I sat on the lounge chair by the pool, a mere five paces from where my youngest was perched on the steps leading into the swimming pool. All four of my kids were in the water. But, my eyes were glued to Nathan, my only non-swimmer. He was holding onto the gleaming metal railing while repeatedly dunking his little noggin under and blowing bubbles, which he proudly called his explosions.
The water thing has all been a very recent major breakthrough for Nathan. Besides the bathtub, garden hose and backyard water table, he’d never enjoyed the water. He’d always preferred to merely dip a toe in the water on the steps, while all his siblings swam like fish throughout the pool. I had put off swimming lessons every summer because of his strong aversion to all things swimming related. I just didn’t have the fight in me to force him into the pool to learn to swim. Until last month.
I’d avoided it for four summers, but this had to be the year. Like it or not, he was going to learn to swim. Becoming water safe was the main reason he had to learn to swim. Living in Southern California, we are constantly in or near the water. It’s a way of life. We live seven minutes from the Pacific Ocean and two minutes from our closest community pool.
I signed him up for private mini sessions twice a week at the local aquatic center. He was bitterly angry with me for doing this. I could tell by the way his tiny chin quivered when he asked me why?, that he felt that I’d betrayed him.
On the first day of class, he cried for hours before it was time to head to the lesson. I had to peel him off of my body, unclamp his hands from my t-shirt, and hand him over to his new swim teacher, Kayne. Although Kayne is a well respected swim teacher, I had my reservations.
Kayne is nothing short of a drill sergeant in water. At about 6′ tall, she’s tough as nails, her deep, gruff voice can sound a bit intimidating, and she wastes no time letting her students know who’s boss. She wasn’t having any of Nathan’s sprinkler fest. It was time to turn off the tears, get in and get to work.
It felt so wrong. I felt so guilty. It was awful. I fought back tears. His little face kept looking at me, pleading with me to rescue him. I forced the corners of my mouth to curl into a tight smile, in hopes that it would help encourage him, if ever so slightly.
For the next few weeks, he’d ask if he had swim lessons that day. If the answer was yes, he’d cry until 11:30, when his lesson began. It wasn’t a whiney cry. It was a frightened cry, and he would tremble uncontrollably. He was terrified of those swim lessons, and maybe a little scared of his coach too.
Soon enough, I began seeing hints of happiness creeping across his face. Little laughs here and there. He even floated on his back one day…unassisted. He’d climb out of that pool, at the end of the lesson and his little green eyes would flicker with delight. I was so proud! He was so proud! It was happening. His fear was slipping away.
I sat there, warmed by the May sunshine, clapping, and flashing the thumbs up for his small accomplishments. I watched him on those steps that day, squealing with excitement each time he plunked his head under, knowing this summer would be different. I’d have to really watch him closely in the pool and ocean this year. He was no longer terrorized by water.
I must’ve looked away. Maybe I’d glanced around the pool for my other kids. But, when my eyes returned to Nathan, I saw only his two hands wildly flailing. He had gone under. I bolted over to the steps, in what felt like slow motion, threw myself into the water, and yanked him up by his hand. He sputtered water, gasped for air and was shaking with genuine fear.
My heart refused to slow. It remained beating wildly out of my chest. I’d been so careful, so aware. Yet, this had happened. I’m guessing it took me 8 seconds total; to realize what had happened, jump up, and get over to save him. What if? What if…
Initially Nathan wanted out of that water. I envisioned all of that hard work to overcome his fear of swimming, reversing itself. We sat on the lounge chair together. I held my little burrito, wrapped tightly in a beach towel. I hugged and kissed him. I reminded him of a promise I’d made to him when he began swim lessons. I’d promised him that I would always jump in the water, even if I was fully dressed, to save him if he started drowning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the #1 cause of death in children ages 1-4. Drowning can be quick, quiet and can happen anywhere. Bathtubs, pools, buckets and even toilets are common places young children to drown. Sadly, most drownings happen at home, in backyard swimming pools.
When we told Kayne about Nathan’s near drowning experience. She scoffed. “Why’d you jump in?” (I couldn’t reach him without jumping in up to my torso!) She added, “I take my time rescuing them, because I know that I have three minutes. I want to give them a chance to swim to the safety wall. I want them to learn from it.” While that may sound harsh, it’s coming from a woman who’s been teaching babies, adults and everyone in between, to swim for decades. Thankfully, he’s not scarred too badly from his experience. Getting him right back in the water afterward was the best thing to do.
It’s preventable. Risk of drowning can decrease significantly with swimming lessons. I’m hoping to have all four of my kids water safe by summer. Nathan’s improving with each lesson. So, sign ’em up. Even if they scream, kick and complain. Sign ’em up. The sooner the better. I was weak, and waited. But, it could’ve ended up costing my child his life.
K.I.S.S. (Kayne’s Instructional Swim School): A year-round private swim lessons program offered through the city of San Clemente, for ages 3+, at the San Clemente Aquatic Center. Please call (949) 429-8797 for details, or visit www.san-clemente.org/recreation-community/classes-programs