Monday, August 18, 2008

Taking What If Boulevard to Crazyville

I could have become a mother of three this weekend. It was neither a soap-opera worthy close thing, nor a distant possibility that I laugh to even consider.

It was, in fact, way too close for comfort.

Saturday we went to a family reunion party in Burbank. As the day wound down, we hauled our waterlogged children out of the pool and began the process of getting everybody into dry clothes, collecting our scattered belongings, finding stray socks and so forth.

My husband took a protesting Captain Adventure off to change out of his swim diaper and back into his dry clothes and regular old Pull-Ups. Captain Adventure didn’t want to go. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to leave the glorious fun of the pool, where he had been bobbing with daddy in a bodysuit-style flotation device for a couple hours.

As Daddy bore him off to be changed into dry clothes for the ride back to the hotel, I began packing our damp towels and endless etceteras into the canvas bags we’d brought for them. Suddenly, I saw my son, his little bare feet thumping against the pavement, giggling, his eyes snapping and sparkling with mischief. Oh, for crap’s sake. Got away from Daddy and headed back for the pool, huh? I looked up ready to give Daddy a teasing, “Rookie!” Daddy doesn’t wrangle him as much as I do. Daddy seems to think he can say, “No!” and have it, ha-ha!, mean something to the boy.

But…there was no Daddy. No Daddy in hot pursuit, nobody coming after him, nobody close at hand as he threw himself with all his might toward the water.

“WHOA!” I barked. “Captain Adventure, wait! Stop! Hold up, kiddo! STOP!”

No. NO! He had been heading for the shallow end, for the steps…now, trying to avoid being stopped, he was racing toward the deep end.

With me hot on his heels and capture imminent, he veered again…straight off the edge, into the pool, taking a huge flying leap into the deeper blue water of the deep end of it, hitting with a splash and sinking like a brick.

Naturally, I went in after him and had him out in less time than it takes to type “had him out.”

Well. OK. It took a little longer than that. Maybe thirty seconds from the time my (ahem) fully-clothed body hit the water to when I was standing on the solid ground with my still-alive baby in my arms…squirming and protesting and demanding to go back dere! Go POOL! Go wah-tah!

Thirty seconds…a thousand years worth of terrifying observations and realizations. When he sank instead of bobbing to the surface the way he did when the now-absent Daddy and Floatation Suit combined to protect him, he panicked…and YELLED. An explosion of bubbles around me as I grabbed for him told me that he was a split second away from sucking in a double lungful of water. The brief struggle to get his head out of the water, my tennis shoes making damned poor flippers. The sudden realization that I couldn’t touch bottom where we were, it was too deep. I had to swim to the side, CHRIST, that kid had really jumped off the edge, we were almost halfway across the pool!

…stupid tennis shoes!...helLO, could somebody PLEASE realize we’re in trouble and haul this kid OUT of this @*^&@ing pool…!!!!!!

But then we were out and wrapped in towels and people are laughing and spreading the news like wildfire (“Oh yes he DID! And his mom just JUMPED right in after him, just like that, clothes and all! I think she was still wearing her watch and had her cell phone in her back pocket, too!”) (By about the tenth telling, I had jumped into the pool wearing a 100% silk Armani suit with a Blackberry and a $4,000 laptop on my person, ruining my fine Italian-leather shoes in the bargain) (just for the record: t-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, watch – that’s it) (not that I wouldn’t have jumped in with all the above still on me under the circumstances, but, well…just sayin’…only my watch was in any kind of peril) Daddy was saying something about ‘set him down, just for a second while I…’ and I’m being very firm with myself: Thou shalt NOT go all hysterical here, it was NOT an epic life-and-death struggle, he is FINE and you are FINE and that is all, period, the end.

I held my boy for a forever-while while he protested and complained and asked, again and again, to go back in the pool. (Sigh.) I stroked his back and hummed to him…listening. Listening to the sound of his voice (any weird burrs or buzzes? any sign that water is still hitting his cords?), listening to his breathing (deep cough? odd vibrations? good, deep breaths?) and taking a terrible journey down What If Boulevard.

What If I hadn’t been Right There? What If I’d wandered off, looking for socks and shoes and bags of yarn?

What If he had plunged into that pool, full of splashing, fun-loving cousins? Of course you think, Well, they would have pulled him out, almost as fast as YOU did!…but…they’re playing. They’re splashing. They’re having fun. He’s been in the pool for hours with Daddy, his jumping into the pool so confidently isn’t exactly like a newly-minted toddler falling into it.

What If…nobody had realized he needed help until after he’d sucked water into both of his lungs.

What If…what if he had…drowned. Down there. Alone, not understanding what went wrong, why the fun-water had hurt him like that…

…what if…what if he still…what if he had aspirated water, what if he died in the night tonight…what if what if what if what if what if…

Stay cool, Tama, I kept telling myself. Don’t you DARE start going all drama-queen right now…

But I wanted to scream. The family is relieved, and laughing, teasing me as I stand there dripping, my clothes a ruin, my hair even worse. “Keeps ya busy, huh mom?!” an uncle bellows, clapping a friendly hand on my shoulder. For a second, I about hated him. IDIOT!

Ah, yes, this is what we call “misdirected emotion”…see, you’re upset and emotional because the adrenaline is running its course, and now that it’s over you’re catastrophizing an event that really, now, wasn’t all THAT bad, and furthermore…

Shut up, Self. Just…shut up.

I’m holding my boy, my very-alive boy, trying to make a u-turn on What If Boulevard. It’s one of those roads that stretches on and on and on forever, with a million twists and turns and branches that go to all kinds of endings…good, bad and indifferent.

But seems like every intersection has a big “NO U-TURN ALLOWED” sign on it.

I’m not allowed to turn around and go back to Real Life and leave it at that just yet. I have to go a little further, and worry about not just this event, but a thousand others that ‘almost’ happened or ‘might’ have happened or ‘could happen yet.’

Yeah. I’m catastrophizing.

I never used to do that, you know? Really. I didn’t. I took Life as it came, with all the ups and downs and weird stuff and close calls and clever saves. I didn’t worry about ‘what if I hadn’t’ or ‘what if they had’ stuff.

Things were what they were, period. You laughed your relief or cried your grief, learned something (maybe), and then you picked up and moved on.

You didn’t take a sudden turn onto What If Boulevard and find yourself headed to Crazyville, passing street after street saying “ONE WAY ONLY!” with no hint of what State it might be heading for, each turnoff bearing that dreadful sign: NO U-TURN ALLOWED.

And then…I had children. And suddenly, I find myself driving down What If Boulevard all the damned time. Even when I realize I’m doing it, even when I’m trying like crazy to turn off this damned road and find my way back to What Is Street…I’m stuck for a while. I’m stuck until it runs its course, until I finally get to the end of the main drag and the restrictions loosen and Life says, “OK. Now you can go ahead and get back to where you were.”

Hopefully, I get there before I reach Crazyville. When you find yourself in Crazyville, well. No matter where you’d like to go…you can’t get there, from here.

I’m always afraid that, if I end up in Crazyville, my kids will end up encased in plastic bubbles inside the Den, never allowed to leave, never allowed to live, or risk, or try…for fear they might fail…fail utterly, tragically, messily…

Intellectually, you know that it would be no kind of life. It would be a living hell, a nightmare, an endless horror. The things that make our lives sweetest, that give us the keenest pleasures and sensation of Being Alive don’t usually come without that terrible risk. I suppose it could even be argued that we need a certain amount of failure, a few bumps and bruises and face-plants-in-public under our belts, to give us something to compare our successes to and say, “Yes. Like this. Not like that, no. Like this.”

Emotionally…right at the moment…well. How bad would it be, really? For Captain Adventure, I mean. I could make the bubble really big, and maybe paint trains on it…? Shoot, if I made it big enough, I could even give him a train set to play with inside the bubble.

As long as it was soft rubber, so he couldn’t hurt himself with it. Oh. And sanitized, so he can’t get typhoid and die or anything. No small parts, either, ‘cause he might choke. And…


Anonymous said...

Oh my lord. My stomach tied itself into knots just reading this. Thank God you saw him and were able to react so quickly. Give that little stinker an extra squeeze from another mommy here in Michigan, will ya?

Anonymous said...

God love you both! My heart jumped up into my chest when I read this. I'm glad you both are alright. Hopefully, you'll find a place to take a U-turn soon. Hang in there!

21stCenturyMom said...

My kid did that once. It was her 3rd birthday and she was just so excited she walked right into the pool. Before I could even think to jump in her Uncle had (wallet and all) and had her back to the surface. Darn kids!

Kali said...

I was SO tired... she was napping in her crib with her cousin in the bed near her...only a minute I closed my eyes...struggled to open them and saw outside the window, my dearest daughter (only 3!) holding hands with her cousin (3 and 4 months!) CROSSING A MAIN STREET FULL OF CARS!!!

Time is so very horrid then... moving as fast as you can but everything in slo-mo... they were crossing on the green, I was the maniac racing towards them on the yellow and then red crossing light, scooping them both up and racing back to the safety zone of our house...

She is 28 now and I still have nightmares of that time. Neither understood my fears. They had followed all the rules for crossing the street to the corner store just as we had done so many times before. I tried, but doubt I ever got them to understand how terrified I was and how much I loved them and if they ever did that again I would kill them!

Yeah, the mother love thing sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense. Scared shitless does that.

Yarnhog said...

Dear lord. Thank god you were watching. I walked into a pool when I was 14 months old. My mother still has the gold watch she was wearing when she went in after me. It hasn't worked in almost 40 years.

There is no terror like the terror of having kids. The day my two-year-old discovered the door knob and disappeared out into the big old world by himself almost killed me dead. I was eight months pregnant, running, shrieking, up and down the street like a maniac, sobbing his name for what seemed like hours. Before it was over, my husband came home, the police showed up, I hyperventilated myself into hysteria--and then the little boy came grinning out of a neighbor's yard, saying, "I hide, Mommy! I hide!"

wenat said...

When my older son was 10 months old, he speed-crawled to the edge of the swimming pool in the 5 seconds it took me to hand a camera over to a fellow mom. Went down, and I was right behind him. That haunted my memories for a very long time.

He just turned 5 years old in June. Yesterday, he took off his lifejacket, jumped off the diving board, and swam to the edge of the pool.

And now he wants to know when he can do the Olympics, too.

Some kids are water babies. Just think, maybe yours will be the next Michael Phelps, and you'll have this story to tell of when he fell into the water.

Michelle F said...

We were all in a pool - 3 adults with our assorted 8 kids plus my ffriend's state cop husband doing yard work around the pool when my youngest flipped over in a floating lounge chair and couldn't get back over. Fortunately we discovered that she was stuck very quickly but Captain Adventure's stunt reminded me of the incident and how close I was to losing her.
We all battle with letting them be the fantastic independent people they can be while petrified they are going to crash and do permanent damage while biking/skateboarding/walking the dog and in my more insane worry moments playing marbles.
Working with special needs children who have severe brain damage for a variety of reasons makes me SO petrified for the safety of my own kids while being grateful for everything my girl's have.
Wow - I just really ranted in this comment - sorry - i am so glad Captain Adventure is OK and that you were there to quickly get him out!

Anonymous said...

first off, omg! i'm glad he's ok. 2nd, i'm glad YOU are ok.
when i clicked the link for catastrophizing, it came up in a half page and all i could see was the ad at the top that says "burns up to 500 calories in less than an hour." too funny. if that was true i'd be skin and bones because i just thought that was called "being prepared". plan for the worst hope for the best. but it seems like psychology has a different word for it. i have three kids, one is currently two, and he's my first boy so i'm new to the face plant nose dive way of life, but he's training me to go from 0 to 100 mph in the blink of an eye. way to go Tama!

Anonymous said...

OMG, glad C.A. is OK...tho it seems that you may need some more time to recover fully! When I was 12-ish & my sister 7-ish, we played in the pool & she got tired & went under & grabbed me! We both woulda went down, maybe for good, if I hadn't been able to grab the edge when we bobbed up. That is a *very* scary feeling.

Bullwinkle said...

Excellent save! Excellent post. Hugs to both of you.

I dont' remember how I found you - but I've been enjoying the writing and adventures. Now, in the wake of an almost crisis; I've got to de-lurk and say thank you for being here, and there where you are most definitely needed.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! I'm so glad you were watching (not as glad as you were) and everything is OK now.

As far as your response to all the chuckles and storytelling that followed. Sounded perfectly freakin' reasonable to me. It was a scary, scary close call.

As far as your 'catastrophizing', everyone around me thinks I have completely lost my sense of humor because, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot see a light side to a close call. I can feel relieved, blessed, incredibly lucky...but never amused. Even years after such an incident (it was with a ladder in my case) it makes me choke up. I can tell it with a cautionary smile, but always as a message, never as a punchline.

Again, I'm so glad you and the Captain are safe.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness you were there. Don't be too alarmed if you're awake a lot this week... after I went in after my little one (fully clothed, but the shallow end) I spent a LOT of time on What-If Boulevard. Captain Adventure was certainly living up to his name!

Iron Needles said...

Excellent post, excellent writing, normal feelings, and everyone before has said what there is to be said. Mine have grown up, and not much changed, except the type of toys and the distance.
Parenting is the hardest job I ever had, and fortunately, the most rewarding.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Tama, thank goodness you were there. People think I'm psycho for being unwilling to take my eyes off my boy when he's in a pool, but that's okay--he's made it to ten years old, and God willing, lots more than that. I love water, but it scares me. I also wish people had more than one set of baby teeth--it was a big comfort to me when he had his baby teeth that if knocked them out, he'd get more. Now I just have to grit my teeth and ride it out.

Thank goodness you were there! I hate that guy who said, "Keeps you busy" too. Don't people know better than to joke with someone on an adrenaline jag? Grrrr.

Rena said...

Holy S**T!!!!! I'm so glad everyone is okay but I totally understand you wanting to smack the hell out of that Uncle! Everybody laughing it off to make themselves feel better while you sit there and FEEL your hair turning gray. HUGS to MOM

Jan said...

Seriously with the LAUGHTER? They all need a good boot to the behind.

I can absolutely picture myself melting into a puddle of emotion (after, not during), so I think you did a fine job of handling the relatives.

And, of course, a great job of doing what needed to be done. As if we expected anything else. Glad everyone was OK, and hope your poor psyche recovers quickly!

Science PhD Mom said...

Oh my goodness. What a horrifying thirty seconds! yarnhog has it nailed--"there is no terror like the terror of having kids". But you are right, we can't encase them in bubbles. I can't stop my kids from playing in the yard just because a neighbor had a black bear in her yard, after her suet feeder. Yeah. You just have live, and be vigilant. Congrats on being vigilant!!