Life Changing, Forever

We live in the land of sunshine.  Backyard pools abound.  The sounds of splashing, laughter and music fills the air, along with wafts of smoke from barbecues and grills.

Kids playing in the waves!

Sarah waves

Sounds like paradise, right?

photo by

photo by

Is it wonderful …. until tragedy strikes and then it is life changing, forever.

I read a report last night of another fatal drowning.  Four year old Travis Stratton was in the care of his grandparents when he went missing, he was found up the block, dead – in a neighbors pool.  The pool was fenced with a locked gate.

Unfortunately, we hear of stories like this all to often.

Immediately, my thoughts went back to my grandson Michael and how we dodged a bullet. Michael is the youngest of 6 kids and he is all boy!  He loves critters, he loves adventure, he is fearless.  When Michael was about 3 they moved into a house with a huge backyard, with forts and fun places to hide and play and a well worn fence.  The house next door had a lovely pool and a couple of friendly dogs that would run up the hill and often push through the fence to visit with the kids.

It was a warm summer evening and Michael had been told numerous times to put his pet lizard ‘Little Fella’ back in his cage and get ready for a bath.   As it started to get dark my daughter said, “Where’s Michael?”  He was no where to be seen.  The last time she had seen him he was in the backyard.  None of the other kids knew where he was. A search of the yard and house ensued, no Michael.  Panic started to set in.

“OMG – check the pool next door!”   From the fence it was hard to see, nobody was home next door and the lights were off.  They called the police.

The police searched the neighbor’s yard and pool, no Michael.  They searched the house, no Michael. Then the police called for air support.  A helicopter circled the neighborhood, illuminating each and every backyard and pool, no Michael.  The police fanned out across the backyard, searching and calling the dogs, “Find Michael

My son in law took off running around the neighborhood, screaming his name. Fear filled the air. The church up the street had just let out and the congregation willingly spread out throughout the neighborhood in search of Michael.  Police cars drove up and down the streets announcing that they were in search of a missing 3 year old boy.

My daughter sank to the ground on the driveway in front of the house, in tears and shaking with fear.  A police officer gently helped her inside and started questioning her again, “When do you remember seeing him last?”  

She  sobbed, “I just told him to put his lizard ‘Little Fella’ away and get ready for a bath…..” The police officer went to Michael’s bedroom again and checked Little Fella’s cage.  Little Fella was missing, the cage was empty.  Again, he searched the bedroom looking for clues.  

As we sat huddled together in the living room the police officer walked into the room and said, “Look what I found.”   There he stood, holding a sleeping boy with ‘Little Fella’ gently cupped in his hands, sleeping on Michael’s chest.

Michael had taken ‘Little Fella’ climbed up onto the top bunk of his brother’s bed, covered himself in layers and layers of blankets and fallen asleep with his ‘friend’.

According to the CDC  From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2009, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30% died from drowning.   These startling figures do not take into account near fatal drownings which are often almost as bad as death.

As a parent, grandparent and pool owner, this is my worst nightmare.  Before we built our first pool I had visions of parties and kids swimming and diving.  Laughter and splashing.

The reality is very different and is why I have gray hair!

Someone must be on guard all the time.  Even when the pool is not ‘in use’ kids are attracted to water.  A bouncing ball goes into the pool, the child leans over to retrieve the ball and in they go!     It is even worse when the pool is in use!  You cannot swim and watch the kids too.  We had to make a rule that when the pool was in use, an adult had to be on the deck watching. There was one Saturday that I had to go in after a struggling child 3 times!  Parents would send their kids to swim saying, “Oh, yeah – she is pretty good in the water.” When in reality they sank like a rock!

A couple of years ago I was at a child’s birthday party, everyone was sitting around the backyard, eating and drinking. The kids were running and playing – nobody was swimming.  A little girl was riding a tricycle around and around the pool.  From the other side of the yard I could see what was about to happen.  Like in slow motion, the back wheel of the tricycle went over the edge of the pool and the little girl and tricycle tipped into the pool.  I literally ran out of my shoes as I dashed across the yard – she sank to the bottom like a brick.  Her grandma was screaming but not moving.  She was a lucky one.  Scared and sobbing she was plucked from the pool.  It could have been tragic.

Last December we were at a party, mostly adults and just a couple of kids.  There was a pool but the pool lights were off, obviously nobody was swimming, we were all huddled under the outdoor heaters.  I looked over and saw my adult nephew sitting away from the crowd, off by himself.  I made eye contact with him and he waved me over.  I went  to see what was up and he said he was watching a little girl by the pool. Sure enough, in the distant darkness, a little girl was exploring the pool.  My nephew had tried to get the parents attention but they were busy drinking and visiting and had not even noticed that their daughter had wandered away.

  • Teach your kids WATER SAFETY – not just pools but even shallow ponds pose a risk.  Teach them not to fear water but to have a healthy respect for water.
  • Teach your kids to swim!
  • Learn CPR – Seconds count.  If in the event of a near drowning the difference between waiting for emergency services and starting CPR can make the difference between life and death or brain damage or none.
  • Poolside:  Have a basket or container of some sort to place phones & keys in.  I learned the hard way that jumping into a pool with a pocket full of keys and a phone is not only costly it renders your phone unusable.  You must have a working phone poolside in case of an emergency.
  • Don’t let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out (sometimes called “shallow water blackout”) and drown.
  • Clear the pool and deck of toys.  Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.

Pool kids

 I cannot imagine loosing one of my little eaters!

Be safe and have fun!


Life Changing, Forever — 15 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. This really hits home for me. My precious son, Cameron, went to be an angel when he was only 2 years, 2 months, and 15 days old in November 2002. He sadly drowned. The day it happened has played over in my head repeatedly since he died. I was there, along with 6 other adults. I wasn’t even aware of water being nearby at the location where he and 2 other children were playing. Literally in the blink of an eye he was gone. In what seemed like hours – everything seemed to go in slow motion (but a few minutes had passed until we found him). It was so devastating and tragic. I don’t understand how it happened so fast. 🙁 It still hurts to this very day. He would be 14 this coming September. My son who is 9 years old gets so mad because I watch him like a hawk with everything. I make it clear to him how fast things happen. (The little girl playing with my angel at the same location died 4 months after my son died, in a different accident, at the same place!) And now my 7 month old I follow around as well. I pray that no one ever has to go through a terrible loss… It is too painful. God bless you. Thank you for writing this! <3

  2. When my darling husband was yet in service as a FF/Medic he had the horrible job of pulling one of our dear friend’s drowned 3 year old from their pool. These wonderful and kind people were never same. Our own children were never EVER allowed to go swimming without him there as a result. Orange is still paranoid around pools.

    • Oh Candice. I just cannot imagine. That poor family, poor Orange!
      I know that people probably thought I was a real B***H but I know that I could never live with myself if we lost a child in our pool.
      I donated the use of the pool for small group, affordable swimming lessons for the neighborhood kids for 3 summers in a row. Even with the instructor there in the water with those little munchkins I still sat guard on deck. Just in case.

  3. When Billy was 2 yrs old he found a way out of the yard. We lived in the city right near a busy bus depot. I stopped traffic really I stood in the middle of the street and screamed not another car or bus will move until I find my son. No one seemed to mind and Billy was found in a matter of minutes. The scariest minutes of my life. Good blog to share just as the warmer weather comes in.

  4. Thank you so much for this blog. I’ve been meaning to do a similar write up in honor of my nephew as we are coming up on the 5th anniversary of his drowning. It was an above ground pool at my in laws home with a cover, no ladder. His ball landed on top, he pulled a chair over to get it, fell in and went under the cover so no one noticed him. He was 2, was airlifted, on life support and passed later that night. Hit our family hard. I wasn’t there when it happened but can’t get the image described to me out of my head. We too have a pool and have had kids climb our block wall only to get an earful from me. Water safety is huge! And yes – you can’t be on guard if you are in the pool, I tried once and was about to go crazy! Thank you for your important message!

    • Oh, Gretchen. I am so sorry, I just can’t imagine the horror of that day.
      Thank you for sharing this, I know it must be hard. Little kids are so clever and drowning is silent. Even if you think you have done all the right things, remove the ladder etc… they will find a way.
      Blessings to you and your family.

  5. When our kids were little, a neighbor down the street had a pool party. All of a sudden we realized that ten-year-old Max wasn’t around. Then we saw the image of a body at the bottom of the pool. Lucky for us one of the kids at the party, one who had many drug problems in the past, dived to the bottom, brought him up, knew how to do resuscitation, and she saved Max. We will never forget that experience. It is harrowing and, as you say, life changing. Thanks for reminding us once again of that experience.

    • Oh, Marianne! How very scary!
      It is one of those life changing moments that you NEVER forget.
      I honestly cannot put into words how loosing a child on “my watch” would do to us. 🙁
      Thank God that young woman saved Max!

  6. Thank You, Pam. I have seen first hand what a “near drowning” is – I thought about posting pictures and a first hand account of those experiences and I could not do it. Heart breaking / life changing for everyone involved.
    Spread the word! Educate and teach those kids to SWIM!

  7. Penny – – you are absolutely right! Amen & Amen!! I live in Florida so there is water, water everywhere. Babies can learn to swim – be responsible to teach them. Also sign up for a First Aid course and learn CPR – a child’s life may depend on you!!

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