Last week I suffered my worst parenting moment ever. At the same time it was the luckiest day in my life. I have been wrecked with guilt ever since.
We were vacationing in Phuket at the JW Marriott. It was nice and relaxing, and we had several friends there. We ran into six families we knew from Singapore. What are the odds? The JW’s kids pool was great, complete with elephant statues, rock turtles and a water slide. After a few days, we had become complacent about the pool, I admit it. We were socializing around the pool with friends, the kids were happily playing, and we were having a wonderful time. We were, that is, until the worst parenting moment happened. At that moment, time and space froze.
We were sitting in loungers next to the pool, and the kids were playing. Kate is a great swimmer, like a little fish, but up until last week, Isabel has refused to take lessons. She doesn’t like to be told what to do. She was playing in the jacuzzi section of the pool. It wasn’t the hot tub, just cool jets. She was mostly playing with the rocks on the edge of the pool. As a mom, I know I should have been in there with her. I was waterlogged. The kids had spent more than 8 hours a day swimming. My friend was leaving in an hour and Joel and I were both chatting with her about what southern dishes we cook. She is from Mississippi and her husband is from Louisiana. No wonder we were having this conversation, since I grew up in Louisiana too.
I only took my eyes off the pool for a second to sip my lime juice. I looked back, and at first it didn’t register. Then I spotted her, underwater, struggling for air. I leapt from my seat and as far as I can tell, I flew to the jacuzzi. Midflight I screamed her name. I swept her up above water, she took a breath and wailed. She hadn’t yet breathed underwater. I got to her just in time. She and I were both frightened. My panic hormones flooded my body and I was completely overwhelmed by the close call. Parents in their loungers around the pool shot me both sympathetic and condescending glances. Isabel and I rushed out of the water and hugged on the lounger. She cried hysterically. I tried to calm her and tried not to sob myself, although that is exactly what I felt like doing. It was so close, TOO close.
As you can imagine, I became a helicopter parent after that. Isabel didn’t enter the water alone again. We had a long conversation about what happened. She told me that she tried to scream help, but the water got in her mouth and she spit it out. She said she was waving her arms in the air so that someone who could swim would see her and help her out. She was struggling to get back on the jacuzzi seat, but the jets were too strong and she could’t get back up. I told her I was sorry about a million times, and I told her she was a quick thinking problem solver to wave her arms in the air. She and I had been practicing swimming earlier that day, and she said she was trying to kick her way up like I had shown her. We talked about how important it is to learn to swim so that never happens to her again. Finally, after six months of being here, she agreed that swimming lessons were a good thing. Today I am looking for a suitable class for her.
I am haunted by the image, by the stillness of the moment it registered that my daughter was underwater and about to drown. That night I couldn’t sleep. Every day it makes me shudder. I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to still have her. I can’t stop hugging her. I can’t believe I got complacent. I am grateful to my mom for all of the swimming classes she put me in as a child, including getting certified as a life guard. Perhaps in some way that helped me hone my instincts.
I have a confession to make. I have always been on the fence about the existence of God. Believe me, if you had my childhood, you’d be on the fence too. I believe I was nudged to look over at the pool at that moment. It wasn’t Isabel’s time to go. She has things to accomplish. I am so grateful to have been nudged.
I am so fortunate to have Isabel with me now. I have vowed to be a better parent, to pay more attention, and to be vigilant about the water. When you have a pool and the kids swim every day, it is easy to forget that water can be dangerous. I will not be forgetting again. Thank you, God, for reminding me.