Sunday, July 04, 2010

Scared and Proud All at Once

I grew up, for all intents and purposes, in the water. Most people do not. Although no one would believe it now, I was actually a lifeguard at one time in my life. I saved my cousin when he became distressed when we were swimming in our grandmother's pond - less than four feet deep. If you're around it enough, no matter what steps you take to prevent it, at some point in your life you will be a part of or witness a crisis in the water.

We went to a wonderful birthday party this past weekend. My niece Julia turned five years old last week. It was a mermaid princess birthday, replete with pink and Disney ladies. The cake was a masterpiece, a perfectly shaped and decorated ball gown around a Barbie. Esther gets mad props for pulling that one off and, as I whispered to her, for fulfilling one of my childhood fantasies - pulling Barbie's dress off with my teeth. My father in law hosted, and it was a perfect day to jump into his pool and have an absolute blast with the entire family - 25 people including seven cousins under 8 years old. The party was fantastic. The kids all played wonderfully together. The food was great. It was the perfect start to the holiday.

None of their cousins are swimmers at this point, and they require much greater attentiveness from the adults. At eight years old, Sam is now a competent swimmer in the pool. He is confident enough to be on his own in the deep end, and can safely swim to where he wants. It's not the prettiest stroke in the world, but he'll gets to where he needs to go. Aidan and Noah should be swimming by summer's end as long as they keep at it. Right now, their confidence sometimes outstrips their abilities. This becomes especially evident when the inevitable little boy playing in the water begins to get out of hand.

I know all too well what constitutes unnecessary roughness at the pool. I have scars on my shins from where my uncle pushed me into the shallow end and I landed hard against the edge of the concrete steps. Everyone thought my legs were broken, but luck was on my side that time. Leah and I set pool rules based on many years of getting yelled at by our parents. We survived, and our children will as well.

I'm sure you all have a good idea of where this is leading by now.

It was the third time the boys went in to play in the water. They were tired from playing in the water all afternoon. While working with his brothers in trying to pull down Uncle John's trunks, Aidan unknowingly ventured too far down the slope to the deep end. He also ended up behind John, who did not realize where Aidan was either. I was at the far end of the pool. Leah was out and dry. So was the rest of the family.

This is the point in time where everything happens in slow motion.

Aidan goes under. He starts kicking. His head pops up, but not enough for him to get a breath. He is visibly panicked and cannot help himself. He goes under again and stays under, his arms fighting to bring him back to the surface but not succeeding. Leah screams to John to get him. John realizes that something is wrong and immediately turns to find him.

And then.

Aidan is suddenly above the water. Two arms circle around his chest and lift him up, not letting him go. John grabs him. And only then does Sam let go of his brother.

It was finished in less than fifteen seconds. No one spoke. Aidan coughed, sputtered, and then whimpered. He was scared but fine. A minute after we checked him out, he was back in the water splashing around. I've seen my share of water and I know what it can do. The image of Sam's arms around his brother will forever be ingrained in my memory.