My father was a wonderful dad--playful, affectionate, and always ready with good advice. Just what a motherless child needed. But most of that advice had little to do with safety. My safety-conscious husband had critical things to say (to me) about the chances I took as a child and teenager. I disliked hearing criticism of my dad, but even I had to admit a fatherly chat about drinking and driving would have been a good idea, especially when Dad and I were strolling the streets of Queens, trying to find where I had parked my car the night before.
So when it came to raising my own children, I was happy to following guidelines set forth by my cautious husband. Did I say "guidelines"? Silly me. He set forth specific rules:
The car doesn't move until all seat belts are fastened.
Smoke alarms will be installed at all critical points (even though we were smoke-alarm innovators, and each unit cost $110 at the time).
When the children are in water of any kind, we do not take our eyes off them ever, even for a second.
In the summer of 1978 my daughters and I spent an afternoon at Prompton Dam with Nora, my best friend at the time. Suzanne was 4 and Gillian was 2, and I was pregnant with their brother. Nora and I sat on a bench while the girls waded in waist-deep water. Nora and I chatted, and I watched my daughters.
Suzanne and Jill started walking slowly toward the shore, and as I watched, Jill disappeared. She had stepped in a deep hole, and she just sank—quicker than I can type this. And I'm a fast typist.
I jumped up without a word and ran, fully clothed, into the water, grabbing Jill and pulling her to the surface. I've thought often since then about the precious minutes that would have been lost had I not followed my husband's rule of never taking my eyes off a child in the water, even for a second. I imagine I'd be talking with Nora, looking at her, looking back at the girls, back and forth, until I looked at the girls and saw only one of them. I would have scanned the swimming area, thinking Jill had wandered off. I'm sure Suzanne would have alerted me to what had happened, but how long would that have taken? How long would Jill have been under water?
I thought about this today, all these years later, while listening to the noon news. It was reported that a 2-year-old girl drowned yesterday in an inflatable pool. I'm sure she had parents who loved her. But they took their eyes off her while she was in the water. They didn't know about my husband's rule. And that's why I'm here to tell you.