It's that time of year again. Arizona ranks behind only Florida in the highest number of child drownings each year in the US.
I live in Phoenix, and it is very difficult to find a home without a pool. My husband and I know this, because we set out to find a pool-less home when we moved to this dusty town, and one time as we were considering moving to a larger home (ha!), that is what we looked for again: no pool. It was a serious challenge.
Why did we not want that luxury? Because they are hugely expensive to maintain and serious water hogs. Also, there are a multitude of public pools here. But the most vital reason was because I was absolutely terrified that I would one day get distracted, and one of my children would manage to get to the pool unsupervised.
I was terrified. I still am. I've read the stories, Just today I read an article from Sunday's newspaper about a non-profit, water-safety-awareness group started by a mom whose son drowned in the family pool. She didn't think it could happen to her, even though she had read the stories, too. Now she does everything she can to let parents and children know that it CAN happen, but it positively CAN be prevented.
Even though our family took the precaution of having just a simple backyard, knowing my easily distracted nature, it can still happen. It almost did happen to us at a pool party.
We went to an end-of-season party for my son's football team. The party was being held at the home of one of the families. They had a pool with no fence or gate. I was nervous right away. I always am, because my kids, although having taken swim lessons with the city, do not have the opportunity to practice swimming at home. Our youngest two do not technically know how to swim yet. They have learned only basic water safety while overcoming their fear of water.
I knew what I would do. I would go in my bathing suit even if I was the only parent to do so. I would sit by the pool the whole time, my youngest within arm's reach. I would follow those kids everywhere, and if one of them ventured out of sight for even an instant, I would look toward the pool first.
But I made an error. My husband and I decided to bring an inflatable dragon pool toy, one which we very rarely used, to the party for the kids.
This is a good time to point out how dangerous inflatables are for kids who do not swim on their own.
Of course, we forgot it in the car, but then I remembered, mentioned it to my husband, and then the kids started to beg for it. Matthew, circumspect man, said that they didn't need it, that I shouldn't get it because they had been having fun without it. But my whole dumb idea was to say, well...why did we bring it then?
I wish I had listened to my husband, because, apparently, the reason we brought it was so that I could, through my own foolish pig-headedness, be taught a valuable and frightening lesson.
I made the kids get out of the pool and follow me to the car. Then we went back to the backyard, and someone blew up the toy for us. Danny Sammy stayed on the pool steps. I shoved in the large inflatable dragon, and Ana or I helped her little sister Ella onto it. Right when it reached the middle of the pool, the damn thing capsized, and my little daughter splashed into the pool beside her swimming big sister.
I stood up. Ana grabbed her little sister and tried to force her up back onto the bobbing dragon. I don't remember doing anything useful in those terrible, slow moments except for yelling at Ana to grab Ella.
Good heavens, can you imagine? Why didn't I just jump in?
My beautiful, extraordinary and slender daughter Ana kept her younger sister afloat and attempted to swim her to the pool edge. Finally, my heart slapped my brain awake; I kicked off my shoes and jumped in to save my precious daughter....or should I say daughters?
I didn't realize that the water was deepest there in the middle; I couldn't touch the bottom. It caught me completely off guard as I grabbed Ella and tried to keep our heads up out of the water. I finally shoved her over and onto the lip of the pool and pulled my own self out.
And all I could say was thank you, thank you to my Ana girl over and over and apologize to Ella as my soaked cover-up and hat dripped about me.
I have my penance to pay, because when Ella remembers that terrifying incident, she doesn't recall Mama jumping in to save her at the last moment so much as she remembers her big sister keeping her afloat for what seemed to all of us like an eternity.
It broke my heart one time when I reminded her that I had in fact pushed her out at last, and she said, "No, uh-uh - Ana saved me."
"Ana did save you," I agreed. "And I'm so grateful to Ana for keeping you afloat. I wish I had just jumped in right away instead of hesitating. Why did I hesitate? But I did finally jump in and push you out, remember?"
"No, Ana saved me," she reiterated, shaking her head and crossing her arms.
Berto, irritated, lectured Ella. Ana looked around at us with her sorrowful, soulful, saint-like face and gently tried to get Ella to see what Mama had done, too. But what can I say? I deserve no recognition. It was all my fault in the first place.
And I can only thank God with my whole heart that Ella was not seriously harmed by my foolishness and slowness. She will always remember her big sissy holding her up in that deep, unforgiving water, and I will always remember the lesson I learned.
So, please: whether you live in Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa or Phoenix, please, please watch your kids around water at all times. Enroll them in swim lessons. And don't ever use inflatables for children who don't know how to swim.
The scary tale of how a very dear family friend almost drowned as a preschooler is found in The Hand-Dug Pool And The Day I Drowned.
For the story of how my big sister Annie saved me from drowning in our flooded creek, click HERE.