Wake-up Call

My son knows how to swim.

Three weeks after moving to Texas, where we had a pool in our backyard, my son Adam — then 4 — learned to swim. That was three years ago. Throughout that first summer, my husband and I would often remark about how well Adam could swim. He seemed to be a “natural.” We even entertained the idea of signing him up for a swim team so he could develop competitive skills. Our family waterbug, he was always in the water.

We now live in my hometown of Lake George, New York. Having grown up on this lake, I feel it’s a part of me. Not only have I been swimming in this lake since birth, but I’ve boated, sailed, jet-skied, water-skied, canoed, kayaked, paddle-boarded…you name it. This lake is so important to me that my husband and I joke that if he (having grown up by the ocean) didn’t like Lake George, it would’ve been a deal-breaker. Yes, the word “comfortable” doesn’t quite cut it when describing Lake George. “Home” comes closer.

But here I sit at 3am, unable to sleep for what happened ten hours ago in that lake. Out the window, I can see its movement as the moonlight washes over it, ticking its way to the mountains. This lake has always brought me peace.

We are having a busy, fun-filled summer. One that brings me back to my childhood. Last week, we had the privilege of a beach vacation. My boys did wonderfully. My oldest thrived on his boogie board while my youngest understood his limits near the surf. Adam discovered his love for bobbing in the ocean waves. The bigger the wave, the bigger his smile. This week, we’ve been to 2 pool parties. Adam discovered his love for cannon-balling off the diving board. Watching him play in the water has brought me as much joy as he’s been having, I’m sure of it.

Yesterday, we arrived at Elizabeth Island on Lake George, where my parents have a cabin. Almost immediately, the boys wanted to swim. On with our suits and out to the dock. My youngest does not yet swim, so I made sure he wore his puddle-jumper and safely set him in the shallow part. My oldest wasted no time in swimming to the infamous rock — a generous platform about fifty yards from the dock. Adam went in too. I stood by watching, waiting to feel hot enough to take the plunge.

“Come on, Adam, let’s swim to the rock!” my oldest called.

Adam hesitated.

Here’s where my teacher instinct kicked in. “You can do it, Adam!” I cheered. And I know he could. He can. He had done it last year (maybe with a little help?). He’s been in the water almost every day this summer. He can do it. He just needed a little encouragement.

My husband and I have always been sensitive to our middle child, making sure he doesn’t feel overshadowed by his ambitious big brother. We always try to give him the encouragement he needs. In this case, as in many others over the years, I assumed this was what he needed.

But he still hesitated.

“I’ll go with you.” Was my solution.

Adam came onto the dock with me. We would jump in together (his favorite part) and swim *together* out to the rock. I felt confident in our plan.

My youngest began crying as soon as I began to swim. (He didn’t want me to swim away from him.) In typical 3 y/o-fashion, he wailed loud and long, taking up valuable space in my eardrums. Ashamed to admit, I ignored his crying, knowing he was safe. And we had a plan — Adam and me — and by golly, I was determined to finish it.

I could just picture us on standing on the rock together, fists to the sky, cheering for ourselves. This would be good for him. I was sure of it.

But then, halfway to the rock, I looked behind me. Adam had turned back.


No, don’t do that.

I hadn’t found the rock yet, but that’s not what made my heart pound.

Adam had gotten nervous and turned around.

No, don’t do that. The trip is that much longer when you turn around like that. Could he handle it? Is it now too far for him?

My youngest continued to cry, so loudly I could not hear Adam whimpering. I could not hear Adam calling me for help. (Was he calling me for help? I can only imagine he was.)

My feet still had not found that sturdy platform — the rock — from which I imagined launching to save my child. But any rock would do. I dove back toward the dock, kicking my way as fast as my legs would take me.

I told myself it was my youngest I was going back to help. He was the one crying. In retrospect, I think I didn’t want to admit Adam was in need of help. He could swim! He’s an excellent swimmer!

But my chest was tight with panic. Something was not right.

In no time at all, I could see that Adam had safely made it to the dock. In less than five seconds, I was holding my youngest, comforting him, stopping his tears. But my eyes were on Adam.

“You okay?” I said to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to swim to the rock.”

“Okay. You don’t have to.”

That was it. It was over. Everyone was safe. Everyone went back to laughing and cannon-balling and smacking each other with noodles. (Why didn’t we have those earlier?)

But I remained shaken. Even after my brother and his wife arrived from Canada. Even after a cold Sam Adams by the firepit. Even after a comfort-food dinner of chicken and dumplings. Even after snuggling with my boys watching The Lorax in lieu of the fireworks. Even now, at three in the morning.

It’s a mother’s plight, I suppose. Imagining the what-ifs. Playing out different scenarios in your mind. Kicking yourself for those close calls that should’ve been avoided. Crafting emergency plans just in case. Worrying. Worrying. Worrying.

Had he been in trouble? Honestly, I don’t know.

But, as his mother, it’s my job to know.

This lake will always be part of our lives. We will continue to swim and fish and boat and cannon-ball. But I will never let my guard down, ever, when it comes to my kids and water. As much as it’s a source of comfort, I cannot forget it can be dangerous. My beloved lake. My comfort. My peace.

That’s nothing.

If we talk about “home”?

My kids.

My kids.