There are many things I've imagined in my head as a parent, many scenarios taking place, that could possibly happen to my children. I imagine these horrors — my daughter falling, my son drowning, losing my children in a mall — and they each instantly fill me with dread, but then I'm usually flooded with a sense of relief because the scenes that play out in my head haven't happened and there's a large chance they won't ever happen. But almost three years ago, one of those unthinkable parenting moments happened: I'd signed my children up for swim lessons, but before I could even take them, my 3-year-old son almost drowned in the lake, and was saved by a stranger.
It was our third summer living in Oregon, and like the summer before, we were trying to go to the river at least three times a week. In L.A., you don't just go to the river. So even after three years, going to the lake still amazed me, still captivated me. I loved that my children were growing up with adventures that consisted of all day spent at the lake, with huge picnics packed, and lots of friends to play with. Though I was a bit anxious about the kids not being able to swim yet, and also a bit ashamed that I hadn't taught them myself, as an ex-swimmer, I was always consoled by the fact that they stood on the shore, never feeling brave enough to go very far in the water, always close enough that, if I needed to, I could get to them quickly. My kids built sand castles on the shore, and filled containers up with water just to dump it out and watch it splash around. They were safe and happy, content to watch the water splash up around them again and again and again. I sat nearby on the beach, watching them.
I turned away to hold a friend's baby while she folded up her blanket. That's when I heard someone shout: "Whose son is this?" And I knew.
I can't recall the specific day when my son almost drowned. I can't remember the faces of everyone who was there. But the moment when Beck fell into the water is seared in my head forever. I replay it in my head every time we return to the river — any river. To the lake — any lake. To pools — any pool. As a stranger carried him to shore, I was calm, surprisingly calm. Inside I was terrified, but I needed to acted like everything was fine, so I did. He was right on the shore a minute before. I watched him. I watched him go out up to his waist, and he turned to wave to me. I was proud of him, and he was proud of himself. I turned away to hold a friend's baby while she folded up her blanket. That's when I heard someone shout: "Whose son is this?" And I knew. I knew he was mine.
When I looked up, a man was holding my baby, my baby who looked lifeless. I scooped him up, and I rocked him. He opened his eyes and looked at me. His face was so pale, his lips were so blue. He kept saying he was cold. I tried my best to warm him up, continually kissing his face.
Somehow I managed to pack up all of our towels, food, and the kids. I made it to the car and then called my husband sobbing about what had just happened. I told him I was taking our son to the hospital because I was worried about secondary drowning. The drive from the river to the hospital felt like eternity. Every time I looked at the rearview mirror back at him, he was slumped over, lethargic. I kept shouting at him to stay awake, even though I wasn't sure he needed to. I was shaking, mentally berating myself for being the kind of mother who didn't keep an eye on her child. At the hospital, I cried as they started an IV in my son. Beck was so out of it that he didn't even flinch when they poked him. When the doctor said that he'd need to do an X-ray, Beck refused to wake up. The nurses assured me that he was going to be OK, but I didn't feel like he was. I kept replaying the moment my son had been carried by a stranger from the water over to me and just how small and fragile his tiny body had look. Each time I thought about it, I shuddered in terror.
He told me he remembered walking out into the water and not being able to get his footing. He was attempting to jump up and down but he slipped, and that's when the man noticed him and grabbed him.
Aside from tending to Beck, I also had to focus on consoling my 4-year-old daughter too. She'd been there with us when Beck fell, was in the backseat as we rushed to the hospital, was with me now in the ER. Somehow, she stayed mostly calm throughout the ordeal, wanting only to hold her brother's hand and lay next to him in the hospital. When I had to sit in the waiting room while the doctors and nurses poked Beck with needles, she sat with me, rubbing my hand, telling me that she thought her brother was going to be OK. At one point she sat on the edge of his bed with her head bowed and hands clasped, praying that he would wake up, telling me she was grateful he hadn't died. It ripped my heart apart to see my daughter so calm and so patient, and even in this experience, being the best big sister to her brother.
I cried quietly in that dark hospital room, taking stock of all the little things he loved — dancing in the living room with us every night; coming into my bed at the same time every night; his "stuffy" and the stack of books he had to sleep with in his bed; eating crackers and chocolate Pop-Tarts as much as he could; helping his sister build towers, painting pictures — and was grateful that he'd continue to get those same opportunities, grateful that we'd know another day together, eternally thankful he was OK.
We stayed overnight in the hospital that night, just me and my son. He'd finally woken up, and he told me he remembered walking out into the water and not being able to get his footing. He was attempting to jump up and down but he slipped, and that's when the man noticed him and grabbed him. My son told me that he was so scared, but already he was feeling so much better. All night we snuggled, watched movies, ate snacks, and just enjoyed the quiet together. I'd honestly never felt so content to just lay next to my child.
I'll never forget finally feeling like I could breathe as he dozed off to sleep next to me. I felt blessed. Blessed that my son, whom I share an unbreakable bond with, was breathing next to me, slowly gaining his strength again. I cried quietly in that dark hospital room, taking stock of all the little things he loved — dancing in the living room with us every night; coming into my bed at the same time every night; his "stuffy" and the stack of books he had to sleep with in his bed; eating crackers and chocolate Pop-Tarts as much as he could; helping his sister build towers, painting pictures — and was grateful that he'd continue to get those same opportunities, grateful that we'd know another day together, eternally thankful he was OK. In a moment that could've taken my baby boy away, I was instead reminded of how fragile life is. We got to keep growing up together, and for that I'm always going to be grateful for.