This weekend was a long and busy one visiting family. The littles knew we were on our way to see Grandpa and Grandma, hang out with their cousins, and go swimming at the hotel. Their conversation was peppered with comments about pizza and even the word “pool.”
We arrived. Like a herd of animals we descended upon the hotel’s atrium. There, family and pizza boxes awaited. The guys took over a table to snack, juggle their children, and play cribbage. Some of the children wandered over asking what we were playing. Smiles appeared upon all of the dads’ faces, it was about time to pass this game on to the next generation.
After a while, the locals were getting restless. So, a quick change into swimsuits was had. There is something amazing about the sound of little feat running down long halls. The heavy padded carpet making a thud, thud, thud that reverberates as the base, below the trill of their voices. The anticipation and excitement crescendos with each and every spoken word. We opened the door to the small indoor swimming pool while working to contain the excitement of the children.
My children don’t fear the water
I hopped in the swimming pool. My children, Zoey and David, circled around. They wanted to jump in. But they didn’t. The many lessons we taught and those that were added by family swimming lessons at the Y took hold. They both sat down, feet dangling in the warm water. My children don’t fear the water. Heck, they do not really fear anything. They know that they are strong, I know that they are resourceful, and my fear is that they are fearless.
When it comes to water, I have a long history. I have been on swim teams since I was a teenager. I took scuba diving for credit in college … because I wanted to. Since then I have used my certification speeding time floating in the endless abyss. As a result, I have learned not to completely fear, but to respect the water. Most of all, I have learned that things can happen in a second that change your life, or even end it.
I have been working with my kids on learning how to swim. Teaching them that some fear is good, and a ton of respect is better. My comfortable relationship with water is something that I want to pass on. For both its power and its beauty are mesmerizing.
I pointed to Zoey. She stood, hands exactly wringing themselves. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and with a high-pitched, gleeful scream, she jumped to me. We laughed, and giggled. I moved her back to the side to hold on. As she was climbing out, I pointed to David. He stood, and I could not see any fear, just the contained excitement shivering through his little body. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and he leaped into my arms with a scream of joy. For what seems like forever, this rotation continued.
Eventually we ended up in the shallows: three-feet deep, stairs with a rail. I looked and there was the rest of the family. My niece was playing in the shallows, showing me how tall she was. My dad and brother were playing a game, while my wife and my stepmom were chatting. Meanwhile, my two wanted rides. So, I started with Zoey. David sat down on the steps, holding the rail, as we had practiced. With a whoosh I was off with Zoey. As I made it to the middle of the deep end, I turned to look … and my heart stopped.
David had decided to stand up, his foot slipped, as did his hand. He was in water over his head. His arms began to flail, he tried to call out for help. My son was drowning.
Fear gripped me like a vice, and my heart stopped.
In a flash I jerked toward him, arm stretched. I needed to get to my boy.
Zoey was on my back, arms around my neck. As I made this move, she tightened. My scream for help, for anyone on the side to help my boy, it was cut off as her little arms held on for dear life.
He just kept flailing, and bobbing, struggling to float, trying to breathe. I tried to lunge toward him again. Fear riddled me as I tried to reach my drowning son. One arm outstretched, with every tendon and fiber reaching for him in vain. I tried to scream again. My chest pounding against my daughters little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I reached up to pull Zoey’s arms off my throat as a blur came from the right of the pool.
By pure chance, my brother happened to look at me. He saw the look of horror and fear on my face. Following my gaze, he saw David. He leapt to action, and leapt into the pool. He pulled David up and held him close as I finally reached them.
In that moment, all were on their feet. My brother placed David on the side of the pool, he sat there coughing and crying as we flocked to him. I have never been so happy to see a coughing little boy in my whole life. I reached out for him as tears filled my eyes.
My heart began to beat, slowly. But the fear remained.
I hugged him, looked in his eyes, asking over and over again if he was OK.
“Oh-tay, daddy” he replied, over and over again.
Finally, after a few minutes, many tears, and some towels, we continued our play, though a bit more restrained than before.
But later I cannot shake the ghost. As a result, I fight to get sleep. While I lay there, exhausted, I see those moments over and over. Almost as soon as I close my eyes, I am taken back. I watch it playing from a bird’s eye view. I consequently rip myself apart. How did I let myself get so far away? It does not seem like it was that far. It is because of this that I will fight to be a better dad. But, since I know myself well enough, I will also never cease chastising myself for not getting there sooner.
Later that day, when I was talking to David about what had happened, and that I was scared, I could see that he was too. When I told him that I loved him, he looked at me. His beautiful eyes filled with love and he replied, “I love pizza.”
Finally, all was right with the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Von Bank, a married father of three children, is the organizer of the Richmond Dads Group. He and his wife, KatiAnn, write the blog, Cranio Family Blog, from where a version of this first appeared.
Photo credit: Foter.com