilance.
We arrived at the pool and immediately began our pre-water routine, including sunscreen, hydrating and grabbing towels. Then, I let the big girls jump in, while focusing on grabbing Ava's floatie for the final step in her pool prep. In the instant that I turned around to get her puddle jumper - the amazing device that turns my not-quite-swimmer into a would-be olympian - she ran off with the older girls and - to my horror - lept off the edge and into the water.
To most of us, when we imagine an accident in the water, we imagine all the adults in the area dropping everything instantly, peeling off their coverups and jumping in. We imagine the lifeguards blowing whistles and diving in, and - more to the point - immediate action by everyone and recognition that our child's life is in jeopardy, right?
Instead, the scene played out more along these lines:
-Ava jumps in (and, though I spent my fair share of time beating myself up about it, I will say with 100% certainty that I was watching her with vigilance and that is the only reason I even saw this happen and was able to take immediate action).
-I take off running (in my bikini, in case this wasn't nightmare-ish enough) full-speed, screaming at the top of my lungs, "She can't swim! She can't swim!" at the lifeguard sitting in his raised chair a mere FOOT away from where she entered the pool, and NOT. PAYING. ATTENTION.
-I dive in, watching with horror as her head repeatedly (and by this I likely mean twice, but I was so scared my mind has a hard time revisiting this memory) buoys back and forth between underwater and the surface, her first attempts at treading water.
-I pull her out of the water, assessing her breathing and if she has/had any water in her mouth and whether any lasting damage may have occurred.
I'd love to tell you that I carried her out to applause or was met on the steps by other adults willing to help or the lifeguard actually got his ass out of the chair, but much to my absolute shock, people were going about their lives. They were eating lunch. One mother was looking at me like I was out of my mind (I attribute this to the running and frantic yelling), and not in a sympathetic way. And the lifeguard? As for him, he had the audacity to ask me, "What just happened?" in a way that suggested he recognized how epicly he had just screwed up, to which I responded by kicking him in the balls (in my head only, sadly).
In short, nobody noticed.
Family upon family had gathered at the upscale country club pool, staffed with three lifeguards, and not a single person saw her fall into the water or took action to rescue her.
The point of this obviously emotional diatribe is not to point fingers at those who were there that day, but to drive home an important point: You alone can be counted on to protect your child around the water. It's easy to feel safe with lifeguards and with other parents nearby, but drowning? It's quiet. It's fast. And it's easy to overlook. Pay attention. Be present. Had I not been, and had I not seen Ava jump in, things may have ended differently. That last hoorah at the pool before school could have changed my life forever and been a day that I would revisit and regret the rest of my entire life.
I'm so infinitely grateful that I was paying attention. I still have my baby. Her life went on that day, as did mine (though I certainly did not emerge unchanged). There will never be enough prayer and enough thank yous and enough good deeds repaid to express how thankful I feel for that.
Ava is fine. In fact, five minutes later, I forced her (and moreso, myself) to get back into the pool because I did not want her to become afraid of the water. She was fine, and despite a panicked call to the pediatrician where I checked to see if the incident necessitated a trip to the emergency room (it did not, as only ten seconds at the most could have passed between when she lept, and when she was back on solid ground in my arms, despite it feeling as though hours had passed), it was like it had never happened at all.
But it had happened. And, despite the positive outcome, I am forever changed. I was shaken to the core in a way that is infrequent for my laid-back, easygoing self. And so I ask of you this: As you finish out these last days of the summer heat and pool season, I beg of you to pay the closest of attention. Your lives could change in an instant. Mine did.