Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Drown" the Alligator

Summer has finally reached us here in Wyoming (though we still consider blizzards out of nowhere still possible) and so my kids are off for some swimming fun. While talking to them and reminding them about safety (they know how to swim of course) I was reminded of some of my own swimming memories as a kid. Some good...and some not so good.

I was born in California and spent a lot of time at the ocean side with family. I remember that my grandad had a houseboat. One of those flat bottom things that had a square structure on it that resembled a house of sorts. He took us on it a few times and one particular time really stands out in my memories.

Though I had learned to swim at a very early age I had done all that swimming within the safe confines of a swimming pool. Up to that point swimming in the ocean had never crossed my mind as an option...it was simply to big...too vast. No sides to grab onto when I tired or a diving board to kamikaze off of. I loved being on his boat because I was with him, for one, and we could watch fish etc swimming or jumping out of the water. The sun shines forever in CA and a day on the boat with grandad was a day not inside the house with the Monster.

Once while out on the boat, hindsight tells me grandad and my uncle may have been slightly drunk...not a rare thing there...I wondered out loud what it would be like to swim in the ocean as I gazed over the rails into the deep dark murky waters. No sooner had I uttered the words when suddenly I felt hands grab me, raise me up high...and sling me over the side. Where one moment I was safely on the boat looking in...now I was suddenly underwater looking up at the blurry structure of the boat and several equally blurry human shapes looking down at me.

My breath was gone, all my swimming skills deserted me...all I could think of at that moment was the vast bottomless ocean under my feet...along with whatever lurked down there. I was in a panic and felt powerless as I began to sink more.

More than likely only seconds passed but it felt like a lifetime when suddenly there was a form next to me in the water and I was grabbed and hauled back up to the surface where that first lungful of air never tasted so good. I rose out of the water to the sounds of hysterical laughter from all on board. Everyone apparently thought my little journey into the ocean was all sorts of entertaining...everyone but me. I grabbed a towel and went to sulk for hours...all the joy drained out of the day for me.

Of course I never told my mother for fear she wouldn't let me go out with grandad again (it wasn't the first time he endangered one of our lives through good natured fun) but I also never went with him on the houseboat again. To this day I'm not sure who actually threw me in the water but I wasn't taking any more chances.

Another incident in junior high comes to mind as well. During swimming class in the 8th grade we use to play this game called Alligator. While most of the students lay down on their bellies along the sides of the pool...4 or 5 students would get in the water at the shallow end and make their way down to the edge of the deep end. The point of the game was to not make any sounds what so ever...no splashes...nothing. As soon as someone made a sound...all the "alligators" came in the water to tag the swimmers...once tagged you were out. If you made it to the end without being tagged (even after alligators came in) you won.

Now of course there would be good swimmers...bad swimmers...and those that hated the whole thing and didn't really care if they made noise thus ending the game as soon as possible. During one of my turns with a couple other students...I had made it to the midpoint of the pool where the bottom drops off into the deep end. I could no longer touch the bottom with my feet...so did what everyone did at this point...I went under to swim the remaining distance underwater and thus make no noise at all. Of course this only works if nobody behind you makes noise as well prompting the alligators to enter the water.

Of course someone did make noise and in came the alligators...since I was already underwater I wasn't immediately aware that the gig was up and thus try to get to the end as quickly as possible. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by alligators that were not happy just to tag me...but seemed to find it necessary to push me further down in the water. As each knew hand tagged/pushed me...my time spent underwater was getting longer and longer. I felt a sense of panic settle in as I realized I couldn't hold my breath much longer...and simply rising to the surface to get some air appeared impossible with all the hands keeping me down.

Just as I felt my ears would burst along with my lungs...I dimly heard a whistle blow and suddenly all the hands were gone. I was free to get to the surface and suck in some much needed air. I was still in the middle of the deep end tho and really had to struggle with what strength I had left to make it to the side. I was utterly exhausted and took many minutes before I could drag my sorry butt out of the water. At this point our teacher finally noticed me and became concerned. As I gasped out what had happened...he helped me out and made sure I was OK...but we never played that game again that I recall. Good.

And of course there is the incident in Bahrain in which two of my children and myself nearly drowned as I attempted to rescue them from a trench dug into the beach a few feet into the water....that one is hands down my scariest water moment...probably because my children were involved as well.


Of course there are a few more humorous moments, though at the time I might not have thought so. During one trip to the pool when my kids were young in which we visited the recreational center....the pool area had three pools. One for older more experienced swimmers...a smaller more shallow pool for waders etc ...and then a hot pool of sorts...just to sit in and relax. The hot pool had steps leading down into it and I happened to be standing next to those steps at the time. I wasn't swimming ...just watching my kids have fun. Next to me was my son Zack, who was around 4 at the time.

At one point I looked down at Zack to check on him and he was nowhere to be seen. I quickly scanned the area but didn't see him. Just when I was about to really panic I happened to glance down at the stairs leading into the hot pool...and there was Zack...at the bottom of the steps, underwater, with his hands spread out straight...just standing there underwater. I quickly stepped in and grabbed him and hauled him up. As I checked him over and made sure he was OK...asking him what he was doing down there..he was laughing (the stinker was laughing while my heart was pounding)...he wasn't in there long enough to realize the danger...and so was enjoying just standing underwater watching people's legs etc. Ahhh kids. They do make us old.

My oldest daughter, Sara, use to love going to the beach when very young. Her grandad would take her and her brother, Adam, down to his boat every weekend and they would spend hours there...baking in the sun...turning nut brown...while he tinkered on his boat. When I took them to the beach she never hesitated to just run into the water and have fun...until...during one trip to the beach the tide quickly went out leaving the beach itself exposed while they were still out quite a distance. (sometimes you would have to go out quite aways to find water deep enough to actually do more than wade in) This meant they had to walk back through extremely sticky foot sucking mud.

Now this wasn't the problem because we all know that most kids have no problem with a little mud...the problem was that now the crabs...that are inside their holes when the tide is in...are now free to come out. Sara loved eating crabs...up until that point...crabs are a main staple of Bahraini food...but to have her "lunch" suddenly surrounding her...looking ominous and threatening...was too much for her. She was absolutely petrified...frozen solid unable to move. I was shouting at her to just ignore them and come on in...I couldn't go to her because I had my youngest with me laying on a blanket. Her siblings tried to encourage her as well but she wasn't having it. She screamed every time one of them so much as glanced her way. Of course the longer she stood in one place...the deeper she sank in the mud...requiring her to keep shuffling to keep herself from sinking too deep. (no real fear here as there is firmer ground under the mud after a certain point...but she wasn't aware of that)

Eventually, as the sun went down...as her siblings grew tired of trying to help her...as my threats to leave her there lost all meaning to her...she eventually dug deep for courage and made her way back to the beach...one screaming step at a time. I tried not to laugh (it's hard to be a parent sometimes...seriously) as she made her way back. Of course I would have been in there like a shot if I thought she was in any real danger...but I have always tried to allow my kids to over come fears...rather than rescue them every time from them...if possible. So I let her work it out herself...and she did...eventually.

To this day she has never eaten another crab...no longer finds as much joy at the beach as she once did. She will still go but scans the whole area before taking tentative steps towards the water...and hauls ass out as soon as the tide turns and makes its way out again. Poor baby.

1 comment:

Marahm said...

One never forgets the power of water after an incident such as your ocean-toss.

This post made me think of my most scarey water-moment, in Goa, India, 1987, on a day when the surf was up and the sign said, "Danger, no swimming," but I wanted to play in the waves.

I played in the waves. One of them came in over my head, grabbed me, pulled me under, and I thought I was a goner. I lost all sense of direction. I was tossed, pushed and pulled, then suddenly swept back onto shore, where my flopping body ploughed into a couple with two children who also wanted to play in the waves, but restrained themselves.

I wasn't even embarrassed, such was my relief at being back on shore.