I got my answer to the question I posed here yesterday, a few weeks ago.
The Chop, the Bump and I were at a mate’s place soaking up some Vitamin D on one of the by few really hot we’ve had in the big Sydney area this summer. At four years old our hostess, Princess Boofhead, has known Chop for literally all her life, and all bar six weeks of his. They are the best of mates, and fight like brother and sister.
All three kids were playing on the steps of the pool while Mother of Boofhead and I sat, again, just a few feet away. In an act that playful and totally innocent– she had not the slightest idea of the potential consequences- Princess Boofhead put her hand square in the middle of the Chop’s back and pushed him straight into the deep, blue green water of their backyard pool.
There was nothing malicious or vengeful about it– the Princess was emulating a game she played, quite safely, with her dad all the time. Swimming lessons have been a mandate for both my kids since they were six months old– living in Australia, with a lifestyle that fixes itself to different points along a coastline, it’s a necessity. At two and four years old they are as water safe and confident as any child can be at that age.
But you can never rely on that. And you can never be too careful.
My baby boy splashed into the pool, turned, as he’s been taught, back to the edge, and then panicked. His legs kicked wildly and his arms pushed against the weight of liquid that is like molten lead when that desperate adrenaline hits your muscles. His nose and mouth were just below the water level and his eyes were huge and blue and terrified and desperate.
Time is like hot candy sugar being pulled on a hook when you witness the life of someone you love in immediate danger. Your brain processes things through its cortex, instincts that you never knew you had (flight or fight) surge forward from wherever evolution had them waiting in cold storage. Your body is fast, adrenaline that is not so much desperate but primal forces your muscles to move. Your subconscious processes the situation in mere seconds and acts for you. Your conscious mind is surprised by how quickly you moved, how you knew exactly what needed to be done; it catches up as that strange numb shock sets in afterwards.
Mother of Boofhead is gently scolding her daughter, she doesn’t seem to notice Chop is in danger… or maybe that’s just my conscious mind, catching up, running the script at a different speed to the visual. She reaches for him but my mind does the maths and she is not moving quickly enough, there is not the urgency required. That’s impossible to ask, of course… he is not her child.
For the tiniest split second– and probably a split second after the chill has already hit me– I register that although the day is warm, this water is going to be very cold. I hate cold water like a cat does– it has to be bath temperature for me to swim and I dip myself into cool water slowly, inch by goose bumped inch, pass my thighs and stomach and breasts and then I’m still cold and uncomfortable and want to go home.
It is cold. I am wearing long, thick denim shorts and they are heavy and make crossing the three feet of leaden water to Chop seem difficult. It doesn’t matter. I reach him in the blink of an eye, the space of a heartbeat, and drag him from the water, both of us dripping and chilled.
I wrap him in a towel, a change of clothes is sought for me. The Chop is shaking and scared but fine, and Mother of Boofhead and I share that nervous, vibrato, relieved laughter in the way adults who have avoided something very bad almost happening do.
I’m proud of myself, irrationally and almost childlike. Those doubts (Could I? Would I?)… I’ve known for years how wrong they were. But having living, breathing, blue eyed proof of it– at this stage of things, still finding my footing in parenting all by myself– it’s a blessing and a comfort.
Some days I do alright at this mothering thing. Some days, we all beats the odds and do just fine.