Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Safety share - drowning is silent

We had a terrifying near miss on the weekend. Since telling a few people about it, they have shared their own horror stories and it's got me thinking that we need to be more open about these things. Surely if we all share our near misses, we'll all be more vigilant and hopefully avoid some future accidents. Here's what happened.

I'd be feeling guilty about how hard I am on Miss 3 (nearly 4). She's a really good girl and I expect a lot from her. The reality of her life is it's dominated by her brothers. "We have to go because the boys need a nap," "No we can't do that, it will be too difficult with your brothers," "You better hurry up and finish that because I can hear the twins waking up"...and so it goes on. My nagging voice is the soundtrack to her life.

This weekend I was determined to make sure she had a good time. We were staying in a big house with a great group of friends, most with either one or no children. It was the perfect opportunity to accept help and relax a bit. I was particularly keen to take the opportunity to spend some quality time with Miss 3.

The big house had a big pool. Miss 3 (soon to be 4) has been doing swimming lessons once a week since she was 6 months old - for over three years. Can she swim? No. Other than the half hour lessons once a week she has had very little exposure to the water. We don't have a pool, we don't have nearby friends with a pool, we don't have pool equipment, we don't have pool rules. I can count on one hand how many times she's been in a pool other than at swimming lessons. We go to the beach occasionally when we have a third adult around but that's not really swimming. It's just splashing. Swimming lessons have ensured she isn't afraid in the pool but she's yet to learn to swim. She's probably close but close isn't enough.

Sticking to my plan to make sure Miss 3 had a good time, while the boys were napping I interrupted her usual 'quiet play' time to take her for a swim. She was ecstatic. We had a fantastic time. Ed was doing laps and she started doing her own laps holding onto a noodle. She was all smiles. Absolutely loved it. Ed joined in and I'm not sure if it was about the swimming or the fact that she had absolute, undivided attention from both parents but she was incredibly happy. It was a wonderful time. 

Unfortunately we were cut cut short by the boys waking up earlier than expected. We got out of the pool and I don't think think Miss 3 thought twice about it. I, on the other hand, felt pretty guilty that her fun was cut short. I now feel ridiculous for feeling that guilt because now I have the guilt of nearly letting her drown.

Later that same day, a bunch of people were going for a swim. Ed was preparing dinner and the boys were being quite difficult so I had to be with them. I told Miss 3 she couldn't go with everyone else in the pool. She was pretty devastated and a friend offered to take her. I was a bit nervous but I said yes and checked to make sure my friend understood Miss 3 couldn't swim.

Now, to paint a full picture, the house we were staying at was really poorly designed. You basically couldn't be in the backyard unless you were in the pool area. This meant I stayed inside with the twins. We got some toys and I put them right near the glass door so I could keep one eye on Miss 3. When Ed finished preparing dinner, we took a boy each and went outside. It was getting a bit cold but this stage so we didn't take them in the pool, just let them watch from the side. 

There was a break in the fun and a lot of people took the opportunity to get out of the pool and go inside, including my friend who had kindly been supervising. Miss 3 was fine with this until she realised one family was staying in the pool and then she really wanted to stay in as well. Ed had taken Master L inside and but I was still outside with Master S. I told Miss 3 she couldn't go in because there was no one to go with her. She was really upset and again I felt guilty. The father of the two children who were still in the pool told me he was happy to take her in with him.

I was reluctant but I wanted her to keep having fun so I agreed. There were so many things I should have done differently at this point. For starters, how could I possibly have expected someone to look after his own two children as well as mine? That is a ratio of 1:3 in a swimming pool. Admittedly one of his could swim independently and the other was happy bobbing around with her back-pack on. Still, it wasn't a good idea. Secondly, I didn't make her put floaties on. It might have been ok to just use a noodle when she was getting one-on-one supervision but with 1:3 she really should have a float device attached to her. The floaties were right there. They were already blown up. It would have been so easy to just slide them on. 

I've played this over and over in my head and now as I write it I see that there were opportunities for things to go wrong throughout the day but here's when it happened. She asked me to go and get a particular pool toy that had been taken inside. At first I said no because I didn't want to leave her but after a while when things seemed to be going fine, she was still going on about it so I quickly nipped inside and got it. Everything was still fine when I got back.

I gave her the toy and she was happily playing on the graduated steps at the shallow end of the pool. I was standing right near her. The father took the opportunity to swim a little further away and give his own children a bit more attention. 
The next thing I knew she was under water. She was sinking. I remember screaming her name, consciously having to put Master S down a little way away from the edge of the pool and rushing in to pull her out of the water. She can only have been under for a few seconds but I have played those seconds over and over in my mind ever since.

Between sobs and hysterics, she kept saying, "Ï sunk, I sunk, I forgot my noodle." It was just heart breaking. It was terrifying then and it's still terrifying now. The thing that scares me the most when I think back is that it was silent. A drowning child cannot scream. They cannot splash when they're under water. There is no noise. It is silent. They are solely reliant on you watching them. Not listening. Watching. It's all about the watching and only about the watching.

We were lucky. It could have been tragic. I realise now that she must have let go of the noodle in order to play with the toy and then just swam off without thinking. I think about what would have been if 'she forgot her noodle' while I was inside finding the toy. I was gone for less than a minute but that's probably all it takes. I think about what would have happened if I'd had Master L rather than S with me. I put S down on his bottom when I ran into the pool because he's not particularly stable. Had it been L, I most likely would have just put him on his feet and it's very likely he would have followed me in. 

I think about how awful I feel now and I imagine how much worse I would feel if I'd let her drown. I want to say it's not worth imagining but it is because that is what will stop me taking a risk in the future. 

She seems to have recovered and I expect it won't be too long before she forgets it ever happened. I, on the hand, will never forget.

Swimming lessons - approx 6 months


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. It's not as bad as you think. I've had many near misses but they arent as flukish as you think. There's no way your kid xould have drownedcwith all those people around. Really there isn't. You've missed the amazing awesome lesson your daughter learned. She sunk. She can sink. She diesn't want to sink. She can ensure she nevercsinks again. Please. Please believe THOSE are lifeclesdons. Hard fought & won BY HER. She rocks. She is a person beyond your charge. You weren't even momentarily neglectful. In fact you may have been iver cautious. Don't allow this close shave to cement your resolve to fortify your kids. They are best watched exactky as keenly as you did AND allowed to fail. Its hobestly the best ever lesson you can ever give them. There's a reason everyone has a version of the this story. Its part of becoming aware of uourcowncresponsibikity for yourself. It's an indespensibly necessary lesson. One down. Two to go. Don't get more paranoid & vigilant. You'll crish them. You were beyond attentive. The cataclysm you glimpsed was neither likely nor worthy of your self berratement. Well done. Stay alert as you allow them to nearly drown. Its a great gift.

  3. Thank you. It was very kind of you to go to the effort to write such an encouraging response (twice! - I'll delete the first one). Thank you so much.