From a young age, my older son was afraid of the water. At a beach or pool he would tentatively walk in, stopping as soon as the water reached his waist, not going any further for fear of getting his face wet. Splash pads were a torturous medieval gauntlet he avoided by running around the outside edges of the pad while trying to figure out where the water would come from next to avoid being splashed.
Our second son was fearless. At 18 months, he would lay on his back in the tub, submerging himself completely then come up laughing and sputtering when the water went up his nose. At the beach, he would run into the water full force and laugh when he tripped and fell.
Our sensitivity to our older son’s fears and our complacency with our youngest son’s fearlessness made us careless.
We should have put life jackets on both of them.
We were invited to a pool party. We packed snacks, food, wine, towels and life jackets - two life jackets - but when we got there, we only put a life jacket on our older son. Our younger son was in the shallow end, we said. He’ll be fine, we said.
Less than 10 minutes later while chatting and laughing with the other parents, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband jump out of his chair and run towards the pool. I followed the direction he was going and immediately focused in on the two arms sticking out of the water. The rest of our son was completely submerged. We were less than 10 feet away, but that run to the pool felt like forever.
Our son had misjudged where he was in the pool and stepped off the last step that went down into the deep end. He sunk like a stone. I had always thought they would float, their little chubby bodies still covered with a layer of body fat would be buoyant. But they don’t. They sink, and without a word.
It wasn’t like you see in the movies or on TV There were no yells or flailing arms or gasps. It was completely and utterly silent. Had my husband not seen his arms sticking out of the water, he would have drowned. He would have died before our very eyes on a sunny afternoon with children playing and adults laughing because we had been careless.
So I’m writing this to tell you not to be. If your child can’t swim, they should always wear a life jacket. Always. No excuses.
And you should never take your eyes off them. Not even for a second.
P.S. There isn’t any insult you could swing my way about how stupid I was that I haven’t said to myself 1000 times over. It’s been six years since it happened and I still have nightmares about seeing my son’s arms coming up through the water.