My eldest daughter will be 4 years old next month and we signed her up for her first swim lessons earlier this summer.
My parents have a pool in their neighborhood and we spend a lot of time there when it's warm. Our daughter almost always wears her swimmies in the water, but my husband and I thought it was the right time for her to learn some basic water safety rules and swimming fundamentals.
Let's just say she's not quite a fish in water, at least not yet. More like a 35-pound bag of rocks. But she's making progress. I hope.
What we hadn't ever really considered (and I fully admit this sounds ridiculous as I write it) was teaching her water safety at the beach. I guess we figured she's never in the ocean by herself so we'd never required her to wear her swimmies there. She loves playing in the sand and in the shallow tidal pools.
But a friend of ours recently recounted a scary experience. She and her husband briefly lost track of their child (who's about the same age as our daughter) during a crowded beach day on Sullivan's Island. Start to finish, it only lasted a few minutes, but it was long enough to incite full-on panic.
Our friend said she saw her life without their first-born flashing before her eyes. It didn't cross her mind that he'd been kidnapped. She was terrified he was somewhere in the water.
Happily, the wandering little boy was quickly returned to his parents by the beach patrol. Since hearing the story, I'm convinced the same thing could happen to any of us.
Did you read the article we published a few weeks back about rip currents and beach safety?
My colleague Conner Mitchell reported more than 100 people die in rip currents every year. Last year, at three Charleston County beach parks, lifeguards rescued 123 people who were "in trouble due to rip currents" and another 201 people who were missing.
But rip currents aren't the only water-related danger that pose a threat to children.
KidsHealth.org explains that babies who drown before their first birthday most often do so in a bathtub, bucket or toilet. For children between the ages of 1 and 4, pools, hot tubs and spas are the most likely culprit. Natural bodies of water, including the ocean, present the biggest danger for older children, teens and young adults.
That's why, for the past few weeks, our daughter has been required to wear her swimmies at the beach. At first, she wasn't thrilled, mainly because she wasn't used to them in this setting. This was a new rule. She didn't understand why we'd changed the playbook. She was mad.
Luckily, she's gotten used to it. Her cousins (2 and 4 years old) wear theirs at the beach now, too.
I will say here that this is a little controversial. One nurse practitioner wrote a blog post calling "floaties" the "most dangerous pool toy you own." (I believe she's referring to the "water wings" that you inflate and slip on each arm. We use a different model called a "Puddle Jumper" that's been approved by the Coast Guard as a flotation device.)
Even so, I fully understand that swimmies, floaties and life jackets aren't substitutes for vigilance. My husband and I do our best to keep our eyes on both of our girls all the time.
But kids wander. And I'm not the perfect parent. Until our daughter can master the breast stroke, or at least figure out how to float on her back without sinking like a stone, swimmies will remain part of our family's water safety regimen, if only because they offer some peace of mind.