Friday, April 11, 2008

Panic! At the Swimming Hole

Be careful what you wish for. There I was, thinking that not too much interesting or out-of-the-ordinary had happened lately, and how I was going to have to take a vacation from the blog, and then Ainsley went and almost drowned herself.

She is in level 5 swim lessons at our family recreation center, which means that she technically is able to swim 25 meters in a very loose freestyle. Levels 4 and 5 take place in the "big" pool in the shallow end, which is still over Ainsley's and almost every other kids' heads, but I've seen her paddle and kick and get to the side. So I am still a little in shock.

We showed up yesterday five minutes before lessons began, the same as usual. And as usual, she wanted to jump in. No biggie.

So she jumped in and for a minute held on to the side. Then she began practicing her burgeoning backstroke. She floated on her back away from the safety of the edge, and gave a few kicks and arm strokes. I was impressed with her. But then she suddenly lurched upright in the water and tried to touch the bottom. And couldn't. So I waited for her to start swimming forward; she has come to the side from that far out before when she couldn't touch bottom. But instead of swimming forward, she began to panic. I saw the look in her eyes; she wasn't thinking anymore. She bobbed under once. I thought she could get it. She bobbed under again. I knew she needed help.

And here's where Cranky herself began to panic. I was fully clothed, but I still should have had the impulse to jump in after her. Instead all I could think to do was to holler at the lifeguard (who was literally 2 feet away from us; I could have just pointed her out to him calmly), "She needs help! My daughter needs help!" And then I saw that look in her eyes again; a look of quiet terror I've never seen there before, not even during the Dinosaur ride. And I put my hands to my mouth and said a quiet prayer behind them.

The lifeguard seemed stunned. I don't think they often have to rescue people a few minutes before level 4 or 5 classes, and from 4 feet of water. He offered her his float; she was still close enough that that should have been enough. For some reason, the offered float freaked her out more and she backed away. Which made her further away from the side. The lifeguard had to jump in and pull her out. I don't know if you've ever been in a pool where the lifeguard has had to jump in, but it seemed like the world stopped spinning and everyone focused on the action. Had I not been in the center of it all, I am sure I would have stopped what I was doing and gaped open-mouthed in that general direction.

Once on land, she started wailing. With only one sputtered cough, so I knew she didn't have water in her lungs of anything. But the crying seemed to go on forever, even though no more than a minute passed between her dramatic rescue and the start of her lesson. Of course, I held her tightly and told her it was all okay before her teacher took her and eased her into the water and assured her that she would be just fine. I have to give that teacher big-time kudos; she used just the right mix of assurance and sternness and told Ainsley she really needed to get back in the water. Before I left to go work out, the teacher was walking behind Ains as she began to backstroke, and she looked at me and made a motion that let me know I should probably skedaddle.

During this whole ordeal, I hadn't really thought it was that big a deal. Sure, I panicked a little when I saw Ainsley panic, but since she was so close to the side, and just a couple of feet away from a lifeguard, and with adults all around, I had never really seriously worried. Yet as soon as I walked out of the pool area, my knees started feeling weak and my hands started to shake. I felt the tears start as I warmed up on the stationary bike. I hoped they blended in with my sweat enough so as not to draw attention to myself.

Then a weird thing happened. After that first wave of emotion passed, I got the giggles. There was nothing remotely funny about the situation. But I had to put my hands over my mouth on the way to my next piece of equipment. And then I got teary again. But then I got giggly again. And that went on for the remainder of my short little exercise routine. Seriously, I think I was losing my mind. Adrenaline and maternal fear are a heady mix.

By the time I went back to the pool area to pick her up, she was on the far side of the pool practicing diving (!) with the teacher. One of the aquatics supervisors came up behind me and said, "Well, I think she got over it, mom; what do you think?" At the same time I saw Ainsley flash me a big grin and wave and her teacher gave me two thumbs up. Yeah, she got over it.

When she talked about it later last night over a "Thank God you're alive, pick anything you want for dinner" pizza, she said that she forgot that she can't touch bottom and said, "My brain got scared and my body didn't know what to do." Fair enough.

We've talked to her about what to do if that ever happens again, about how that's why you always go swimming with a grown-up, etc., etc. By bedtime, she was laughing about it. And I felt a lot better about it myself after a beer and an episode of The Office.

I shall never ever again wish for excitement for a blog post. So if you don't hear from me for a while...things are calm and quiet. And let us hope they stay that way.

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