As a teenager, I was a prolific babysitter. My parents wouldn't let me get a "real" job, so I had to do a lot of babysitting so I could have my own spending money.
I was maybe fourteen* and my dad's sales company was having some meetings in our town. One younger couple that had recently relocated to our area did not have anyone to watch their two small children, so they brought them along. I was commissioned to babysit while the dad was at meetings and the mom was doing things with the other wives - shopping, lunching, sight-seeing.
The kids were a 7 or 8-month-old girl and an almost three year old boy. The mom actually took the little girl, Bailey, with her most of the time. I only watched her in the evenings when the adults went to dinner.
I spent the days (2 or 3) watching the little boy, Kevin. He was named after Kevin Bacon (true story.) So, his parents were staying in a hotel, and there wasn't a terrible lot to do. He had some toys, but you know how long toys keep a toddler occupied.
Luckily (ha), there was a marina in the back of the hotel. It was early summer, so the weather was pretty nice most days, a little humid but not too bad. So, Kevin and I spent a lot of time walking up and down the piers of the marina looking at all the boats. This was actually pretty awesome because he loooooved boats.
There was this one boat in particular that we went to look at every day. It was docked at the end of one of the longer piers. It was a blue and gold sail boat and decked out to look a bit like a pirate ship. Pretty neat, particularly to three-year-old boys.
It was a sunny day. Humid, but not terribly hot. We were strolling casually, I was holding his hand. Kevin was a good hand holder. We had walked to the end of that pier for maybe the 50th time and were admiring the boat. I decided it was time to head back for lunch. We got about 50 feet up the pier, and he just broke free. Just let go of my hand, and took off like a shot, back towards the boat.
"LOOK JENNI, LOOK!" he yelled to me, look back at me over his shoulder while he hurled toward the end of the pier.
"LOOK AT THE BOAT! IT LOOKS LIKE A PIRATE BOAT!" he was still running at toddler speed (= speed of light) and looking over his shoulder at me. He was so excited.
And I knew it was going to happen before it did and I could neither move or speak. I was frozen with fear and shock.
See, the boat was docked at the end of the pier. But, as you may know, the boat did exactly abut the pier. It was tied to the pier and sat in the water leaving maybe a two or three foot gap between the boat and the pier.
But, Kevin most certainly did not know this. He thought he was running right to the pirate boat. Maybe if he hadn't been looking back at me he might have seen the gap between pier and the boat, but I doubt it. Toddlers just aren't that observant.
So he was running, yelling excitedly, pointing the the boat and I was motionless, speechless, waiting for god to intervene. He didn't. And then, SPLASH! Kevin was gone.
The splash knocked me out of my stupor and I ran to the edge of the pier. I was terrified. Would I be able to see him? What if he hit is head on the pier or the boat on his way down, what if he sunk like a rock, what if I couldn't find him?
I knelt down and looked into the water. And I could see him! He was there, just a few inches below the surface, treading water**. Without thinking, I immediately jumped off the side of the pier into the water. The water line was around five or six feet below pier and it was COLD! It was early summer and the water had not yet had time to warm up.
I swam the three or so feet over to Kevin and I hoisted him out of the water. He panicked and started trying to climb on top of my head, which was not so good because he was pushing me under the water. I was worried that we were both going to drown.
I pushed him away from me (hard, since he was trying to climb on top of my head) and held him at arms length, kicking with my legs to keep us afloat. It was really hard. I remember thinking I was never going to be able to do this, to get us both out alive.
"KEVIN! Calm down. I've got you. CALM DOWN!" I told him. "You can put your arms around my neck, but NOT ON MY HEAD. Okay? Not on my head." I'm really thankful he was an older toddler because he understood what I was saying and could follow directions.
I pulled him back towards me and he grabbed me around the neck with a vise grip. He was kind of choking me, but because he was on the front of me, it was okay. With him holding on, I swam over to the front leg of the pier. It was about three feet wide and Kevin was clinging to the front of me, so really it hard to hold on, but it was all I had.
So I was holding on the the pier, catching my breath, trying to figure out how the HELL we were going to get out of the water. The pier was a good five feet above my head - there was no way I could reach it to hoist us out. It was a marina, so there was no actual shore that I could swim to. There is a spot where boats that were not docked put in to the water, but that was so far from where we were that I could not even see it.
Kevin's lips were turning blue. He was crying. We had to get out of the water. It was brackish and nasty. I hadn't though about how we were going to get out when I jumped in. I just knew I had to save him. So, I started yelling, "HELP! SOMEONE HELP US! WE FELL IN! PLEASE HELP! HELP!"
Lucky for us it was a nice day, so the fishermen were out. Or in, rather, from their morning excursions. After about a minute, four or five men came running over and peered over the edge of the pier at us. I burst into tears. Until that moment, I was not sure we were ever going to get out.
"Please, help! We can't get out! He fell in and I went in after him and now we can't get out!"
They instructed me to hold Kevin up so they could pull him out. With some difficulty, I pried Kevin from my neck and held him up as high as I could, and two men grabbed him by the arms and hoisted him out. Then, two more men leaned way down off the pier and grabbed my arms and pulled me out while I braced my legs against the leg of the pier.
And, we were out! Sopping wet, crying our brains out, freezing, but alive and out of the water.
"You jumped in after him?" one of the men asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Wow, you are one brave young lady," he said.
The whole experience, from the splash to the rescue, was probably about five minutes long. It felt like a lifetime though.
Kevin and I headed back to the hotel. I put him in a lukewarm tub and got him changed. I order room service, put Kevin in front of the TV, and took a shower myself. I had my bathing suit and an extra pair of shorts for the pool, so that's what I wore.
I was really afraid of telling Kevin's parents that he'd almost drowned on my watch. When they got back a few hours later and I told them, they hugged me. "You saved him," his mom said, "you saved my son's life. Thank you so much."
At the time, I didn't get it. I thought he almost died because I was not careful enough. I thought they would be furious. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand. It wasn't my fault that he fell in. Kids break free, kids run away, kids get hurt, no matter who is watching them. They were thankful because I responded quickly. I went in after him, I got him out no worse for the wear. As a parent, you can't ask for more than that.
*Although I was clearly a STELLAR, LIFESAVING babysitter, I would never in a million years allow a fourteen-year-old to babysit my children.
**Kevin had been taking swimming lessons at his local Y, so he had some fundamentals. I didn't know this at the time - his mom told me post rescue. I shudder to think what would have happend had he not known how to tread water.