The Prompt: Sink or Swim. Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome? For once, I’m going to take the prompt literally. I wrote about this in January, so I’m going to use a rewrite of the tale I told at that time.
Although I’ve never had a child of my own, I love children; and from a very early age, my eye in any social situation was always drawn to babies. When I was little and my mother would take me along to meetings of her Progressive Study Club, I would always stand in the bedroom to watch the babies spread out on the bed by their mothers, surrounded by their coats. In a similar fashion, I notice babies in restaurants and on the street–– especially babies who are facing backwards over the shoulders of their parents. I love seeing what they are looking at––who they are communicating with through their eyes and their smiles. I love it that babies have a private life even in the company of their parents.
In this modern age of child abductions and pedophiles, parents might find this creepy, no matter how benign one’s motive is in watching their children; but in my case, if they have not forgotten, there are two sets of parents who should feel very grateful for my interest in their children; for although I have never birthed a child, I am responsible for the presence of two children, now grown to adults, who would not be here but for me. In both cases, I saved a baby from drowning. Both times, although there were other people in the proximity, they were in social situations where no one noticed what was going on as the baby nearly came to harm.
One of the times was at a housewarming party given by my boyfriend’s son in California. We’d all been given the tour, including the garden and hot tub, which was up on a raised patio out of view of the house. As we stood in the living room talking and drinking before the meal was served, I noticed that the toddler of one of the couples was not with his mother. Looking into the other room, I saw he wasn’t with his father, either, and I suddenly had a strong feeling that something was wrong.
I ran out of the house and into the garden just in time to see him at the top of the stairs leading to the hot tub. He toddled over to the side, fell in and sank like a stone. I ran up the stairs, jumped into the hot tub and fished him from the bottom before he ever bobbed to the surface. I remember the entire thing in slow motion and have a very clear memory of the fact that it seemed as though his body had no tendency to float at all, but would have remained at the bottom of the deep hot tub.
The parents’ reaction was shock. I can’t remember if they left the party or if they really realized how serious it was. I know they didn’t thank me, which is of no importance other than a measure of either their inability to face the fact that their child had been within seconds of drowning or simply their shock and the fact they were thinking only of their child.
Strangely enough, this had happened before, at a stock pond just outside of the little South Dakota town where I grew up. Everyone went swimming there, as there was no pool in town. When I was still in junior high, I’d just arrived when I saw a very tiny girl—really just a baby—fall into the dam (what we called a pond) and sink straight down under the very heavy moss that grew on the top of the water. Her mother had her back turned, talking to a friend, and no one else noticed. I jumped in and fished her out, returning her to her mother, who quickly collected her other children and left. Again, no word of thanks. It is not that it was required, and I mention it here only because it happened twice and, having not thought about this for so many years, I am wondering if it wasn’t embarrassment and guilt on the part of the parents that made them both react so matter-of-factly.