It’s not too late this summer to mention water safety.

I state this because I witnessed two small children nearly drowning while on vacation.

On July Fourth, at a lake in New Jersey, my friends and family members relaxed on the patio close to a pier. A mother sat on the pier while trying to remove a splinter from her objecting son’s toe. A younger daughter, who was probably five years old, sat on her other side and silently fell into the water. The mother was inches away but heard nothing until the girl bobbed up and made a splash. The frantic mother grabbed her daughter and pulled her back onto the pier. The child threw up and gasped for air for several moments.

Days later, just before I flew home, I was sitting at another lake where small children were taking a swim class. Two teenaged teachers left two three-year-olds to sit in the shallow water and carried three slightly older children about ten feet out. They turned their backs on the three-year-olds and assumed they would stay put. Poor decision. By the time the child’s mother, who was about 25 feet away, saw her son, he was in over his head with only a tuft of hair remaining above water. I have never seen a mother scream and move so fast and, afterward, be so aghast. Also scared, the rest of us watched as a man actually by-passed the mother in her attempt to reach her son. By the time the child was on the beach, he was slightly blue around the mouth, stunned, and speechless. A nurse happened to be nearby, took him to bench, and checked his lungs and stomach for excess water.

As I flew home, I thought about both incidents and remembered how I had almost drowned as a child of about five years of age. My parents had taken my sisters and me to the former Anniston Beach, a picnic area near Jacksonville that had a tiny lake for swimming. I remember being in an inner tube, flipping upside down, and opening my eyes to the amber-colored water. I don’t remember thrashing about, but I remember feeling as if I were in a box and it was closing in around me fast. Then, I remember being upright again, seeing my father’s shocked face, and hearing him shout to my mother. I don’t remember much else about being five years old, but almost drowning remains a vivid memory.

In all three cases, parents were close by and saved their children, but that alone was hardly enough to avoid trauma. Parents and swim teachers must keep their eyes on children and stay close by, no matter the age of the children, whether they are in or only near water.

Another pertinent reminder is that even very young children can learn to swim. Parents who take their children to bodies of water often or who live near the water should invest in swim lessons. The float devices that young children have today work great, but they give children a false sense of security when swimming. Also, parents should stay with their child during the class. No one will watch your child like you do. A moment’s inattention could have tragic consequences.

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