Parenting Abington style

First Posted: 8/6/2014

It was another beautiful day at the Glen Oak Country Club pool. My family has been social members there for quite a few years with our main incentive to join having been the pool. When our older kids were still toddlers, we had tired of the crowds and the poor bathroom conditions at the state park. We spent a few years with a big, blue, rubber pool in our back yard, and when they outgrew that, we finally tweaked the budget a little bit and were able to enter the calm, lovely atmosphere of the country club pool.

There are so many things I love about going to Glen Oak. It’s never overcrowded. We know most the people there so the kids have friends to play with and I have adults to chat with. The pool is immaculate. The bathrooms and showers are clean and comfortable. The snack bar offerings are affordable and delicious. The water is the perfect temperature. Most of all, though, I love the life guards.

When we started going there, my older children had learned how to swim at the YMCA. Their basic skills, under the watchful eye of the life guards, gave me the peace of mind to be able to relax. The life guards are friendly, attentive and never over-worked. They man the pool on short shifts that rotate often, so that not one of them is ever sitting in the chair for long. Depending on the number of swimmers, they will have one to three life guards at any given time. In all the years we have been going, I have never seen one of them use a cell phone, read a book or even turn away to have a conversation while at their post.

Never before was this all so important as one beautiful day this month. Baby Sarah is now two and has never known a summer without being poolside at Glen Oak. She was nursed and rocked in the shade of the umbrellas through her first summer. She toddled around last summer within arm’s length, barely able to wade across the baby pool. This summer we got her a highly-recommended floatation suit called the Puddle Jumper. Within her first few days at the pool she had migrated from the steps of the big pool to swimming across it, the buoyancy of her floatie keeping her above water.

Like any reasonable parent of a toddler, I don’t rely solely on the life guards to watch my little one. Our family takes shifts giving Sarah the one-on-one attention she needs while at the pool. This day, it was my turn and Sarah had decided to go in the kiddy pool for a little while. I was sitting with my feet in the water when I stood up for a moment to pull a chair over so that I could get more comfortable (sitting on concrete for hours takes a toll on the bum.) When I looked up seconds later, Sarah was in trouble.

She must have slipped on the bottom of the pool and fallen with her feet coming out from under her, back down, into the shallow water. Her floatie’s buoyancy was holding her chest and arms up at the water line while her head was underwater, face up. She was struggling to get her feet underneath her while wriggling frantically, her arms coming out of the floatie.

All this happened in fractions of a second, but I saw it in super-slow-motion while I tried to get my feet to move towards her. Her arms were loose, but the floatie was still holding her chest up and she was still laying and fighting to upright herself. Her struggle had no perceptible sound. There may have been a slight splashing, but it was muffled by other children playing in the big pool. Anyone without eyes on the scene would not have known it was occurring. I watched as a young dad directly across from me realized what was going on and tried to stand up out of his chair, in a panic.

That’s when the life guard beat us to it. He was in the kiddy pool before I could get both of my feet underneath me to move, snatching Sarah out of the water in an instant. As he bounded past me in a flash, I thought of Superman.

Matt Barrett is a young man who I had seen at his post for years, a quiet teenager with a serious look about him. The Abington Heights High School student had numerous children whose lives he was protecting that day, and despite my attempt to get to my one and only responsibility in an instant, he was there first. His attention to the goings-on at the pool that day was astounding. After I consoled and calmed Sarah, I thanked him profusely. Soon after, I saw the young dad who had tried to help us go over to him as well, tears in his eyes as he surely thought of his own little toddlers. I watched him shake Matt’s hand in gratitude.

Matt and the other life guards checked in with me throughout that afternoon, taking a look at Sarah and making sure she was okay. Every time I saw Matt, my heart swelled with gratitude and appreciation. Seeing Sarah flounder for her life like that brought home the reality of how easily toddlers drown, even in shallow water.

No one in my family will ever look at Matt Barrett or any of the dedicated life guards at Glen Oak the same way again. Their training and attentiveness is to be commended. Matt’s natural instincts to act so quickly and his observational skills make him a hero in our eyes.

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