Son No. 1 is afraid of the water. At a beach or pool he’ll tentatively walk in stopping as soon as the water reaches waist level, not going any further for fear of getting his face wet. Splash pads are a torturous medieval gauntlet he avoids, running around the outside edges of the pad trying to figure out where the water will come from to avoid being splashed.
We’ve done the private swimming lessons only to have him become more fearful and still I made him continue even though it went against every mothering instinct I had. Then we got into our car accident and his fear of water grew along with all his other new fears. He learned too young that some situations are beyond control. I finally put an end to his swimming lessons when one day while standing at the edge of the pool, while the teacher tried to coax him in yet again, his legs turned rubbery from fear and they gave way. He looked up at me, his goggles filling with salty tears and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make him go again knowing how afraid he really was.
Son No. 1’s fear is an ongoing battle, one that will continue when I sign him up for swimming lessons again this year. Not because I’m an evil mother who enjoys making her kids suffer but because swimming is a life skill. He needs to learn.
Son No. 2 is fearless. At 18 months he would lay on his back in the tub submerging himself completely then come up giggling and sputtering when the water went up his nose. At the beach he’ll run into the water full force and laugh when he trips and falls.
Our sensitivity to our older son’s fears and our complacency with younger son’s fearlessness made us careless.
We should have put life jackets on both of them.
We were invited to a pool party this past weekend. We packed snacks, food, wine, towels and lifejackets.
Two life jackets.
But when we got there, we only put a life jacket on our older fearful son. Son No. 2 is in the shallow end, we said. He’ll be fine we said.
Less than ten minutes later while chatting and laughing with the other parents, out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband jump out of his chair and run towards the pool. I followed the direction he was going and immediately focussed in on the two arms sticking out of the water. The rest of our son was submerged.
He had misjudged where he was in the pool and stepped off the last step going down into the deep end sinking like a stone. I had always thought they would float. Their little chubby bodies still covered with a layer of body fat would be buoyant. But they don’t. They sink. And without a word.
There were no yells or flailing arms or gasps. It was completely and utterly silent. Had my husband not seen our son’s arms sticking out of the water, he would have drowned.
He would have died before our very eyes on a sunny afternoon with children playing and adults laughing because we had been careless.
So I’m writing this to tell you not to be. If your child can’t swim, they should always wear a life jacket.
And when they’re in the water, you should never take your eyes off them. Not even for a second.
The Canadian Red Cross encourages you to take action today to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for your family:
- Children playing near the water should be directly supervised by an adult at all times
- Children under 5 and older children who are weak or non-swimmers should wear a life jacket when around water
- Pool owners, especially those with young children or grandchildren, should install a 4-sided pool fence, which prevents access to the pool from the home
- Parents should be trained in first aid and CPR and have an emergency plan, especially if they live near the water or have a pool
- All children should take swimming lessons and these lessons should include water safety education as the ability to make wise choices around water may prevent an incident from occurring in the first place
You can find more tips here.