People Almost Met: Lily at the Pool—Water Safety for Children
This story is one of a series about people whom I have almost met. The stories are about chance encounters with someone that lasts only a brief minute or two, but makes an indelible impression. It’s about encounters that in a small way change my life.
The encounter is too brief for an exchange of names. We may speak or touch, but we haven’t really met—hence the title, “People Almost Met.”
This story is about a young girl that I almost met one day at the pool. I never learned her name, so I’m just going to call her Lily. The name seems to suit her.
Lily At The Pool
The Community Center's Outdoor Pool
I love to swim in the Community Center's outdoor pool. Here in Orlando, Florida the weather is almost always warm enough for the pool. It was hot on the day I met Lily, even though it was only early June.
I had changed into my bathing suit in the locker room. I walked over to the edge of the pool and removed the sandals that I was wearing to protect my feet from the hot concrete. I sat at the edge of the pool’s shallow end and slid from the ledge into the water. The water was not exactly cool, but at least it was cooler than the air temperature which had been hovering in the high 90’s for the past couple of weeks.
I joined the water-aerobics class which was just about to start. There were a lot of children in the pool because school ends at the end of May in Florida. The instructor decided that the class would use the second and third lanes of the pool so the children could use the first lane next to the edge of the pool. She moved the floating lane-dividers to form one lane out of the second and third lanes.
The Water-Aerobics Class
I joined about 20 women in a water aerobics class. Most were older women—women “of a certain age,” as the French like to describe us. Because we would be exercising in the deep water and our feet would not be able to touch bottom, the instructor handed out foam flotation devices to each participant. I fastened my belt around my waist.
The instructor put us through our paces. We pretended to race walk, we pretended to be riding a bicycle, we pretended to be marching. Each exercise required us to propel ourselves through the water from the shallow edge of the pool to the deep edge and back. We did the exercises in a “U” formation, using the third lane (the one furthest from the side edge of the pool) to head towards the deep water and the second lane as we headed back towards the shallower end.
As I headed back to the shallow water, I noticed a young girl in the first lane. She looked to be about five years old. She was at the five-foot depth mark. She sank below the water, popped up, then sank down and popped up again.
The girl triggered a memory from nearly sixty years ago.
I was about eight years old in a large public pool filled with children. I was standing in water about chest deep, when I saw a boy, younger and smaller than me, bobbing up and down in the water. He sank below the surface, touched the bottom of the pool with his feet, and then popped up again. I wondered if he was playing or drowning. I thought if he was playing and I grabbed hold of him, he would be angry with me. But just in case he was drowning, I walked over and stood very close so he could grab hold of me or ask me for help. He did neither; he just kept bobbing up and down.
Suddenly, the lifeguard, a young man, swooped down like Superman, and grabbed the boy. As he lifted the boy into his arms, he gave me a dirty look. His look said, “What is the matter with you? A boy is drowning and you just stand there and watch!”
I stood there shame-faced. I wanted to explain, but “faster than a speeding bullet,” they were gone.
I broke away from the class and swam towards the girl. She was only about eight feet away from me. I reached her quickly, despite being slowed by the flotation device. I wrapped my arm around her waist. Her back was against my upper arm and my forearm went completely around her body. I am tall enough to stand in five feet of water, so I gently guided her to the edge of the pool. She was so light in the water that it felt like she weighed nothing at all.
I moved the girl over to the ledge of the pool. She grabbed hold of the ledge, turned to me and lifted her head slightly. Our eyes met and her face lit up with the most beatific smile. I saw her face for the first time. She was a beautiful Hispanic girl with pale olive skin, dark eyes, and long dark hair swept back from her face.
“Thanks,” she said in a clear melodious voice.
It was then that I noticed a woman standing to my side. She had been talking with a small boy sitting on the ledge, but now she turned towards me. I remembered that the girl had called out “Mami.” just once. as she bobbed up. I realized that this woman must be the girl’s mother. The girl’s cry had not been very loud and apparently her mother had not heard her over the noise of all the children in the pool.
The woman’s look said, “What are you doing with my daughter?”
“She seemed to be struggling in the water a little,” I told her.
I swam away and rejoined the aerobics class.
No One Saw Anything
There were two life guards at the pool that day, and they hadn't seen anything. The girl's mother hadn't seen anything. None of the people in the water-aerobics class saw anything. None of the other children in the pool saw anything. I was the only one who saw anything.
No one even saw me rescue the girl.
Later as I left the pool, I saw the girl again. She was in the shallow water. I made eye contact with her, but she showed no sign of recognizing me.
I walked to the locker rooms with a light step. Years ago I did a stupid thing because I was only a kid, and I didn’t know any better. But now more than 60 years after that long ago day in the pool in New York City, I got a second chance. A chance to wipe away my shame.
A few weeks later, I was watching the local news on TV. The report was about a family on vacation playing in a hotel swimming pool. A young boy drowned while only a few feet away from his family. The mother’s attention had been focused on her younger son.
Children often think they can swim better than they actually can. Keep a close watch over them even if they know how to swim.
A Common Misperception
There is a common misperception that a person who is drowning will call for help or flail their arms. It doesn't happen that way, not even with adults. A drowning person usually just bobs up and down as I described it in my story. When they surface, they are trying to grab a breath of air; they don't have the breath or the time to yell.
If a child is in the water (even a bathtub), you must keep "eyes on" 100% of the time. Don't turn your back even for a minute. A drowning can happen so fast.
This story is about MY second chance.
Have you ever gotten a second chance as an adult to make up for something wrong that you did as a child?
Even babies under a year old can learn to swim
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Catherine Giordano