Yesterday, the WHAM13 news alert popped up on my cell phone while my sons splashed in the kiddie pool in my mother’s backyard.
That night, my two little boys would spend the night with my mother so I could clean our house for a real estate showing. I had just yelled at my four-year-old, Johnny, for splashing the water too hard, speckling my phone with droplets. He and his little brother, Sammy, had been playing a game they play often, whether in a pool or not–one lies down, hurt, and the other saves him.
The news alert: Toddler Dies After Drowning in Daycare Swimming Pool. I clicked the link.
Now, I cannot sleep.
The first thing I did after reading the text, was tell my father that the home-daycare was in Sweden Village–the small tract that my sister jokingly referred to as “Snob Hill” when I was a teenager, a name I hated–some of my best friends lived there. We knew the owners of the daycare in our community, their family a part of our lives in small ways. I thought my father might cry.
The second thing I did after reading the text, was call one of my best friends whose son attends daycare where this tragedy occurred, a brave move since I had no idea what to say or ask when she answered the phone. He had not been at the daycare yesterday.
The third thing I did was sob with her on the phone for the pain. We all want to understand the unthinkable so we might draw a circle around ourselves, some thin line to signify that we couldn’t be the family tragedy had struck, but there was no line. I almost enrolled my two-year-old in that daycare. And we’ve all been in charge of another’s child at some time.
The fourth thing I did was help my mother bail the water out of the plastic pool while Johnny and Sammy stood, wrapped in towels, giggling, eating Flavor Ice in the sun.
My mother had said, “Let me do it. You don’t want to do this.”
I said, “No, I want to. I have all this anxious energy. Let me use it for something.” I took the small pink tub that Park Ridge Hospital had sent home with me after the birth of my first son almost five years ago, a tub they now use to rinse the grass of their feet before they get in the pool, and scooped the water up, then heaved it out. I tried with ferocity to grab more water than the tub could hold, to empty the alligator-printed pool in one movement, but every time the water splashed out of the tub, it still only looked like the small amount of water I could manage. When the water was low enough for my mother and I to dump out, we tipped the pool over and soaked the lawn. Nothing had changed.
The fifth thing I did was watch the news. The boys put on their dry clothes and rode their bikes in my mother’s driveway. We park my mother’s little red Honda at the end to keep the boys from entering street traffic: two cars per hour. Sometimes, John scoots his Lightning McQueen bike out past the red car, and I scream frantically at him: “Get on this side of the car!” He looks at me, bewildered, from beneath his helmet, as if he had the phrase, he might say, “Get a grip.”
I did many things then, but I only remember uttering parts of phrases, still crying a little. Still wondering what things a mother does after entering this tragedy. How could I be sure it hadn’t been me? How didn’t I lose myself in her grief? I stopped my imagination, so many times, from going to that moment, the horrible moment that will replay in the poor family’s life for years.
After I left John and Sam with my parents, I drove past the house that held the daycare, though I knew the only thing anyone in this tragedy needed right then was privacy. I wanted to hug them all, to ask where God was, but I said little prayers in my head, and though I know few, I made something up in my mind that sounded good enough, and what could ever be good enough for these families anymore?
At home, I cleaned with bleach and Lysol. I went on Facebook to look up photos of the child after they released his name, and sobbed to see the two-year-old’s smooth chubby face, his blond hair, the private moments eating popcorn from a Spiderman tub in front of the flat screen with his four-year-old brother, who would wake every morning to remember that someone was missing. I cleaned more.
I called my parents to tell them what news I had learned. I considered going to my childhood home so I could pick up my sons and hug them, bring them home with me and tuck them tight in their beds.
My parents told me not to let my mind “go there.” But when I told my father that the toddler had a four-year-old brother, he said, “Oh God.”
My mother said, “Jesum.”
When my husband got home from work, I told him everything I knew about everything in the world that day, which was mostly the tragedy. No one could give any answers to the questions I didn’t know to ask.
At 3:30 a.m., I went in my sons’ empty bedrooms on the way to the bathroom and, terrified, thanked God for them both.