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…
Airplanes and Spaceships
1 day ago