About three years ago, my little kids are with a babysitter and I fidget, half naked on the bleachers, waiting for this life guarding course to begin. The blue bathing suit just purchased on Amazon feels a little tight around my 40-year-old flab. Quickly looking around, it is obvious that no one else here has nursed four babies. Goosebumps already forming, I’m afraid of being cold from nine-five for a week straight. And I’m really worried I can’t hold my breath long enough at the bottom of the diving well.
My only comfort is that I am finally fulfilling a promise I made to my family after we heard some devastating news.
But my classmates bound in uninhibited, jumping off the bleachers and generally making a raucous. They are adorable. There we were- nine 15-year-olds, one 18-year-old and… me.
And so begins the bulk of our course which consists in a volunteer pretending to drown and a life guard in training jumping in to save the person. We do this over and over and over again – for a whole week. It is very physical and I have no time to be cold.
And I can do it. I am even rescuing the 6’4” guy- no problem – from the bottom of the diving well. I grab under his arm, through to his shoulder. Up we bubble to the surface. “Hi, I’m Carrie. I’m here to help you.”
I’m feeling like Bay Watch. Rescuing kids right and left. My California cousins got nothing on me. I brush that stupid thought aside. My reason for being here has to do with love, not ego.
We move on to some more difficult situations where a neck injury is suspected. We form teams of four. A kid jumps into the water and pretends to drown. I yell, “I’m going to need assistance with the backboard!” Holding her head, I gently float my unconscious swimmer over to my teammates with a stretcher. We strap her in tight. We are not going to risk paralysis for this girl! I’m the best strapper in the class. Its because of all my diapering experience. I say, “On shore on three!” “One, two, three!” We get labeled the dream team. CPR, AED, speed, accuracy, we are the best.
It is fun. And intense. Then in a stalled moment, one of the members of the dream team asks, what are you guys doing for the rest of the summer?
I say “I’ll be hanging out with my four kids.” Jaws drop. You have four kids? You are how old?
They look at me like they just realized they had eaten expired food.
I feel that grossness – like an adult joining a kids’ party. I feel washed up.
But it doesn’t matter. I’m here because of someone else who was washed up. Literally. A mom from my kids’ school was at a family lake house in Wisconsin and noticing that some boys were struggling far out in the water, she swam to them with all her strength, leaving her exhausted. The nine-year-old had already taken in a lot of water and was desperate so, she buoyed him safely to the air with her own body. Sinking beneath, her lungs filled with water and she drown, saving her sister’s Godson.
My family goes to a Wisconsin lake house almost every summer weekend. With nieces and nephews and my Godchild. I think about her all the time. Could I do what she did? What if I fail? What if I can’t hold them up? What if I can’t find them? What if I chicken out? What would it be like for my kids to be without a mother?
On the last day, we have a certifying test. I ace it. Since I’m not here for a job, I can skip the hr portion of the class. Before I say goodbye, I scan the faces of my good classmates. I’m on the verge of tears.
150 times, they’d flailed for help. 150 times, I’d rushed in, lifted their bodies up as if the preciousness of the whole world resided in that one beautiful child.
And looking at them, I realize that this is all not just about water. It’s about innocence. It’s about life. It’s about souls.
What will happen in life to these beautiful kids whom I have tried to save? Shakily, I wave and say, “keep the faith.”
My adrenals are shot. I drive to my empty home, fall on the ground and sob. Images flood my mind – of violence, poverty, abuse, hunger. I see faces. War, loneliness, addiction. Are we all going to drown? Help us, Lord. Help. Help. Let me help.
Ten minutes later, I am up and refreshed. It’s a good thing too because I hear the car door and here they come. My kids pile all over my body. I feel good. After a dinner of redirecting squabbles, we head to Pioneer pool for evening swim.
As we splash and play together, I started to notice the noise that surrounds us. It is the sound of gentle reprimands from parents on lounge chairs and the happy giggles of kids. Slowly my spirits rise.
I think of my own mother. My husband, my father, …good people who are caring, sacrificing, standing guard –…neighbors, priests, family, friends…I look around again at the good strangers surrounding me.
I am on a dream team. This is what WE do. We are – lifeguards.