One second. One second was the sliver of time in which it took for my heart to stop and his little body to transition from an upright status to being fully immersed in the water.
A birthday party. Bodies filled every inch of the perfectly manicured lawn on which an inflatable pool slide had been constructed, specifically for the occasion. Presents stacked upon one another filled one table, while various BBQ items and snack foods filled another. Plastic chairs lined the cement walkway connecting the porch to the remainder of the home, each chair containing a person lightly clad in swimsuits and shorts to accommodate the humidity of Houston in August. He and I stood in a child sized pool, holding hands and walking short laps around the pool in an attempt to cool off. Back and forth we walked, perfectly in sync with one another. He was just tall enough that, even though I had never been particularly assured in water, felt comfortable with him being in the pool, releasing my hover on him so that he could enjoy himself, as the other children played without abandon, their parents chatting with one another as their children played freely. And yet, I had to hold him. I needed to know that he was safe. After his delivery 4 years before, a traumatic experience that left each of us in the hospital for several weeks, I needed to be near him. His comfort, his light in the dark.
His brother had joined us recently, still new and still so vulnerable. Though his delivery had been smoother, I hovered over him like I had hovered over his older brother. My pregnancies had been difficult, and I valued my children, knowing how hard it had been for them to arrive. His grandparents relived me of duty for the moment, so that I could fully enjoy the company of my oldest, and keep his brother in sight. I let my attention drift to my newborn at that instance, my hand still holding my oldest, and that’s when it happened.
His grasp slipped from mine and his entire body was underwater. In the moment I had taken to check on his brother, drifting my gaze to the patio on which his grandmother sat, holding my infant, my oldest had fallen in to the pool, frightened and gasping for air. Panicked, I dove in after him, pulling his entire, soaked and scared body up in one swift motion. I hugged him to my chest and we both cried at once, our tears mixing in with one another and the water of the pool so that I could not tell if the salted taste in my mouth was from my utter fear or my panicked cries. As we had been walking around the length of the kiddie pool, he had dropped a toy he had been clutching protectively in one hand. He went in to reach after it, something I would have done without hesitation had I been paying attention. But I wasn’t.
And he fell in . He trusted me to help him, and I had failed him. I pulled him with my out of the pool, and we sat on the lawn, the blades of grass poking my bare legs. I held him, and rocked him until, for him, the moment had passed, and he wanted to go back to the table we had been eating at, to graze from his plate. We walked back together, hand in hand. And we told no one of what had happened. The moment we shared, our combined fear, was a secret we held, a shared memory of my failure as a mother.
It is said to have a child is to live with your heart outside of your body. On that day, in the instance in which I could have lost my son, my heart left my body. It returned, but there was and always has been, a fracture in the place where memory etched it’s scar.
It may look like I am a helicopter mom, like I don’t let him breathe. Let him be a kid I’m told. He’s a boy, boys get hurt. Yes, boys do get hurt. Kids should play. But he’s my boy, and I could have lost him. So I hold him a little tighter, hover a little more.. because I know that in an instance it all could have changed.