In an instant my life had paused. Everything I saw around me was happening in slow motion. I can see frame by frame the towels, toys, the pool, the faces of the parents standing nearby and then my girl. My 2-year-old baby girl desperately trying to keep her head above the water. I screamed her name and then in what felt like super speed, I jumped into the pool to grab her. She was yelling so loud and had pure terror in her eyes. And I could hear the water gurgling in her chest as she screamed.
Minutes before this moment, it was a normal day at the neighborhood pool. We met some friends and applied sunscreen and puddle jumpers. Everyone had fun splashing and playing with toys. It was time to go home to have lunch, and I gave my two little girls a five-minute warning as I chatted with a friend. I then got them both out of the pool to dry off, removed their pool floaties, and sat them in chairs with their towels. As I continued chatting and packing our bag, it happened. My youngest daughter decided to go back into the pool. She did not remember that I had removed her puddle jumper, and even if she did, she had no idea that was the reason she could float in the pool. I must have turned around for 10 seconds as I packed my bag — and that was all it took. Ten seconds and our lives could have been changed forever.
As the ambulance pulled into the parking lot, my daughter vomited up lots of water — this was definitely a good sign. Afterwards, she fell asleep in my arms. The paramedics were wonderful with her and assured me that she was just completely exhausted from the strain on her little body. They recommended that we go to the hospital for a chest x-ray. At the hospital they found some fluid still in the base of her lungs and sent her for an overnight stay at Wolfson Children’s Hospital for observation.
The next morning her lungs had recovered, and she was ready to go home. We were lucky. This could have been a very different outcome if even a few more seconds had gone by with her in the water. It is likely every parent’s nightmare — especially here in Florida with so many water activities. The anxiety when it comes to water safety is real.
You are not alone
Growing up in South Florida I was taught to swim as a toddler. Every Saturday I spent time with my grandparents, and many weekends were spent at their pool. I loved the water and never remembered feeling any fear toward it. After my first daughter was born, my anxiety was triggered by nearly everything. Keeping her safe was my utmost concern.
Whether genetically or learned from her environment (ahem, me), my eldest daughter is super cautious. She fears many things and swimming is a big one. We have been working with her every year since she turned 2 on learning to swim. And each year it is the same thing. She is afraid at first and only wants to stay on the steps. Then she moves up to floating in the shallow end with the help of both arm floats and an inner tube around her waist. And by the end of the summer, she is able to practice kicking and moving her arms to keep herself on top of the water.
Now, my youngest daughter is the complete opposite. She is fearless. Walking into traffic, jumping off of the furniture, or swimming in the pool alone — nothing scares her. She is the child who keeps my anxiety going and in full effect. Please know, mother to mother, if you, too, have anxiety about your child and the pool, you are not alone.
I suppose it’s obvious — swim lessons. There are a plethora of options in Jacksonville to choose from, and I have heard many people recommend that your child take a refresher course every year until they are 7 years old.
However, swim lessons are not always an easy option for all families. It may be that you are unable to drive to a local swim school or that you cannot afford to pay for the lessons. Maybe you do not know how to swim and so you do not feel like you can teach your child. Whatever the reason, be sure to speak with them about water safety as soon as you can. Keep them out of reach of open water. And be sure to apply any safety vests prior to going into a pool area and remove them only after you have left.
Drownings can occur in a matter of seconds. Good moms make mistakes, too. We are human and can never be paying attention to our children 100 percent of the time — it is impossible. Approximately one in five people who die in the United States from drowning are children under the age of 15. Learning to swim is more than just fun — it is safe. And confidence in the water will reduce your anxiety as you navigate the crazy ups and downs of parenting.