I’ve often heard people say a drowning will happen when you don’t expect it. Our family’s near-drowning experience happened where I definitely didn’t expect it: at swim lessons.
My daughter was almost three when I enrolled her at our gym. She never had taken lessons before but had no fear when it came to water, often jumping into my parents’ pool when adults weren’t in yet. As a precautionary measure, I wanted her to learn to float on her back or to pull herself out of a pool in an emergency.
I fought to get her in a class with the gym’s most seasoned instructor and took comfort in the fact her swim class was semi-private with only one other student also her age.
The lesson got off to a great start. I snapped cell phone photos as she eagerly splashed with the instructor and dove for toys. She seemed fine, so I began mixing a bottle for my son, who was an infant at the time. Only when he began drinking the bottle did I look up to see how the lesson was going. I watched as the instructor pulled a flotation device down the lane. The other girl was with him, but I didn’t see my daughter. I glanced toward the opposite end of the pool, where the class began. She wasn’t there either.
So I stood up for a better view, but she was nowhere in sight. My heart began to race, as it still races writing about this incident nearly three years later. With my son in my arms, I ran along the lane of the pool. And that’s when I saw her, or rather just a few strands of her light-brown hair floating near the top of the water.
It was silent. Utterly silent. There was so splashing or shouting for help. Her body bobbed vertically. Time stood still.
I must have screamed because another mom rushed to my side, grabbing my son from me as I lunged toward the water.
By that time, the instructor and the other student were returning down the lane. He helped me hoist my limp daughter onto the pool step as she began coughing up water. My fingers still tremble as type. I could have lost her.
I remember him saying, “Hasn’t she taken swim lessons before? I told her to stay on the step.”
No, she hadn’t taken swim lessons before, and I didn’t give a flip that he’d told her to stay on the step. She was two years old! Why would he – a swim professional – trust her to listen to him as he went off to the other end of the pool with another student? I wanted to strangle him. This wasn’t her fault. It was his fault.
And it was my fault too. I shouldn’t have entirely trusted my daughter’s life to someone else. I should have watched her more closely.
The nightmares lasted all summer. In the middle of the night, I would wake to the very vivid vision of my daughter’s hair swirling along the top of water, her tiny body submerged.
Our family was lucky. Had I waited a moment longer to look up, the ending to our story could have been very different. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never again will I trust anybody – a swim instructor or not – to keep an eye on my children at the pool. Don’t trust anyone to watch your kids as closely as you would. Even now as my daughter is a decent swimmer, I don’t even trust the lifeguards at our pool. When we around water, watching my kids is my number one priority.
And I thank God every day that my daughter is still with me.