The day I jumped into the pool with my pretty floral spaghetti dress to save my daughter, the heat was of the kind where beads of sweat collect more quickly than you can wipe them off. The sun beat down on me, so I dangled my feet into the pool to cool down.
On that warm early summer day, my daughter’s entire preschool class caravanned to the pool party at a friend’s house to celebrate the last day of preschool.
It is hard to know how we will react when presented with life and death situations. I was sure that I was the kind of person who would sit on the sidelines, frozen in fear, while someone else saved my child.
I was feeling a bit overconfident because my 4-year-old daughter knew how to swim, and she would surely show off her skills in the pool that day. While many of the moms and dads stripped down to their bathing suits to help their children in the pool, I sat on the side and relaxed.
“Wow, your daughter can already swim,” a friend said.
“We have a pool, so she’s been swimming by herself since she was two years old,” I explained proudly.
It was true. My daughter was able to get from one end of the pool to the other by herself. We were confident in her abilities in water and I didn’t feel nervous when she was swimming in the deep end. My daughter was surrounded by adults and children, and for those reasons I figured she was perfectly safe.
I was wrong.
At first, it was a faint call for help. I squinted my eyes to try and get a glimpse of her, but the sun was reflecting off of the pool, making it difficult to see.
That is when I heard what no parent wants to hear near a pool. A child was frantically yelling for help. It was my daughter! At that moment, I felt confused. My daughter was a great swimmer. How was it possible that she suddenly forgot how to swim and was drowning in the deep end? Did she see how far the side of the pool was and panic?
What I learned later was that my daughter was in “aquatic distress,” which only happens for seconds before the real drowning process begins. Aquatic distress is when a person can still call for help and flail their arms around in the water. This event usually lasts less than a minute before the actual drowning process occurs.
I stood up to get a better look. She was quiet now. I saw her head dip under the water.
Then I knew it was real. My daughter was going to drown if I didn’t do something quickly. You know those surreal moments in life when you feel like the world is moving in slow motion? This was not one of those moments. At this moment, things happened very quickly. I jumped into the pool with my clothes and shoes on and swam over to save my daughter as she began to sink to the bottom of the pool.
I swam back to the side of the pool carrying my daughter in arms. She was OK because I had gotten to her in time. We were both confused and scared.
My daughter explained to me that another boy was pulling her under the water by her hair. A panicked child was trying to save his life, so he reached for the first thing he found, which was my daughter’s curly red hair.
His mom was no more than five feet away from her struggling son, but he wasn’t making a sound. She was distracted helping her other child in the pool. The pool was filled with adults, but no one ever heard my daughter scream for help or saw her struggling in the water.
My child could have easily drowned that day. I was overconfident in her abilities in the pool. I never once considered that another child could pull her under the water. I never imagined my child could drown with so many adults within a few feet of her.
My daughter is 11 now, and she still talks about her near-drowning. She vividly remembers her classmate pulling her under the water. She remembers exactly how terrified she was.
Today I have four children to keep a vigilant eye on while they are swimming. I am convinced that my daughter’s near-drowning happened for a reason. That reason is to teach me, and so now I can teach you, an important lesson: do not ever take your eyes off of your young children in the water, no matter what good swimmers you think they are. Never turn your back on your child while they are in the water. Carefully watch your child even when there are other adults nearby.
Here are some facts to remember about drowning:
1. Drowning in real life just doesn’t look the way it does in the movies. It is a silent event.
2. People who are drowning do not typically yell for help.
3. People who are drowning do not typically wave their arms around.
4. When drowning, a person’s mouth sinks under the water and then comes back up.
5. A drowning person remains upright in the water.
6. A child can drown even when there are adults only a few feet away from them in the water.
7. The drowning response only lasts 20 to 60 seconds.
8. From 1999 to 2010, nearly 50,000 people died from drowning in the United States.
I don’t remember a lot about my summer vacations as a kid, but what I do remember vividly is enjoying my days swimming in pools, rivers, lakes and oceans. Those carefree days in the water are what make summer vacations fun and memorable. It can take less than a minute for a drowning to occur. If you keep a vigilant watch over your kids while they are in the water, you can prevent unnecessary accidents.
This post originally ran on Scary Mommy.
May is National Water Safety Month. Please join us and BonBon Break in sharing your water safety stories.
Megan Woolsey is the co-editor of Multiples Illuminated, writer, and publisher living in Northern California with a very supportive husband and a wild bunch of red-headed children – a set of triplets and their big sister. Megan has been published in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BLUNTmoms, Bonbon Break, Mamalode, In The Powder Room and is an essayist in two anthologies.