Drowning, my fears – 911, poison control, and other parenting mishaps

I, myself, have never been afraid of drowning. Maybe I would’ve been if my brother drowned that warm spring day.

It is a topic of conversation that never goes away. Why did my mom let my dad talk her into leaving the 6 year old me in charge of watching my 3 younger brothers alone in the water? Was I always the protector or did I become that way? 

A few weeks ago, my brother told me that he has nightmares of me watching him drown. How can he remember? He just turned two. I remember everything that happened that day. I stood on the dock paralyzed with fear watching my brother gulping water and gasping for air. As he flailed his arms, my 3 year old brother exclaimed excitedly over and over that he was swimming. My autistic 5 year old brother stood in the shallow water flapping his hands oblivious to the surrounding peril. 

I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t seem to move. My mom came back to check on us and saved my brother. I knew that I failed because I couldn’t protect him.

I never was afraid of drowning. I was afraid of watching others drown.

Fast forward another 6 years to when I was 12. I watched my baby cousin in their swimming pool while her mom was at work. She was sitting in the water on a pool chair. She fell off the chair backwards into the water. I grabbed her leg and pulled her out. I was so happy that I didn’t panic and let her drown. But everyone else seemed so angry. My uncle got scolded from his wife for letting me watch my cousin in the pool. No one seems to remember that I protected her, that I didn’t let her drown.

Fast forward another decade after I had children of my own. We were told as new parents to never leave your baby unattended even for a few seconds in the bathtub. If the phone is ringing in the other room, let it ring. I suppose this is not a problem anymore for the new generation of parents.

Then my kids got older to the age where I didn’t need to sit and watch them bathe. I could go in every few minutes and check on them. One day I checked on Arabella in the bathtub after there was an unusual period of silence. I opened the tub door to find her floating in the water fast asleep. For a brief minute, as I gazed at her motionless body, I was terrified that she drowned. It was the most horrible anxiety ever. I thought that I failed to protect her.

After that happened, I worried that my children would drown. I never liked my kids taking showers when I was gone or asleep. I mean, they could slip on a bar of soap, hit their head, and drown. I don’t let them go swimming alone. I feel the need to keep an eye on them when they are swimming in water.

Even having my 3 kids swim together at the beach in front of me in shallow water wasn’t enough. I looked away for a minute and then there were 2 kids. My youngest wandered off from her siblings and couldn’t be found. It was a large beach with a lot of people. In just a few seconds they got distracted and separated. I ran up and down the beach combing the water until she was found safe. Another terrifying moment. 

So I worry. Worry makes me feel like I have some control, that I will be prepared for the worst that could happen. I worry about the things I can’t control. I feel like I am responsible for everything that happens. I am the protector. Sometimes I even try to control when I need to let go. It leaves me a nervous wreck. 

Within this last month, my daughter became an adult. My son turned 16 and got his driver’s license. Sometimes I can’t even tell anymore if my worries are rational or irrational. I don’t know anymore. 

People that don’t worry tell me not to worry, to worry about things I can control, and that I need to trust God more. Believe me, I wish I was a carefree person. I have an extreme fear of failing to be a protector. When something goes wrong, I blame myself.

I want to relax. I want to let go. 

But sometimes the worry drowns me.

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