Drowning in Grace: A Scary Day at the Neighborhood Pool

“You’ll never guess the 2nd most common reason an ambulance was dispatched from 911 last year.  Possible drowning!” my husband read to me in surprise.  He was flipping through a report from work written by an Atlanta-based ambulance company. 

We exchanged a knowing look.  One of those 911 calls was us.

It was a sunny Saturday in early summer and my 2.5-year-old twins, Jackson and Julie, were itching to show Daddy their newest accomplishment in the pool: jumping in all by themselves.  My husband offered to take them to the neighborhood pool so I could grocery shop in peace. 

My phone rang on the way home.  I figured it was just my husband, Drew, calling to change his McDonald’s lunch request.

Me: “Hey. What’s up?”

Drew: “Listen, don’t panic when you pull in the neighborhood.  There’s an ambulance and a couple fire trucks here.”

My first thought was that someone’s grandfather must have had a heart attack at the pool. 

Me: “Ok…what happened?”

Drew:  “Jackson went under the water.  I was catching Julie jumping off the side of the pool and when I turned around I couldn’t find Jackson.  He must have taken off his swimmies (Puddle Jumpers) and then gotten back in the pool.  I pulled him out and got him breathing again.  He’s conscious.  They’re checking him over now.  I need to get back to them.  I’ll tell you more when you get here.”

Thankfully I was stopped at a traffic light less than a mile from home when I took that call.  My heart was pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I heard my son crying in the background of my husband’s voice.  A sweeter sound than those first cries when he was born!  I knew he was probably okay.  Just very scared.

Suddenly, I was struck by the realization that this was a critical moment in my marriage.  How I responded to my husband was very, very important.  I might be justified in flying off the handle and accusing him of not watching them closely enough.  Or I could approach him with a measure of grace.  The same grace shown to me when I had a few close calls with the kids.

Like the time I walked out of the laundry room to see that the twins—then 16 months old—had escaped out of the garage door.  There I was in my pajamas, all barefoot and messy mom-bun, chasing 2 toddlers clad only in diapers halfway down my street…in the middle of February!  I spent the rest of the day waiting for Child Protective Services to knock on my door and cart me away.

Then there was the morning I went upstairs to get dressed and came down to find my son standing on a kitchen chair, examining the knives in my butcher block. 

And finally, the double parent fail, the time my husband and I both thought the other was pushing the stroller into the restroom at the uber busy Charlotte airport.  We left one twin completely unattended for several minutes out in the hallway.  I always tip the ladies working in those restrooms now; I realized later that the attendant was keeping an eye on our poor child, who might as well have been wearing a sign that said: “Kidnap Me Please.” 

On that sunny Saturday morning, my son could have wriggled out of his “swimmy” just as easily on my watch.  I’m actually glad it happened with my husband.  Unlike me, he keeps his cool so well in emergencies.  We’re the poster family for why swim instructors tell parents not to let kids wear a flotation device.  It gives them a false sense of security.

I laughed at my close calls because nothing bad happened.  But my son’s near-drowning shattered my own false sense of security.

It’s a reminder of how we can be so close to a terrible tragedy.  We have to thank our lucky stars, or karma, or fate, or guardian angels, or the grace of God, or perhaps just happenstance.  We have to be careful as parents not to pat ourselves on the back too much. 

The tenuous hold I have on my children’s hands is more delicate than I’d like to admit.  Thoughts of rogue alligators in Disney World, open gorilla enclosures, and now rotating restaurants are enough to reignite the nightmares I still have, replaying the “what-ifs” from the day my son almost silently slipped out of my grip. 

I can’t parent well living in terror.  So I choose instead to live in a spirit of grace.  I give myself grace.  My husband grace.  My fellow moms.  Parents I don’t know but hear about in the news.  It buoys my perspective as an imperfect parent.

My son remembers the incident remarkably well.  He says it’s “the day Daddy saved me” because that’s what I told him happened.  And that’s the graceful, absolute truth.

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