We tried swim lessons at three other places before settling on the British Swim School. The small classes, excellent teachers and emphasis on learning safety before swim stroke technique really sold me. Plus, the teachers, unlike all the others to date, were adept at working with my kids’ fear when it reared its ugly head.
Yesterday’s class was awesome. It was all about what to do if you fell in water with your clothes on and needed help. Dressed in their bathing suits with shorts and a t-shirt on top, my kids learned that floating on your back with your body shaped like an X is best. That way, you can shout for help (which they really enjoyed practicing). The kids also practiced sitting on the wall and helping their classmates in the water with floatation devices.
I was watching their class and thinking: this is awesome. With practice, one day this knowledge might save these kids lives or enable them to save someone else’s life.
Class ended and Cricket and Buzzy Bee’s teacher escorted them to the wall (in Cricket’s case) and the stairs (in Buzzy Bee’s case) and told them to get out of the pool. I turned around to pack up the Epic Pile of Stuff required to take twins to swim class in the winter.
I turned with my heavy bags and looked for my kids. There was Buzzy Bee dawdling on the steps, playing in the water. Where was Cricket? I thought she might be walking around the pool toward me. The pool deck is narrow and people can only walk single file. I tried looking around people’s legs to see if I could spot her making her way toward me. And then I looked across the pool.
I saw a yellow swim cap (the Minnows all wear yellow caps) bobbing in the water. A face came up, got some air and sank back down. Was it her? Yes. Shit! She was in water two inches above her head, sinking, pushing off the bottom, getting air, then sinking again. I looked for the lifeguard but he wasn’t in his chair. I was just about to shout that she needed help when a teacher spotted her and helped her to the wall.
I got both kids out of the pool and it was completely obvious Cricket had no idea what had just happened. She wasn’t even scared. I think she might’ve been having fun. I. Was. Livid.
I talked a lot over the next half hour. I didn’t yell, I didn’t swear. I barely remember what I said. I do remember telling Cricket that she didn’t listen to her teacher and she put her own life in danger. I explained to her that she would’ve died if someone didn’t get to her in time. I told her I loved her very much and that I didn’t want to die. I was so angry and the words and lecture just poured out of me.
Four days ago I took my kids to see my father’s grave for the first time (he passed away from brain cancer in 2002). That day I answered 3,464,234 questions about death and dying. On the way home from swim last night, I answered some more:
“Mommy, who dies?”
“But not our family.”
“No, our family, too. Daddy, me, you, Grandma. Everyone.”
“Mommy, when am I going to die?”
Pretty soon, dearie, if you pull another stupid stunt like that again.
“Hopefully not for a long time, honey. Sometimes people die and it can’t be prevented, like Grandpa Rick. But sometimes we can prevent serious injury and death. Can you think of how?” A conversation about seat belts and bike helmets ensued.
My anger dissipated over dinner and a big glass of wine. The feelings left were difficult to identify. I tried to mindfully name them: sadness, epic fear, helplessness.
There was a certain heaviness in my body, too. One that I didn’t recognize, one I couldn’t identify. I kept mulling over the irony that my daughter started to drown at the end of a class specifically about what to do if you were in water and needed help. I remembered an online article I read once about how drowning victims, contrary to Hollywood’s portrayals, rarely thrash around yelling. Real drowning victims are silent – as silent as the yellow-capped head of my daughter bobbing up and down in water that was two inches too deep for her. And I contemplated the oddness of this close call occurring on the tenth anniversary of my dad’s death.
I used time outs when my kids were two and three. Now that they are four, we’ve used more discussion and logic (and sometimes privilege removal) for discipline. I don’t want to spank my kids but I’ve always promised myself that I would spank them if they ever put their own or someone else’s life in danger.
Last night, I told them that point blank. I made sure they understood was spanking was. I made sure they understood that if they ever again ignored directions and put a life in danger, I would spank them. Maybe that was the cause of the heaviness – I hoped never to tell them that. I hoped it would never be necessary. I already felt the incoming perceived judgments of other parents in my head.
I love Cricket’s stubbornness and independence. But last night these very traits of hers that I love put her life in serious danger. As she grows older, will I be able to teach her to be stubborn AND independent AND safe? I don’t know. And that’s what scares me.