Since it’s summertime (across the Northern hemisphere at least) and time for the water, I wanted to share a reminder about drowning. My own child nearly drowned even though I was literally standing right beside her in the water. When children drown, they don’t splash or flail, they go under so silently and wordlessly, you don’t even know it’s happening, as this Slate article describes. That’s what makes it so scary.
We were on vacation in Mexico and both my husband and I were in the small hotel pool, together with our four- and six-year-old daughters. I had read all the articles about drowning and am highly vigilant when it comes to my kids and water. As neither kid knew how to swim, I insisted they have on swimmies in the water and I stayed in the pool with them at all times. I realized only in retrospect swimmies gave me a false sense of security as they may prevent the whole body from going under, but not the mouth.
I was playing in the shallow end of the pool with my four-year-old, Lila. Her feet were firmly planted on the ground. I was trying to get her comfortable with putting her face in the water and showing her how I put my face in, then my whole head. She was laughing watching me. My husband was maybe 10 feet from us with our older daughter.
“Do you want to see me do a handstand?” I asked Lila.
“Yes!!” she squealed. And so I did. Except when I came up and wiped my eyes, she wasn’t standing in the same spot anymore. I whipped around to look for her and there she was behind me, her mouth and nose under the water, her eyes paralyzed in fear, screaming for me silently. She was helpless, drowning, waiting for me to stop doing a fucking handstand and rescue her.
The moments until I could wrap my arms around her and pull her above the water seemed like slow motion, although it was probably only a second. I realized she had walked around me while I was doing a handstand, and then slipped down the drop-off in the pool. The swimmies kept her body floating, but her mouth and nose were fully submerged.
She was inconsolable when I finally got a hold of her and didn’t want any part of her body touching the water, climbing up my body to get out. Luckily she hadn’t swallowed much water as she didn’t cough anything out. I have no idea exactly how many seconds she was under….maybe five, no more than 10, but your child drowning is not something that rationalizing the time under makes you feel much better about.
After the incident, she made us take her into the house, where she fell asleep, which also concerned us. So we sat watch over here during her entire nap.
We made sure the girls had life jackets on after that when we went in the water together. And I wanted to touch Lila at all times. In the moments they played without holding on to me, my eyes never left the water and I never went under again.
It’s been a few months now since the near-drowning incident, and my four-year-old still says she doesn’t like the pool or water because “I went under and drank water.” I know it will take her a long while to get comfortable with the water again but I am thankful the scary incident didn’t prove more than that. Let it be a reminder to all parents that a child can drown right beside you, and it happens without a sound.