Jul 7, 2011

The beach: the day I thought he was gone

I'll go ahead and tell you: yesterday was traumatic for me, but it turned out okay in the end. (I don't want you guys to suffer the same anxiety I did over it, so I'm "spoiling the ending" for you now.) I'd already been thinking about beach safety earlier in the week, because on Monday we called 911 on behalf of a child who had gotten separated from his parents.

He was about our kids' ages (somewhere between 6 and 8), and a couple who'd been walking the beach had been following him for -- they said -- about an hour when they stopped and asked if he belonged with us. Andrew immediately called the police, who said they'd just received a report of a missing child. ("JUST"? I was appalled.)

At any rate, Andrew and the other couple were able to reunite the child with his father up on the road, just off the beach, and we don't have any other details to share ... we were just glad that it had a happy ending and wasn't a tragedy that ended up on the news.

That situation, combined with the Casey Anthony not-guilty verdict this week, had me really thinking about vigilant parenting, dangerous situations and just how much I love my kids in general.

So yesterday morning, we were all out on the beach together, 14 adults and 14 kids. The surf was really active, stronger than it had been earlier in the week, but we were all still playing in it.

At one point, Grayson was out riding the waves on his body board and I was taking pictures of everyone on the beach and those who were in the water (very few at that time). I saw Nathaniel heading out to meet Grayson in the ocean, so I turned around and walked to our chairs to put my camera down and go out myself. I wanted to tell Grayson that Nathaniel wanted to play out there, and also put in my two cents that on a day like yesterday, I felt like there needed to be a minimum 2:1 ratio of kids to parents in the water. It just felt too dangerous to let them play as independently in the water as they had been on previous days.

When I got my camera stowed away and turned back around to face the water, I couldn't see Nathaniel anywhere. It took me several moments to scan both the ocean and the beach for him, and when I didn't find him, I felt that panic begin to rise. I started walking rapidly down to the water, still scanning everywhere, looking for his teal green rashguard. Nothing.

I waved and yelled to Grayson, "Where's Nathaniel?" He looked around, didn't see him, and started coming in. Andrew, who was in the shallows, yelled, "He's in the hole! You just can't see him!" (The kids had dug a deep hole in the sand and had been in and out of it all morning.) I started walking into the water while Tiffany went over to the hole and looked in. She looked back at me and shook her head No.

I went more quickly into the water now, heading in up to my waist. I was dragging my feet along the bottom, waving my hands through the water, looking for any sign of him at all. Someone thought to call all the other kids in from the water and corners of the beach to sit together in the sand and not move. Andrew headed North up the beach, in the direction the current was pulling, and waded in. I kept going deeper, up to my neck. All I saw was ocean. And ocean. And more empty ocean.

I kept picturing Nathaniel getting bowled over by one of the big waves, not being able to get his footing again, being swept farther and farther out. I knew he'd be trying to fight his way to the surface, screaming for help but unable to get to the top, to breathe. I was BESIDE MYSELF with worry and almost outright panic.

Tiffany walked up to the boardwalk that goes back to the house to see if he had gone up there, which he HAD. She came back and everyone waved me back in from the ocean. He was okay. PRAISE GOD, HE WAS SAFE.

Once I was able to speak again, I asked him what had happened. He said that Grayson had told him that the waves were great and he should go get his boogie board. (And Grayson said he'd told him that like 15 minutes earlier, not 10 seconds earlier.) What Nathaniel didn't realize was that his boogie board was tied to one of our chairs, NOT back at the house. And because he had passed me as I was putting my camera back in the bag, he thought I had seen him heading up to the house.

I know it was a fluke, but we have a HARD AND FAST RULE here that if you leave the beach for any reason, you have to tell an adult. It's not optional. And somehow, with at least half of the 14 adults sitting right there as he walked by, not a one of us saw him go.

It all happened in less than five minutes, but you don't need me to tell you that tragedy can strike in less than five minutes. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me ... and to an extent, it was imaginary. It was all "could have, might have, would have," but I was nauseated for hours afterward, and now, as I'm recounting it to you, I have tears welling in my eyes. It was more scary than Jake's birth (which I haven't told you about yet, but I will) and more terrifying than when I thought I'd lost the baby.

Safety first, Internet, safety first.


Patrice said...

Oh my goodness. I know everyone was so scared. I can't even imagine walking through that water thinking he was out there somewhere. Praising God that Nathaniel is okay. Praying he continues to give your heart peace. Love you all.

Wanda Wilkinson said...

Thanking God that he was ok..praying that your heart is back to beating normal..The could haves,should haves, did haves are enough to bring you to a stop.

HOpe the remainder of the trip is uneventful.

Sewconsult said...

I can only imagine how scared that you were. About 45 yrs ago (oh, my gosh, it could not have been that long ago!) My sister, 3 cousins & I were in the ocean at St Augustine. We were all hanging on to a long float, just relaxing and having fun. We realized that the tide was carrying us out. Only one parent, out of 5, saw that we were heading to sea. My uncle who had a bad leg, began swimming to us, while the life guard stood in the sand, yelling for us to come back. Don't remember if the lifeguard ever stepped into the water, but we finally got back to shore. Scary even when you are a teen and think that you are invincible.
Have a good day today.

Wade's World said...

Thank God that everything was okay. It's amazing at how quickly things can change in life, and I'm so thankful that things were okay for y'all. Years ago I found a blog, Hannah and Lily, and not long after I started reading her, her oldest daughter Hannah drowned on July 19th on a family outing. Her mother has posted some of the most poignant posts about Hannah's life. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this today of all days, but I'm so especially thankful that your family is safe and sound today.

ginmommy said...

I cannot imagine a more horrid feeling. Rejoicing with you, for the outcome you had.

Anonymous said...

I know you told us he was okay in the beginning but I was still freaking out until you said he wasn't in the water at all. How terrifying. Thank God he was okay. Now you can breathe again.

Martha said...

OMG, Katherine! Oh the horror! The panic! That dreadful pit in your stomach. I went through something similar with Georgia (always a wanderer!) and I know exactly how you felt. I got sick READING this post. I'm glad I didn't read it the day you posted as we were at the beach that week too and I probably wouldn't have been able to relax!

Rachel said...

I was like the water freak when we were at the beach this spring. I was constantly counting the kids to make sure they were all safe. My husband kept telling me to relax but a couple of our kids have NO FEAR of the water, not even the healthy respect I'm trying to instill in them. All it takes is a few seconds. I can only imagine the panic you must have felt, I'm sure pregnancy hormones didn't do anything to aid that. So glad that they are all safe!!!!!

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