I'm generally a protective mom.
My kids wear helmets on their bikes, booster seats in the car, and hold my hand when they cross the street. I chose a daycare with a webcam. I don't let them run with scissors.
I occasionally take my caution to neurotic levels, like when I videotaped a new babysitter before we left (similar to using The Club on our car steering wheels in the nineties; it wouldn't prevent a criminal from kidnapping my child, but it might make her pick the next kid instead) and when I used a thermometer to check my bath temperature when I was pregnant (it was in the baby books, so it must have been important.) In general, though, I think that I usually strike a reasonable level of over-protection.
Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do, as I learned yesterday at the pool. Everything turned out ok, but it left a mark.
My kids take swimming lessons, are extremely comfortable in the water, and wear lifejackets when they are anywhere near our dock at the lake. I also make my two non-swimmers wear floaties or lifejackets when I'm outnumbered at the pool.
Unfortunately I can't watch them every single minute.
Last night we went to our neighborhood pool for the older kids' swimming lesson and stayed afterwards to play in the pool. It was a particularly fun evening, since all three kids -- even little Bennett -- were jumping off the side of the pool for the first time without me catching them. After an hour of "on your mark-get set-go...SPLASH!" I began collecting our things to go home.
The lifeguards were on a break, so all the kids were cleared from the pool. I got everything into our bags, took lifejackets off, and headed for the exit. I noticed that our diving rings were still in the pool, so I got in to retrieve them. The last lingering lifeguard was helping me fish the last ring from the filter when I heard a splash behind me.
I turned around and saw Colin -- my best swimmer -- facing away from me in the pool. "Honey, the lifeguards are on a break. We can't be in the pool..." Then I saw Colin looking at me quizzically from up on the dock. In that second I realized, horrified, that it was little Bennett -- not Colin -- in the pool.
"OH MY GOD, THAT'S BENNETT!" I yelled. The lifeguard and I rushed to him, and a moment later he was safe in my arms. He surfaced with wide, terrified eyes, then bawled for the next five minutes.
The lifeguard said later that this all transpired in about three or four seconds. To me, it seemed like an eternity; my heart rate still hasn't returned to normal. I keep seeing his little blond head under the water; I suspect this is now a permanent image in my head. Bennett is fine, though he has brought it up a few times: "I falled in and then I cwied." I'm the one with emotional scars.
As expected, it kept me up last night. After waking with a start at 4:00 a.m., thoughts of these three or four seconds kept me up for an hour. What if I hadn't been right there? What if he jumped into the deep, dark lake instead of the clear water of the pool? What if, what if, what if?
Despite all the padding, restrictions, and advice we give our kids, they have a mind of their own, and sometimes free will is a bitch. When they're little, they don't know any better, and it doesn't get much better in adolescence. Having co-invented a game called "Drivers from Hell," played lights-off car tag in a cemetary, and attended my fair share of frat parties in my youth, I know of which I speak.
And as if human stupidity weren't enough, there's life/fate/chance to reckon with. I think of Olympian Cody Marshall's parents; they spent decades trying to keep him safe on the ski slopes, yet he's currently in critical care due to a combination of bad choices and bad luck at a shopping mall. You just never know, so you do what you can.
As I crawled back into bed before dawn this morning, I made SJ promise to never let the kids out of arms' reach without a life jacket at the lake.
"OK," he agreed sleepily. "On the bright side, I bet this cures your writer's block."