I had a whole 'nother post typed up for this, and as I got ready to hit save, I started over. Because while this was a wonderful, wonderful, trip with family, the thing that I will forever remember about this weekend is the feeling that I was going to lose my husband and my kids were going to lose their father.
I know, dramatic. But there are times when I truly believe I have slight PTSD from this incident, because I will wake up in a panic, remembering these specific 2 minutes from our first outing on the boat during our mini family vacation.
And, though we went on our day like normal, and had an enjoyable time as a family, I distinctly remember lying in bed that night, reliving what had happened, with 100% certainty that I was going to speak out, somewhere, on the importance of life jackets, for everyone, always. And I never did. So now I am.
Here's what happened....
Friday morning my husband and brother woke early to kayak to the marina a few miles away. They were going to pick up the boat we had rented, load up the kayak, and drive back on that. All went well, but they came back pretty exhausted. These guys are strong, but it was a long distance.
Soon after that, we all piled on to the pontoon boat to go tubing. Once we got to deep enough water, my 8 year old daredevil was of course the first one who wanted to go. Benjamin was going to jump in first to hold on to the tube for him.
None of us except the children had on life jackets at the time. I grew up going to the lake, and was always a very confident swimmer. The only time I ever wore a life jacket was on a jet ski, really. And being a fit, healthy, strong dad of two, no one thought a thing of my husband jumping in without one either. But as soon as he hit the water, a look of concern crossed his face, and he quickly asked us to come back and get him, as he was having a hard time staying above water. We were already floating away to give line to the tube, and couldn't easily turn a pontoon boat around--nor had any of us even given thought to having life preservers or extra jackets handy. As each second passed, my strong, able husband began to appear more and more frantic, and even begun to yell, hoarsely, for help.
Time froze. I remember thinking "my children are going to watch their father drown." It was horrific. I scrambled for a life jacket, and threw one that landed 20 feet away. I contemplated jumping in--and really, what was I going to do?? Finally, he told me after the fact, he gained control of his legs and was able to tread water until we got to him.
What had happened, that no one expected or foresaw, was that his arms just simply gave out from the hours they kayaked that morning. He had not felt super sore, but the resistance from the water was unexpected, and his muscles just did not work. One of the strongest and hardest-working men I know simply could not get anywhere in the water, and it led to confusion, and then to panic. No grown, able, man expects to not be able to move in the water. But that is what had happened.
My unshakable husband was shaken when he got back on the boat. I was, obviously, a basketcase. We all calmed down, put lifejackets on, and continued our day. But I have never, EVER, seen something escalate so quickly, and so frighteningly, and it was all because of our misconceptions of the water.
So this is what I want to say--if it can happen to my 6" 4" 190lb, fit, healthy husband, it can happen to anyone. The unexpected happens. You land in the water wrong (see thelvproject.org), you lose control of your jet ski, your muscles cramp up, etc. I can't remember ever being frightened on a lake. The beach is powerful; there are large waves, and tides, and undercurrents--I have a healthy respect of the ocean. But lakes...lakes are calm, and peaceful, and.....deep. If someone goes under and can't get back up...it gives me anxiety even thinking about it. I had never contemplated the dangers of swimming in 40ft deep water, until now. And I can confidently say I will never go out on a lake again without a lifejacket. Ever.
Please go read about the ww.thelvproject.org. A heartbroken mama started this project in honor of her (strong, capable) son, after he drowned jumping off a lakehouse deck, something he had done many many times before. But this one time, something went wrong, and he never surfaced. My son did this exact thing, over and over again, the day before the incident described above. It is horrifying to me to think that I let him do this without a life jacket. All because we were "right there." But again, when someone goes under in deep, deep water, there is nothing any of us can do.
Wear the dang lifejacket.