The first thing I kept thinking after reading the blog post about the mom who did everything right only to have a perfect day that ended in a shattered world, was that I had no words. Those words kept repeating, “I have no words”. I wished with every ounce of my being that I could un-read it. And then I found I definitely DID have words. So many words I needed to get out of my head as fast as possible. I tried venting a bit about it. I tried talking it out with some of the people who are special to me. I feel raw from the words this mom had to write.
I absolutely understand her writing this. Trying to make sense of it. I can imagine her fingers running over her keyboard, reliving that day… The perfect day that she created for her precious little boy. And my chest aches as I feel her getting closer to that moment, I can feel an almost desperation that, as the words made their way onto the screen there will be a sudden shift in the narrative. That this would be just a regular blog post about the loss of a close friend, followed by the sharing of a day of living life fully in the moment and the pure joy that she shared with her littlest. I can see the blog post ending differently…
I can see other moms nodding at the lesson of losing somebody important, but not central to your survival, and giving all of yoursef to LIVE and reaffirm love and all that is good and pure and simple in the world… A day with family enjoying an outing, a spontaneous beach pitstop, a late afternoon splash in the pool, the warmth and satisfaction of doing the regular household chores, cleaning and cooking, with the neverending chatter of an almost-three-year-old humming alongside you, every day life continuing. We all learn from these awful things, right?
And then I can see the words where I finally gave up believing that this wasn’t really that story. The story so many of us moms heard just days after Christmas, of the loss of a 2 year old – our children are all 2, about to turn 3, just like that little boy. The story of the little boy who managed to vanish into the swimming pool in less time than it took to respond to a simple message. ” I took his last 3 beautiful photos and posted all 3 on Facebook right there.” His last 3.
I believe that there is a thing that happens online when we read about a mother who loses a child. It is like every mother is momentarily hit solidly in the solar plexus, literally knocking the wind out of us. There is an endless ripple effect, every time another mother that hears the story until the end of time. It is as if, in that moment, we are all connected. Every one of us who has a child – no matter how that child came to you and no matter how long they stayed with you – has the flash of primal pain where, just for a millisecond, we can’t NOT picture it being your child.
We all react differently to it. Most try to find and hold their children as fast as possible. Many jump immediately to it will never happen to me – I have learnt in the past year that this is a very real survival mechanism. Some will reach out to that mother, online, sharing the story, sympathising, trying to find the thing to say that will help that mom to KNOW that she could not have done anything more. Others will go the other way, lashing out, throwing blame anywhere and everywhere… If it is somebody’s fault, then you can be sure it will never happen to you right, because you would NEVER do or not do what that person did.
Every time I experience it, I want to literally seek the person out and just hold them. Squeeze them so tightly that the breath that is stuck in their chest that they just can’t let go of, is freed. I am overly empathic. If I am not careful, I will feel all the things, I will absorb that hurt like a sponge if it means they have one moment of respite. And I want to write about it, here. But I never do. I have always felt that there is this line when it comes to talking about others. That speaking of their pain is in some way wrong.
Just this once, I am going to move past that, because, while there are lessons, there is one very important element that is the opposite of the lesson most people will want to take from it.
Lesson 1 is certainly to get your child into swimming lessons as early as you can. You can get your baby water familiar and water safe from very young, 6 months old is the perfect time. Do it. Today.
I have been finalising Charly’s swimming lessons this past week, and her first lesson is on Tuesday. I hadn’t read this story yet when I started investigating, but Charly has asked to be in the pool every single day since October. It has been a source of endless tantrums and some of her hugest surges of defiance – rain, wind, green pool, pool chemicals – she understands every one of these things clearly and why they mean no swimming pool, but she remains adamant that it is worth it. If she could get out of the house, past the security gate that is always locked, out of the garden gate (that is deadlocked 80% of the time), if the last person by the pool hasn’t locked the gate to the pool area, she has watched people pull that giant pool cover off the pool and I guarantee you she would try to get it off herself. She has put on her own costume and banged on the gate screaming. And she is quick. And even moms need to pee. She would be in that pool in a flash. THAT is why I have booked the timeslot…
Do you know the first time I looked into swimming lessons for Charly? When she was 6 months old. And again when, at 1, she showed an obsession with our complex swimming pool with the total lack of fear that makes you want to lock them up forever. And at 2, when she started school and they had lessons – BUT the transport they use to get the kids to the pool is a combi and there are no car seats. And then I was going to look at getting one-on-one lessons at that swim school at another time, because she really wanted to. And then I had the Entertainer app and there were multiple swim schools in it and I could have gotten 2 for 1 lessons for her. And then as summer started last year and she started confidently swimming with her floaty suit or her water wings. Life happens. Mom life happens even faster. Working mom life is almost a constant blur – whether you are working part time, full time or from home and whether that work is external or home schooling or being a full time rockstar mom entertaining your child 24.7. After school activities don’t seem like a priority. They are still so small, it can wait a little longer… Well no, no it can’t. Go book your child into swimming lessons now.
The second lesson I can see, that you should take away from this is to triple check that your child has multiple barriers between them and the pool and that they are all active at all times. Jane is certain that she locked that gate. She does it automatically, as all of us do. She yells at others if they forget. It is a hard rule, because she IS a great mom and she knows the dangers. What happened that day? She will likely never know. She will likely play that over in her head a million times a day for the rest of her life. Anything could have happened. Sometimes gates stuck, sometimes the catch is just a teeny bit tight and the latch rebounds, sometimes kids find ways to climb over pool fences – my almost-3-year-old climbs our burglar bars as if she had adhesive hands and feet. The chances are, most of you that have children and a swimming pool are exactly like Jane. You are fanatical about keeping that gate closed no matter what. The only lesson then, is to triple check, to never assume that it “always” slams shut, to make sure there is nothing your child can stand on to get a boost over that fence.
Here’s the part that is truly the most devestating, the communal solar plexus punch… This mom, Jane, she did everything right that day.
You did everything right. You poured your heart and soul into that day, with that heartache for your friend and concern for your bigger boys making you more conscious than ever of being in the moment. Where most of us moms were exhausted and complaining that we had no help, especially in that gap between Christmas and New Year, and our children were doing their very best to drive us mad… YOU chose to see that time with Nate as precious, as time that you and he could deepen your bond and spend real quality time together. You did everything right.
Every choice you made that day was that of an amazing mom. We all promise to do more with our children. We promise to be more spontaneous, to make them giggle that little bit longer, to play with them more, to talk to them more… To stop at that beach, because the air is just right, the mood is just right, the moment is just right. Most of us get distracted by other things, work, the time, a strange place, a delay in getting on with the day… Where are we trying to get to anyway? You did everything right.
You gave him your whole heart all day. Those photos of him on the beach, he had the BEST day. He was so very happy. He was so very loved and secure and he knew that. It is there in this face. You kept up with his banter and his circling around you while you went about the chores, you made him his snack, you gave him his play dough. You didn’t NOT stop to play with him. You answered a message from a concerned husband. A minute, 2 at most. You went looking for him immediately. You would have played with him. I know it. Because that day you did everything right.
You tried to save him. You ran to get help to save him. You did every single thing right.
The lessons are NOT that, as moms, we need to do more. That we need to pay more attention. That we need to have our eyes on them every single second of every single day. That we should never check our messages or answer the phone.
The lessons are – Be more like Jane. Be excited for the days where there is nobody to come between you and your little one. Days where you can make last minute decisions to make magic moments with your child. Take a breath and find the humour in them playing with dog food, instead of getting cross. Let the non-stop chatter wash over you, listen to the madcap stories, answer the random questions, don’t shoo them away so you can keep doing whatever thing it is that is so important in that moment. Choose time with your child over the open screen on your laptop, constantly reminding you that there are things to be done. They will be asleep soon enough, and you can do it then.
And, as devastating as this single instance of it is, you can take 2 minutes to respond to a Whatsapp message from the person you love checking in that you are ok. Because it is a phone, and we all have this underlying guilt over the time we spend using it, it is so easy to think that it is because it was the phone that something like this happened. But it isn’t. We all try to steal a few quiet seconds on the toilet when we know our child is happily playing in the other room. We don’t pick up our toddler and take them upstairs when they are enthralled with creating a play doh monster, because you need to grab a jersey for them. You don’t interrupt block castle building when you need to step into the kitchen to turn the food or pour yourself a cup of coffee.
2 minutes is a moment in time. You’ve spent more than that reading this. Something like this could have happened while you believed your child was asleep at night, or napping… You can’t watch them every second of every day. But you can be more like Jane. You can be in the moment with them when you are with them. You can make choices to prioritise the things that are urgent, but to prioritise your child when they aren’t.
I am including the link here. You don’t have to read it. It will shatter you. It will make you ache. It will knock the breath from you. I read it without knowing where it was going. I never made the connection until it was too late to not finish it. It is a beautiful horrifying read that will shake you to your core.
My wish for the mom who did everything right, is that one day you will be able to read your story without reading it all the way to the end. That you will see the incredible gift your gave your baby on that day. That you will clearly be able to feel love and joy and fun. And that you see that on this day, you did every single thing you could, you did everything right.
Rest in Peace Nate.
Sending all the love xxx