The best and cruelest reality of life is that it goes on. It’s hard to muddle through everyday responsibilities when you’ve been brought to the edge of an emotional abyss. But it is also what saves you.
Caring about getting kids to activities on time and having enough food in the house to make meals to feed everyone feels like the last thing one should be concerned with. However, it’s the back-to-basics crisis mode-of-operation that leads you back to where you were before. Or as close as you’re going to get for a while.
I would describe the first six weeks after Andrew’s incident as emotionally dark. Weighted. Heavy. Gradually, though, as I began to heal, things slowly became lighter. More free.
When you’ve been cut to your core, you feel things more deeply. These days, I feel joy more joyfully. I take so much more pleasure in the small, mundane, even boring things. Boring is good, as far as I’m concerned. I am happy. I still have my wonderful husband and all four of my wonderful children. Each day, I thank God for letting me be with them for another day.
The times I am sad, I feel a deeper sadness. I go to that dark place more quickly. For me, it mainly shows up in the form of anxiety. I’ve always been the type that when someone is twenty minutes late, I start imagining the car accident that has them lying in a ditch. Now, I start imagining that when they’re five minutes late. If I cannot reach them by phone, I have to distract myself to calm down my inner, terrorized self. So far, any situation I’ve worried about has turned out fine and was no cause for panic. The emotions I experience until I know that for sure, though, drain me for the remainder of the day.
I have a much harder time being away from my family, even to run errands. Michael noticed this before I even put a name to the feeling. My old cell phone was a flip “dumb” phone. It would shut off randomly while in my purse so I had to keep checking it to make sure no calls or texts had come through. For Mother’s Day, Michael surprised me with an iPhone. It is so much more reliable and I can communicate so much more easily. It has really helped a lot.
Since summer is in full swing, we have been going to the pool regularly. We have been making it a point to go at least twice a week. I am not able to read or play a game on my phone or otherwise relax even though I know the lifeguards are on duty. My eyes are on the kids at all times, constantly counting to four. It is actually more relaxing for me to be in the water with them. We float and play and work on swimming and strengthening skills.
All the kids are very protective of each other. Eleanor went a little farther than normal from the shallow end without a life jacket and Andrew nearly had a conniption fit. When one child goes to the bathroom, many times another calls out, “Where’s so-and-so?” They constantly look out for each other.
Everyone is fine in the shallow end where they can touch the bottom. Josephine is comfortable in the deep end without a life jacket; she can swim across and even jump off the diving board. Eleanor needs a life jacket or a pool noodle in the deep end but has been testing her skills a few times without either. Dutch, of course, needs a life jacket on at all times in the deep end. He has learned to jump off the diving board and swim to the side without help. I am proud of all of my children for expanding their skills while making safety their first priority.
Andrew arms himself with a life jacket and his face mask (Yes, the same mask from the incident. If I never see that thing again for the rest of my life, it’ll be too soon.) and faces the deep end like he’s preparing for battle. Instead of being confident of a win, though, he hunkers down as if certain he’ll be captured by the enemy.
And really, can you blame him? I know I can’t.
Michael has worked with him on holding the edge without a life jacket, letting go, going underwater, and kicking his feet so that he breaks the surface and finds the edge again. Straight down, straight up. He likes this game.
We’ve tried getting him to swim a stroke or two out from the side to our waiting arms. He refuses. He says he “just doesn’t want to” but we know the real reason is fear.
I had a talk one night last week with Andrew after an evening at the pool. I told him that there are certain life skills that we want our children to know before they leave our house, things that they need to know in order to take care of themselves and for us to be confident that they will be independent adults. I told him that while some people talk about raising kids, his father and I talk about raising adults.
I told Andrew that along with cooking and laundry and other essential life skills, we need to know that he can swim. I told him that my heart still hurts over what happened and that it won’t completely heal until I know for certain that he could handle himself in deep water. I need to know that he won’t panic again. Swimming across the deep end is a life skill requirement in our family now.
I told him that he is focusing on the small picture of not wanting to do something that makes him uncomfortable and that his father and I are looking at the big picture of his being safe for his whole life. Sometimes it takes a giant leap to step back and look at the big picture.
This tough love thing is really tough on everyone.
We put all the kids in two sessions of swimming lessons. One right away in June, the week after school let out, and they are in another session now in July. Swimming lessons are meant to increase their water skills and we have been concerned that Andrew would stay on the same level for a very long time since he wasn’t able to move past his fear.
All the lifeguards/swim instructors at our pool have been wonderful. They are conscious of our situation and take note of Andrew’s progress during our time at the pool as a family. Andy, the manager, and lifeguards Hailey and Nick have been especially considerate and helpful.
On Day 2 of his second session of lessons since his incident, Hailey was working with Andrew. Michael texted me from the poolside: “She got him to swim to her in the deep end.”
Tears. Pure, blissful tears.
After Andrew came home and told me about what he had accomplished, he asked, “Does your heart feel better, Mom?”
Yes, my darling boy. My heart does feel better.
This may seem like a tiny step to many people but for us, it is one gigantic leap in the right direction.