I like to post cute pictures of my kids. I especially like posting pictures that make me look like a great dad. I sometimes fall victim to wanting to be like all of the ‘perfect’ families on social media. Their kids eating sushi and performing righteous piano recitals. I’ve seen plenty of honor society inductees, athletic scholarships and college announcements. I get you parents. I get why it feels good to post the good news. I also like when fellow parentals go off on a rant about their struggles to keep mountains of laundry from taking out the entire neighborhood, the ongoing dinner dilemmas or the never-stop-screaming two-year-old. We all have our thresholds. We all have a breaking point.
This weekend was another fun-filled, errand-packed two days of nonstop movement. Well, almost nonstop. My wife was at a Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida board retreat on Friday night and Saturday morning. The boys and I watched a bit too much TV but managed to get to Costco, where I discovered I had misplaced my membership card. We were there early so it wasn’t a big deal to get a replacement card, but when you get to Costco right at opening time, you miss out on all of the oddball samples at the end of the aisles. Max was mighty displeased with the lack of frozen raviolis, pimento cheese spread, nut clusters and energy drinks. He took it in stride and I offered to buy him a slice of pizza on our way out.
After shopping and somehow talking Cooper into staying in the cart, the boys chowed down on pizza, sitting on the bright red plastic tables as I fretted about getting all of this protein home without Central Florida’s June heat soiling my meat. It’s damn near triple digits already. When we got to the car, the monster that parked next to us was so close that we couldn’t open the doors on one side of my truck. I had to get in the back seat of the truck from the opposite side with Cooper so I could get him buckled in his carseat. No big deal, but enough of an annoyance to visibly annoy me.
When we got back home I quickly made the boys a snack as I put the provisions away. After eating, we decided to take a swim. Our pool resurfacing project is finally complete. The company we used did a fine job but they somehow managed to get concrete and slurry into the drain at the bottom of the pool, so the project was extended by three weeks plus as they slowly worked the clog free so our pool pump could operate with a normal flow. Cooper, my four-year-old who has Down syndrome, is not very drawn to the pool. He’s downright scared of it, so I don’t worry about him jumping in by himself. However, I was not ready for Max’s callout: “Dad, Cooper fell in!”
I was a good 25 feet away, looking through a storage bin for some goggles when I saw Cooper, all of him in the deep end of the pool, kicking his legs and frantically moving his arms. There was no noise. No screaming like the flailing victims you see in the movies. I ran over to him in a flash. His eyes were as wide as saucers. Pure panic. His eyebrows and the top of his head were above water. Everything else was below. He was right next to the wall, just far enough that his little arms couldn’t reach. I yanked him out and held him as he coughed and screamed. Had I not been there, I think Max would’ve gotten him out. I don’t want to think about what I would be writing if things had gone a different way.
“Dad, I saw him,” Max said. “He was pushing that raft into the pool and he fell over it and into the pool.”
“I know,” I said. “Thank you.”
I held Cooper for a long time, letting him cry. I think I got to him fast enough that he didn’t ingest much water. No liquid came out in his coughs, and he calmed down after 10 minutes or so. He was visibly shaken and he told me he was scared and wanted to go back inside the house. A year ago, I probably would’ve yelled. At him, at someone. That’s my way of displacing my anger toward myself onto someone else, and it’s a useless act that I’m working on fixing. I didn’t yell. I didn’t blame anyone, except maybe myself, but I did that internally. If I was a good parent, I thought to myself, this wouldn’t have happened. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that accidents happen to everyone. The fact that this fall into the pool wasn’t tragic is because my wife and I are good parents, and we were close by. I feel for all of the good parents who deal with tragedy even when they’re close by or doing everything possible to watch out for their kids. That is the heaviest burden to bear.
I think I will see Cooper bobbing in the pool again in my dreams some day.
He starts swim lessons (for the third summer in a row) this week. Hopefully it sticks.
That night we went to see a movie, and it was fun. I posted a cute picture of Cooper hiding amongst a large cardboard marketing display in the theater. That was the post. Not the near drowning. Not the tears. Not the burdens of life. I posted a cute photo of a smiling, happy child. That’s what I want to share most of all. That’s what makes the struggles worth it. To see them smile.
The next day my wife took the kids to the lake lot in our neighborhood so I could prep our pool deck for paint. When I was done, I rode my bike down to meet them. Max was casting his fishing rod on the dock with two young girls, a neighbor’s granddaughters. Cooper was soaked from head to toe from playing in the water. My wife was chatting with a neighbor. I fished with Max for a bit, then took Cooper to the swings. Coop was laughing and having a ball. I didn’t have my phone on me. If I did, I would’ve posted a picture of him on the swing. Smiling. Hair swaying. Sandy fingers and toes. We stayed much longer than we had intended. It was a nice afternoon. We managed to load the kids up in the wagon and head home. About two houses from the lake lot, my wife screamed for me. Cooper had grabbed the fishing rod in the back of the wagon and got stuck by the hook. Luckily it didn’t go in past the barb, but it was a startling scream. If we were good parents, the fishing rod wouldn’t have been there in the first place… And so it goes. But there was no blood and he had a tetanus shot not too long ago. He’ll be fine.
Sometimes living a full life means you’re going to get stuck by a fishing hook or fall out of a tree or cut yourself. It makes you stronger. It teaches you in ways no words can. It means you are living a life worth living.