“We’re not those parents…”
So said a friend as she stood outside her house one mid-summer Thursday afternoon. I wasn’t there to hear her say it though. I was in the ambulance that had just whirred away from her neighborhood, speeding out of the desert with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
My son–my precious baby boy–was in that ambulance too. He was breathing by that time. But he wasn’t quite right. He was barely responsive. Far from the vivacious little monster he had been only an hour before.
An hour before we’d been playing and splashing in the pool. My friend and I sat at the edge of her pool, our legs dangling in the water. Four of the six kids in the pool were proficient swimmers. And then there were Cassidy and Jayce–neither of whom can swim without some sort of assistance.
My attention–though divided many ways–was aimed mostly at them.
Cassidy wore her arm floaties, and turned circles in the water as though Michael Phelps himself was no better than she. Jayce stayed close at my side, shooting the other kids with streams from a water gun he’d adopted for the afternoon. He waded from one end of the shallow lagoon to the other, back and forth, taking aim, over and over.
As we splashed in the water that day not a single sip of alcohol was ingested. Not one split-second passed when either my friend or myself were not physically in the pool with our collective children. Because we aren’t those parents.
But in the end, my physicality alone wasn’t enough.
I scanned the bobbing heads once more–as I’d been doing all afternoon–accounting for my four. But this time I came up one short.
Until I saw a dark mass submerged to my left. Not across the pool, but right next to me. Three feet from where I sat.
Words can’t possibly convey the image of him there. An image that I would pay countless dollars to have permanently deleted from memory. An image that is burned into my mind’s eye. An image that haunts me at night, and threatens to pounce even in the light of day, the instant I let my guard down.
While that image is truly horrific, worse still are the torturous thoughts of what he must have gone through in the seconds that led up to it.
Whether it’s a blessing or a curse that I don’t have those images available I’ll never know.
I suppose that when you get right down to it my memory is well supplied with a brutal arsenal with which to assault: the feel of his limp body against mine as I pulled him from the water, the sight of his blue lips as I placed him on the grass, the agonizing hours–or minutes or seconds, it’s hard to be sure–it took for him to finally respond to my demands that he breathe.
And then there was the blur of activity around me. The fearful, wide-eyed children hovering nearby. The sight of my friend, trying to answer questions for the 911 dispatcher on the phone. A random neighbor, having come to help. The shrill sound of my middle daughter, screaming her brother’s name with more desperation in her voice than I’ve ever heard from anyone else in all my years.
It was through the grace of God that Jayce finally responded. It couldn’t have had anything to do with my worthless attempts–my misguided efforts to save him.
The sound of his exhausted moans were the sweetest music I’d ever heard. And when–seconds later–he opened his eyes my heart pounded against my chest. By the time he threw up, the crowd of miniature onlookers had been herded into the house. Otherwise how crazy they would have thought I was for heralding it the way I did.
The next thirty minutes were joyous and overwhelming and terrifying and confusing at once. There must have been ten paramedics. Four emergency vehicles. More beeping machines and heavy medical equipment than I ever care to see again.
I held him in my arms, cursing my own stupidity and praising his courage without taking a breath in between. The decision to transport him to the hospital was not mine to make, though I wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment had it been.
My friend assured me that everything was going to be fine. She thought when I couldn’t: repeating Jayce’s birthday and the spelling of his name every time they asked, calling Jeff at work to tell him what had happened, fishing the keys from my purse so she could drive the girls home and stay with them, fumbling through my wallet for my driver’s license when the officer needed it. She freed me to focus on the only thing I could have anyway: the boy I’d come so close to losing.
It wasn’t until we sped away in the ambulance, as Jayce lie there with an oxygen mask over his sweet little face, that I was struck with panic. Would he have brain damage? Might he regress at any moment? Was he out of the woods? My prayers went up steadfastly; my tears came in earnest. In the thirty minutes it took to get to the hospital, my amazing little man made a full recovery.
It may have been about that time that my friend stood amongst her neighbors, puzzling at how it could have happened. We aren’t–after all–those parents.
But in my life I’ve learned that while most bad things happen to someone else…every once in awhile they happen to a neighbor. To someone I knew in high school. To a guy Jeff works with. Or maybe to you. Even to me.
Not because I don’t love my children with everything in me. Not because I stole a candy bar when I was six. Not because I honked at the slow car ahead of me not realizing it was an elderly woman at the wheel.
Sometimes bad things just happen. To good people. To good parents even.
I certainly don’t do everything right. Every once in awhile I may look the other way when the TV has been on too long. Or I forget the multi-vitamin. I send my kids to school without every last one of the supplies on the back-to-school list. I allow soda when we go to restaurants. Once or twice I may even have said “hit her back” when one of my girls tattles on another.
And I looked away for a moment too long in the pool.
But (and believe me when I tell you that I am filled with doubt as I force these words through my fingertips onto this keyboard, and eventually the screen), I am a good parent. I am.
I know that the very presence of my son is a gift that surpasses understanding. Hearing his tiny words, the touch of his padded fingertips, the rise and fall of his itty bitty chest, his wet kisses–all are blessings for which I couldn’t possibly be more thankful.
So while every instinct within me demands that I punish myself, that I wallow in guilt for having abandoned him when he needed me most–I’m choosing another way.
This gift that God gave me last Thursday afternoon–this second chance–is not something I want to thumb my nose at. It’s true that allowing myself to smile at this point goes against my human sense of justice. What gives me the right to feel anything but gut-wrenching guilt after my failures permitted something so heinously unconscionable to occur.
What gives me the right?
There is but one thing that gives me that right: the grace and mercy of the Lord. It is because of Him–and through only Him.
Because of Him, I will do my best not to let this experience overtake me. Nor will I allow Jayce’s experience to be in vain.
So many of you have asked how you can help. Most of us are separated by vast miles but there truly is something you can do for me in spite of the distance.
You can help me to become whole again.
How? Easy. Do something. Anything. Take a CPR class (as I fully intend to do). Buy a life jacket and donate it to the neighborhood pool. Promise that no matter how late you’re running you’ll turn around and grab that second set of water wings. But most of all, watch. Watch vigilantly. Because being there isn’t enough. Pledge to stop momentarily on your way to the water and consider our story, so that you, too, can grasp that what they say is true: it can happen to you. It only takes a second.
And a second was all it took.
Please just do something.
So that I can believe that our story has helped to keep another child safe this summer.
That’s what you can do for me. Thank you.