My three girls are all enrolled in swim lessons at the same time on Monday nights. My oldest advanced to the next level of lessons this round so she is in the pool without a parent. My other two are in the pool with me and my husband. I trade back and forth with him for the good kid each lesson. He gets the splashing, resisting child while I blow bubbles with whichever one decided to like the water this week. We are all in the same big pool, so my oldest Evie is only 10-15 feet away from us.
A couple of weeks ago we were running late for swim lessons, and my husband, who meets us from work was also late. I was bloated, hadn’t shaved my legs and already annoyed by the thought of splashing so I made the decision that my youngest Livie would hang in the daycare and I would sit and watch this week. That’s the best part about still having at least one baby, she doesn’t know better. Millie would literally stab me in my sleep if I didn’t take her “SHHHWIIMMMINGG” when her sister went; even though she spends the entire half an hour pushing away from us so she can “shwim independently”, something also known as drowning. My mom genius takes over and I crawl into the back of the van with the kids in the parking lot and start stripping them all down. This will save at least three minutes. Naked kids with no diapers crawling and climbing all of the car seats is the perfect time to pray that God doesn’t open up thy golden showers. As I’m trying to pull/push Millie’s thunder thighs into her swim diaper my husband pulls up and parks next to me. I opened the door and threw his swim trunks at him, motioning for him to also change in his car.
Of course, all of my effort and we are still late, but three minutes less late! I walk Evie over the wall with her class and she climbs in keeping one hand on the wall like her instructors have told her to do every week before this. Sean and Millie climb into the pool in the other corner and I make myself comfortable on a bench and crack open my book. I’m not sure why I bother reading during my daughter’s lessons. I have been on the same page for about three weeks now. I read a word, then look up, one more word, look up, shit I lost my place, find my word, and then look up. Repeat.
A few minutes into class and a baby spit’s up into the pool. I sigh, relieved it wasn’t my baby this time and make small talk with the other moms who are all annoyed.
“Yeah, damn baby, just spitting up, how dare you,” I say sarcastically. Apparently, the other mom wasn’t sarcastic and she moves away from me now less annoyed with the baby and more annoyed with me. I guess in some ways I did my job. Don’t worry baby I’ll take the heat, I can handle it.
When this happens, and believe me, it happens often, we move our lessons into what they call the Therapy Pool. I call it the old people bath tub, because it is a giant bath tub, with warm bath tub like water, for seniors to do their water aerobics classes in. This pool is deep. So deep that the last time we moved into this pool I laughed hysterically at my husband for days because he thought he could keep himself and our daughter above water when he couldn’t touch just by kicking. He’s cute when he forgets he’s getting older and we aren’t in as good of shape as we were ten years ago; not that I think he could have ever tred water with just his feet for 30 minutes.
Anyway, I make myself a new nesting spot in the back corner of the much smaller room. From my corner I can see Evie with her classmates to my far right, and Sean and Millie out right in front of me. I have the perfect view of everyone, and plenty of distance between me and the mom who judges babies. I was so distracted by another little girl in Evie’s class that I didn’t bother to take my book out of our swim bag. This little girl, we will call her Hannah, frequently worries me during lessons. She is the youngest, probably too young for this class if you ask me, and her mom works here. She works at the front desk and I have talked with her a few dozen times about our girls and the various classes they are in together. Like many other kids, Hannah usually listens to the instructors better when her parents aren’t right there watching. Some instructors ask parents to leave because they think all kids will behave better for them without us being there, and that’s when I usually go into the hallway and cry. I start looking really pathetic, and kind of creepy, as I peer through the little window cut out on the door trying to catch a glimpse of how Evie is doing.
Hannah, however, was not listening any better now that her mom started dropping her off. If anything, I think she has gotten worse. The kids are supposed to always keep one hand on the wall if they are not working one-on-one with the two instructors running the class. That can be hard for a kid, trust me I know. The age range is from 3-5, and there is a HUGE difference between 3 and 5. Hannah hasn’t celebrated her 3rd birthday yet, “but it’s in a couple months,” her mom explained to me a few weeks before this session started. It was obvious that everyone was worried about Hannah when we moved into the new pool. Now the kids had to sit on the side of the pool and could dangle their feet in, but it was too deep to stand and hold the wall. Every few minutes Hannah would start climbing in and the life guard standing over the kids would have to ask her to get back on the wall. The two instructors each pull one kid into the water and make a lap, maybe 15 feet out away from the wall, and then circle back. One instructor grabbed Evie, and the other grabbed baby- judging-mom’s little boy. Evie was almost to the point of turning around and the little boy was just leaving the wall when Hannah jumped in. Not climbed in, jumped in. I stood up immediately and looked over towards the lifeguard who had his head turned towards something else. He didn’t hear her splash or go under. Before I could get my eyes back to Hannah, I saw Evie’s instructor drop Evie, swim away from her to go get Hannah, and Evie fall to the bottom of the pool. Just as I got to Evie, the other instructor had tucked the little boy under her arm and swam to Evie. The instructor lifted her above water where I grabbed her and started to squeeze her, move her hair out of her face, kiss her cheek, pat her back to help her cough, and ask her over and over again if she was ok. I looked up for a moment at the instructor who had Evie. She was on the other side of the pool, now holding Hannah, staring at me in shock. The instructor who grabbed Evie was telling me she was so sorry, and she can’t believe that happened.
Evie was sobbing, confused and scared. We’ve been in lessons for three years now and she still doesn’t let her face get wet. All I could think about was how much this would traumatize her. She has a tendency for the dramatics and she lets you know it.
My sister once ripped off her bandaid a few weeks after a vaccine shot a couple years ago and she still to this day talks about it.
I was able to assess fairly quickly that she was ok. She swallowed a little water, but nothing of great concern. She kept asking me why her teacher dropped her. Where did her teacher go? What happened? I had no answers.
“You are so brave! I can’t believe you did that, you went under the water! I’m so proud of you.”
These words flowed out of my mouth completely on their own. My heart and mind were frozen, but somehow the words came out. Baby-judger-mom started yelling at the instructor, and the room grew very chaotic; more so than it already was. My husband looked over confused, and I just kept hugging Evie.
“I’m so proud of you, that was so cool Evie. You are so brave.”
Parent’s continued yelling. The life guard looked at me and asked what happened. I couldn’t believe he was so distracted that he missed the entire scene. The other parents grew louder and louder until I eventually snapped.
“You are not helping, you are making this worse. You are scaring my daughter more, shut the hell up.”
This time, I’ll take full credit for control of my speech. I very much so wanted to add, “You baby-judging-bitch,” but I didn’t. See, control. The other parents all fell silent, and I asked the instructor who saved Evie to continue with her back float. She looked at me shocked but then grabbed onto little Evie. It was so hard for me to let go of her hand. I never wanted to let go of that hand again, but I did and they started back out into the water.
“Don’t drop me,” Evie repeated over and over to the instructor who was now fighting tears too. Evie’s once confident back float, was now bent and scared. When they made it back to the wall Evie returned to hugging me while waiting for her next turn. Someone had gone to find Hannah’s parents, who walked in smiling and completely unaware of what had happened. Evie had one more turn before class was over. The instructor who dropped Evie ran out of the room crying.
Great now I have to not only talk to Evie about what happened, I have to remind her that it’s not ok to run by a pool, thanks.
I think everyone in that room was in shock. A swim instructor literally dropped one child to save another. There was no logic to any of it. I had run out of energy and could no longer maintain my composure for Evie so I asked my husband to take the girls to the dressing room and get them changed. I stayed behind and filed an incident report while talking to the instructor and life guard. We all heard the other instructor crying in office behind us and part of me was happy she was crying. She should be sad. She should feel awful. This could have been so much worse. What if I wasn’t right there? What if the other instructor didn’t see Evie go under? What was that lifeguard doing other than his job? This should have never happened.
The following week was just strange. I felt in a lot of ways like I had done something wrong and went into hiding. It seemed like every time I left the house I ran into someone who was involved in the situation. The teachers, other staff members, the other parents…
All I wanted to do was tell everyone what happened all while never talking about it again.
So I’ve waited, and taken some time to think about what happened. I’ve started writing this post and stopped probably a dozen times over the last couple of weeks. It is always my hope that my writing helps people. Helps other mom’s feel like they aren’t the only ones who are a mess, helps other wives know they aren’t the only ones who think about punching their snoring husbands in the middle of the night. I wanted to write this, and tell you all about this awful thing that happened to my daughter, and to me; but i couldn’t find the point, I couldn’t find the lesson, the take away. This world is scary, and I don’t want to add to thath.
So here is what I’ve learned:
1. It can be really hard to trust the people who are supposed to take care of your children. The people who teach them, who care for them when you’re not there. But you have to.
2. You have to always think big. In that moment I wanted to take that swim teacher and quite literally drown her. Instead I hugged my sweet girl and told her how proud I was of her for going under the water! How brave she is.
3. There is a different kind of heart ache when you’re a parent. That awful punch to the stomach, ripping your heart out of your chest pain when you can’t fix, can’t prevent, can’t stop the world from happening to your child. Try to prepare yourself for this as best you can. It may not be something as dramatic as this, it could be when your son is 16 and late for curfew one night and you have to just sit and wait and worry. That fear, that gut wrenching pain, is something you only feel as a parent. Wine helps.
4. It can take weeks to recover from something that didn’t even happen to you. She was fine, she moved on so fast; but I haven’t slept right or stopped thinking about it for weeks. But it is so so important to remember that this is your fear, not theirs. My daughter moved on quickly, and I had to catch myself over and over again and stop talking about what happened in front of her. They are always listening, and she could have become just as fearful as me if I hadn’t been careful.
5. It is so important to demonstrate kindness and forgiveness for your kids to WITNESS. It’s easy to tell them be kind, forgive people, be gentle with other people… it’s a whole other thing to show them these things. I day dreamed about drowning that instructor for days, but when Monday nights lesson rolled around, I walked Evie up to class and said hello to both instructors with a big smile on my face. If I am kind, and forgive them Evie will trust them again. “I forgive you, I know you were in shock. I know that was a horrible thing that happened to you too. Please be careful with my little girl.”
6. We as parents are always responsible for our children. It is our job to know if they are ready for a class. It is our job to communicate with teachers, and day care workers and baby sitters and ask them how our child is REALLY doing. Then it is our JOB to really hear what they are telling us. Our children are not perfect little angels, anyone who really thinks that about their child is borderline insane, or high. We need to hear what the teachers are saying and trust that they are looking out for the best interest of our child. We live in a world where parents get so defensive when someone says something went wrong, or our child isn’t listening. That is a problem. They are learning, and we need to know what is really going on so that we can raise them better. Don’t get defensive, you and the teacher are team working towards the same goal.
This whole situation could have been prevented. More situational training for the staff, and better communication between instructors and parents. I don’t know if any of that will actually happen after this, but I do know that instructor will never drop another child during a lesson. I do know that Hannah’s mom will never forget the conversation we had a few days after that lesson. I do know that even when I wanted to yell at the teacher, and the director, and Hannah’s mom that I kept myself calm enough to get Evie back in the water to finish her class. I know that the next week during her class she asked her teacher if she could go under ON PURPOSE. I know that she said she will be brave, and then she was. I know that I demonstrated bravery by keeping my composure, and encouraging her instead of pulling her in and hiding her from the world and everything scary. Instead, I told her that yes that was scary, but we should still try again, and I’ll always be right here if you need me.
And the proof that our reactions matter: