The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 3, 2008

Moment is all it takes

By Jeff Mullin, Commentary

When I was a kid, I had a friend whose dad was a dentist.

They lived in a nice house, but one not much bigger than the rest in our neighborhood.

But what made them stand out? They had a pool.

Not a blow it up and fill it with the garden hose type of pool, but a real, in-ground, ladders and diving board, chemicals and filter, pool.

The only trouble was we hardly ever got to swim in it. It’s not that this family was stand-offish, or selfish, they just had rules.

And the one, hard-and-fast, set in concrete as firm as that of the pool itself rule they had when it came to swimming in their cement pond was every kid had to have a parent with them.

Trying to arrange schedules when they were amenable, and my parents were available, didn’t work out often. In fact, in the three years we lived in that neighborhood, I only remember swimming in their pool once or twice. Most of the summer the neighborhood kids could only steal envious glances of the placid blue coolness their pool represented.

At the time, I thought my pal’s parents were somewhat mean, that their only aim was to keep neighborhood kids from enjoying their pool.

Now I realize they were only trying to forestall tragedy.

I’m sure they reasoned no one is going to watch a child in a potentially dangerous setting more intently than his or her own parents.

Parents, after all, have the innate ability to spot their children in a pool full of splashing, squealing youngsters, and they can pick out their child’s voice amid the tumult of a swimming party.

Not that they were expecting anything to happen, mind you, and the time or two I did take a dip in their pool, nothing did. But you can’t be too careful.

Another friend, in another city, in another state, had a brother, who, as an adult, married and had children. The family had a backyard pool. One day their toddler slipped away for a moment. All it took was a moment.

Nine people drown every single day in the United States. Among children 14 years old and younger, drowning is the second-leading cause of death.

When they are old enough, teach your children to swim. They don’t need Olympic-caliber skills, but they should at least know how to keep themselves alive if they fall into the water.

A poll issued last month reported nearly 60 percent of black and Hispanic children do not know how to swim, nearly double the number of non-swimming white children. Black children drown at a rate nearly three times the rate for white children.

If your kids are around the water, and what kids aren’t, keep an eye on them. If they are going to the pool or the lake with someone else, make sure there is a responsible adult on hand who watch the children at all times.

In the past few days, four people younger than 18 have drowned in Oklahoma, including our recent local tragedy. Sadly, there certainly will be more.

If you have a pool, put a fence around it and keep it locked. Don’t let children near it without adult supervision. If there are children around the pool when you’re having a pool party, make sure there is an adult designated to keep an eye on the kids at all times.

Teach your children to swim. Even if they can swim, make sure they are in a life jacket when you go to the river or the lake.

Children love the water. They are drawn to it. To them it is pretty and alluring. They are unaware of its innate dangers.

Adults are all too aware of water’s dangers. So keep your kids away from the water, or make them wear a life jacket. They likely will whine, but better to have a live whining child than, literally, a little angel.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle.