Monday, September 26, 2011

Interesting, to say the least

Have you ever found yourself in "an interesting situation"? One that was never on your radar of possible life experiences?

At about 7:30 Friday night, I found myself thinking, "This is a very interesting situation. I never imagined myself doing this."

What was I doing?

I was standing in neck deep, moving water, unable to get out, waiting and hoping for someone to come along to help me get out. And it was dark - both the water and the night.

A couple hours earlier my family met up with some friends for a bike ride. We rode along the paved path next to the irrigation canal behind our house. The plan was to ride for about a mile and a half down to a park where we would play some bocci and then head home before dark.

Things were rocky right from the start. #2's bike chain fell off. We got moving again, then #1's bike chain fell off. Then #2 fell off his bike. Then #1's bike chain came off again and yet again. The simple bike ride was taking much longer than expected. Did I mention that Spouse drove to meet us at the park? So it was just me, dealing with all these set backs, and getting increasingly more frustrated and embarrassed.

We eventually made it to the park and played a couple rounds of bocci before it got dark and we decided we had better hit the trail for home. Spouse got in the jeep to meet us at home and the rest of us got on our bikes.

Before I continue I feel I must disclose that Buster is a much better bike rider than will appear in my story. He got a new bike for his birthday (in February!) but it's been too big for him and this night was the first time he had ever taken it out. Apparently it is still a bit too big.

At first the entire group was riding together but then Buster crashed on his bike which bent his handles. While I bent them back (again, no Spouse!) the group went on ahead. He hopped back on and within seconds, crashed again! This time in mud. By the time we got going the group was so far ahead of us, they were way out of sight.

Finally we were moving; Buster was gaining momentum and I was feeling grateful that this nightmare of a bike ride would soon be over. Suddenly, without warning, Buster veered sharp to his right and corrected hard to left and went straight into the canal, bike and all.

My first thought was, "You've got to be kidding me."

The canal is about 25 feet wide with steep walls. It flows at a leisurely pace and is full of brown, fish-and-turtle-infested waters. I run on this canal, often, and have seen it's depth vary but have never been sure exactly how deep it is. I've taken my kids for walks along its path and we've had many, many family bike or scooter rides next to it. Although it is big, I've never felt threatened by it and always felt it definitely unlikely that anyone would end up in it. My kids are strong swimmers and I felt assured if they ever fell in they could easily swim to the side.

So to watch one of my children actually plunge into the canal was somewhat shocking and totally unexpected.

I immediately knew the situation was urgent but didn't fully comprehend the threat. I jumped off my bike and ran to the edge shouting, "Swim! Buster, swim!"

But Buster couldn't swim. He kept going under the water. He was panicked and the canal's current was much stronger than I had expected. In my mind I was thinking, "I can't believe I'm going to have to get in there!"

This was all happening very quickly, there really wasn't time to think things through or make a decision. I jumped in and swam to the middle where Buster was coasting in the current. I was quite surprised that in the middle it was too deep for me to touch without submerging my head - which I was NOT going to do.

It wasn't too hard to get Buster over to the side where I could stand in about neck deep water. He was panicked and out of his mind scared. He was screaming for his bike which was at the bottom of the muddy canal. I rested, holding him, while I tried to think how I was going to get him out.

The canal walls are steep and I had totally underestimated how far down the water was from the path. The path was at least two arm lengths above me. The concrete sides of the canal were slimy with moss and there were no hand holds or rocks within reach to grab onto. I knew I was going to have to push him up high in order for him to grab something and pull himself out.

It was difficult because I didn't have a very stable stance. The bottom was muddy and slimy and the canal's current made it hard to stand up right for very long. Between the seriousness of the situation and my son's panicking screams, my body must have produced a lot of adrenaline because I was able to push all 68 pounds of him over my head and hold him there until he transferred enough weight and climbed out.

Getting myself out was a different story. I made several attempts, but it didn't take long to figure out it was impossible. It was surprising to discover how difficult it is to move in water up to my neck - my attempts at jumping were futile. There were no ledges, no hand holds, nothing for me to grab onto. The walls were slimy and steep.

With Buster out of the water, I relaxed considerably. I felt in no immediate danger. Despite the cool water and the disgusting carp swimming around me, I knew I could stay there all night if I needed to. But seeing me neck deep in dark water, unable to get out had Buster in near delirium with panic and worry. It breaks my heart to remember him on that pathway screaming, "Don't die, mom! Keep swimming! Please don't die!"

I got him to sit down and take some breaths. We sang a few songs. Prayed. I explained that we were just going to have to wait until someone came along and could help me out.

It was in the middle of "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," that I started laughing. That was the moment when I thought, "Never in a million years would I ever have expected to be stuck in a disgusting canal, at night, singing primary songs!" I tried to imagine what I would look like to the first jogger or bike rider that came along. The picture was hysterical.

I don't know how long we waited. While I waited I threw my shoes onto the pathway and felt around with my toes, hoping to locate Buster's bike. I found it, pulled it up and with Buster's help, got it out of the water.

Finally, it seemed like forever but was probably only 7 minutes - the longest 7 minutes in the history of the universe! - I heard bike tires. I called out into the dark, "Uh, hello? I need some help down here!"

Thank goodness it was my friend! They had been waiting and waiting for us and she finally rode back to see if we were OK. She laid down across the dirt and reached down with her arm. I jumped with all my might and caught her hand. She pulled and when I was far enough out, Buster grabbed the other hand and together they heaved my body over the side.

I've never felt more like a beached whale in all my life.

I got up and comforted Buster. His relief was intense. As I mentioned, I really had never felt that I was in any danger, but in Buster's eyes this had been a shocking and terrifying experience. I used my friend's phone to ask Spouse to come pick us up at the next road. As we walked our bikes the quarter mile to the road, Buster talked about what happened and kept repeating, "I'm so glad you didn't die, mom. I'm so glad you kept swimming. I wanted to save you."

After I had stripped out of my disgustingly filthy and stinky clothes, I stood in the hot shower trying to wash every last bit of that canal off me. I started thinking about how many times my kids have ridden ahead of me on that canal path or the times I've ridden in front of them, only turning around every few moments to make sure they are behind me. They could have gone in the canal any of those times and I wouldn't have seen it.

After that night's experience I knew something for certain: if I hadn't been right there when Buster went in, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, he would have died. Even if he had been able to keep his panic at bay and had been able to swim to the side there is no way he could have gotten himself out. Without being able to touch the bottom and stand to rest, he would have quickly gotten tired of treading water.

I have a new respect for that stinkin' canal. And we have new family rules about when we're on the canal path.

That is one interesting situation I hope to never find myself in again!

ps If you can identify in which movie Jimmy Stewart says, in his characteristic voice, "This is an interesting situation!" I'll send you a signed copy of my new book, "What Not to Wear When Biking Along a Canal."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September Firsts

The past month I haven't felt like blogging for a few reasons:

1) I was too bloated and sweaty from the never ending heat of Arizona summer.

2) I didn't have any inspired thoughts or experiences to share... read: I was lazy.

But I'm here today to make it up to you! Today I offer you a few of the "firsts" of the past month:

First day of Joy School!

#3 started Joy School, a preschool program co-op with 6 (6!!) other little girls mostly from our neighborhood. She tells me that she rides a bus to school and that I'm her bus driver. She is loving the structure and having her own place to go twice a week.

First football game

My Buster is playing flag football and after a month of practicing, (in the insufferable heat!) competed in his first game. His team won! Go Panthers!

First page of Harry Potter 7

As a book-loving mother, can I express my joy at having a book-loving daughter? A few nights ago, long after I thought the children were sleeping, #1 burst into our room, "I did it! I finished it! Whoo hoo!" She was talking about Harry Potter 6. She wanted to start #7 right then, but I convinced her to wait until the next day. Sure enough, the next afternoon when she got home from school she ran straight to her room, got tucked under her blanket and cracked open #7.

P.S. I'm looking forward to a big planting and seeding day on Saturday! Yesterday we bought, 'fertilizer', and grass and garden seeds and then spent an hour spreading the manure over the garden area - it's Buster's favorite job! When I told Spouse about it he simply commented, "So you bought a bunch of crap, huh?"