Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Water as a Force of Nature

Before leaving for vacation, I had told the Pumpkin that we were going “to the beach.” I realized as we were leaving, she thought we were going directly to the beach. We quickly explained that we were going to the “beach house” where we would spend our vacation, making trips to the beach while we were there.

Although we got that cleared up, there was still a lot of build up about going to the beach. So once we were there (it’s only a 2.5-3.5 hour drive), unpacked and settled in, I thought I would take the Pumpkin to the beach itself for a little while, leaving the Pookie behind with Londo to continue getting settled in. One of my BFFs and her hubby and son (who is the Pumpkin’s age) were staying with us for the weekend, and they had the same idea. In fact, they may have had the idea first. But the point is that we all drove the 10 minutes or less to the beach to stick our feet in the sand and our toes in the ocean.

We didn’t bother with bathing suits, since we weren’t planning on getting anything but our feet wet. No towels or beach chairs or beach toys came with us. It was already 4:30 or so, and we just wanted a little time at the beach to be at the beach.

When we got to the path through the dunes, we kicked our shoes off and reveled in the feel of our feet in the sand. We hurried down the path to the beach, shouting out that we saw the ocean as soon as it was in view. The Pumpkin was laughing and having fun with her friend, as I was with mine.

In moments, we were in the surf, standing and running about in the edge of the water in our shorts and bare feet. I showed the Pumpkin and her friend how to run and tag the water with their feet. My friend and her husband splashed around with us.

I turned and took maybe two strides from my daughter to put my purse and shoes down in the sand, out of the way of the water. I kept my eyes on my fearless, adventurous daughter, and was just straightening to go back to her side.

As I watched, a second little wave crept up over another one which was receding. At the same time, my daughter hopped on one foot, turning, twisting, playful and having fun. The second wave was more forceful than it appeared, and my daughter was less balanced than she should have been.

It knocked her right over. Swept the one leg she was standing on right out from under her. Tumbled her onto her back. Started to pull her with it as it receded. Tugged at her, while she flailed her arms and legs, unable to get purchase on the wet, moving sand.

And it might have succeeded in taking her into the next wave, about to crash down. But I was RIGHT THERE. In the heartbeat of a second it took to knock her down and start to tug her away, I was there, grabbing her up into my arms. Into safety.

I’m not sure how to adequately describe how quickly it happened. From the moment I saw the her start to fall, I took two large strides and was pulling her up. And yet, in that short amount of time, she was knocked down, unable to get up and starting to be pulled into a very dangerous area of the water where all the waves crash. In a SECOND it all happened. But also in a second, I was there getting her up and comforting her.

Was it the force of an unusually strong-but-small wave? Was it that she slipped because of the shifting sand? Was she simply teetering anyway while she hopped and turned? I have a feeling it was a combination of all those. It was just one of those freak combination of factors that turns an innocent moment into something that could have been tragic.

It totally scared the CRAP out of BOTH of us. Do I need to tell you all what scenarios passed through my head in that instant? The scenes that keep popping into my thoughts, though I quickly push them out? The thoughts about rip tides and undertows and what if I had been more than two steps from her? I think it’s best I don’t, that I keep pushing those thoughts away.

She was crying, scared and so very upset. She didn’t know that the water could do that. That it could be so unpredictable, dangerous, a Force of Nature. We all quickly headed back to the car. In addition to being shaken up, she was also wet and cold.

I stripped her down, standing in the back of my Highlander. But we had no towels in either of the cars, no change of clothes other than the spare pair of her underwear I had in my purse. I was ready to rip my shirt off and drive back in my bra, so long as my child was comforted by being in clothes. Luckily, my friend’s husband had a jacket in the car, and my friend had a box of tissues. I dried her off with tissues, put on the pair of underwear and the way-too-big-but-dry-and-warm jacket, hugged her and quickly got her into her carseat.

On the way back to the beach house, she said things like she didn’t want to go back to the water or the beach. I was able to turn it around, so that she knew we weren’t going then, but would go back the next day. I played up how I would show her to “stand strong” against the water so it wouldn’t push her down and how to keep her feet from slipping when the water was moving. I told her she didn’t have to go back into the water if she didn’t want, but that Mommy (and Daddy) would always be right there with her to pick her up. Wasn’t I Right There? Of course! And we could hold her hand or hold her while we go in the water.

Thankfully, it worked. After a bath together to get the sand and salt off of her, she was talking about how we would go to the beach the next day and all the things that she would do. Even though the water scared her. And we did. We went back to the beach for full Days at the Beach 3 more times.

And although it was one of the scariest things in the world to me and her and although I hate to see my daughter scared of the water, this incident actually served a purpose. It instilled in her a healthy fear of the ocean. After she readjusted to being at the beach and playing in the surf, she enjoyed the beach, the sand, the waves and the ocean--but did not run into the water carelessly or fearlessly.


Cloud said...

How scary! But of course you were right there, because you respect the water. I think you are right that the event will serve a useful learning purpose for Pumpkin, in teaching her that same respect.

It is things like this that make me so incredulous when I see parents let their little kids- 3 years old and younger- play on their own in the water. We go to the beach often in the summer, and our favorite beach is very calm- it is on the bay, not on the ocean. Still, I can't imagine not being within a few steps of my daughter until she knows how to swim, and I am confident that she would swim even in a panic situation. Yet it seems that every time we go, somebody is letting a little kid play on his or her own, while the parent watches from up on the grass above the beach. I always want to go ask: "WTF??? Are you counting on me to watch your kid? I am watching, but not as carefully as I'm watching mine. Are you counting on the lifegaurd? He has an entire beach to watch. Are you just clueless? WTF????"

OK, end of rant.

It is almost beach season here. I'm looking forward to it this year! Except for the part where I have to go buy a swimsuit.

mom2boy said...

So glad everything turned out alright. And that she isn't afraid of the ocean but isn't unaware of the dangers of current and undertow. Very valuable lesson, if way too scary for you both.
I love the beach. Awesome that it was such a good vacation!!

Melba said...

I live over 1200 km from the nearest ocean. That's like 800 miles. So we've never really had this problem. But my goodness, how scary! I've never had a situation where one of my kids was in such imminent danger and it makes me sick just thinking about it. Yikes. Good for you for being a good mama and being close by.

@Cloud - I hear ya. Bathing suit shopping (and subsequent wearing) sucks the big one. Particularly this year after having my second baby. The flab-o-rama is depressing.

Becoming Mommy said...

I'm glad Pumpkin has developed a...healthy respect for the power of water.

I'm even more glad that everything was actually okay. How Scary!!!

@Cloud--We see it at the lake all the time. Parents letting their toddlers climb over the rocks at the water. I can't help but wonder if they are hoping something unspeakable happens.

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