So Noelle nearly drowned on Saturday. We were at a birthday party with a swimming pool.
No one had told us there would be a pool involved, so we hadn’t brought the kids’ bathing suits. In truth, I don’t think the parents of the birthday boy ever meant for the pool to become a part of the party, but one can not keep these things secret. Especially, when it takes up half the yard and is full of crystal blue water that winks at you beneath the girth of sun.
Noelle begged and begged to get in, but since we didn’t have a suit for her, nor a change of clothes, her pleas went rejected.
Finally, about an hour into the afternoon, I decided to go home and get her bathing suit. She came with me and on our way back, I heard her little voice chattering from the back of the van. “I can swim now. I couldn’t swim last year when I was five, but my arms are longer and my legs are stronger, so I can swim now.”
I glanced at her in the rear view mirror, her little head tilted and gazing out the window.
“No, you can’t swim, Noelle,” I interrupted her stream of chatter. “You need to take swimming lessons first.”
“No,” She turned toward me, her little mouth an ‘O’ of resistance. “I can swim. I’m older now.”
“No, you can’t,” I said louder, firmer.
“But I CAN Mom!”
I can not tell you how many conversations roll out in this pattern between Noelle and me: her insisting that she can use the hot glue gun, or change the light bulb, or cook hot things on the stove, and me always countering with, “No, you can’t. It’s not safe for you yet. You need to learn first. Wait, let me help you.”
As we pulled up to the house, I slid open the van door, helped her discreetly slip into her bathing suit, and then stepped aside for her to hop out. She sped across the grass toward the party while I gathered up her towel and change of clothes. I caught sight of her neon pink and green bathing suit rounding the corner of the back of the house as I locked the van.
Just 30 minutes earlier the party had been buzzing in the back yard. Now the yard was empty. I assumed most people had moved over by the pool or into the house to eat. The pool was on the far side of the house, blocked from my sight by a tall wooden fence.
I ducked into the basement to drop off my bags and thought about perhaps just continuing on into the house and up the stairs to the kitchen, then changed my mind and decided to make sure that Noelle was safe and sound at the pool where Dwayne had been waiting when I left.
I crossed the yard and pushed through the gate into the pool area. Two things became apparent immediately:
1) No one was by the pool, as I had thought. Everyone had gone into the house.
2) Noelle was bobbing up and down in the pool splashing and gasping for air.
It’s hard to describe the simultaneous burst of adrenaline, panic, and sheer fury that swept over me in that moment. In one sense, my feet felt fired to the cement, my muscles moved like oozing tar: tortuously slow. In another sense, I was moving almost without thinking. I bounded to the ladder, thrust my body out over the pool, grabbed my daughter, whose hand just barely reached mine, and yanked her to the edge of the pool.
“Noelle,” I seethed. “You CAN NOT SWIM!!”
The truth is, though I was infuriated at her for being so obstinate and determined, I was more angry at myself for not talking to her more intentionally about proper pool behavior like needing to wait for an adult to get in; I was angry at myself for not putting floaties on her; angry at myself for almost walking through the house rather than walking back to check on her; angry for not keeping a closer eye on her.
We finished our evening at the party, but not until Dwayne and I had lectured her about how to play in the pool safely. Noelle spent the rest of her time at the party contrite and cautious.
At bedtime that night, I lay beside her and asked our routine questions.
“What was your favorite part of the day?”
Without missing a beat, she spoke into the darkened room, “Well, I can tell you what wasn’t my favorite.” I could see the silhouette of her chin lifting up in conviction, her little finger wagging at the ceiling.
“Going swimming. That was not a good idea.”
I laughed and laughed and laughed until tears filled my eyes.
This is the way it is with kids, isn’t it? They terrify you one minute. Make you so mad. And then crack you up the next minute. They break your heart right in two with terror and laughter.