Saturday, June 14, 2008
When I was eight, my father taught me how to keep from drowning.
One evening after work on a hot summer day, he came home to the suburbs, changed out of his heavy suit and damp shirt, and took me and my sister to the neighborhood swim club where he instructed us in something he'd learned in college, called drown proofing.
It's a simple water survival technique that a small child can learn, even one who doesn’t know how to swim. I have no idea why it isn't required learning for kids. It can keep you afloat without a lifesaver for hours, even days. Here's how to do it:
1. Take a deep breath. Relax your body. Pretend you are lying over a barrel, face down in the water, arms out in front of you.
2. Breathe out slowly under water.
3. To breathe in again, pull your arms down and lift your head until your lips just clear the water. Submerge your head again, return to relaxation.
The technique works because of a quirk of physics. A totally submerged human body with a lungful of air is slightly lighter than the same volume of water. So it’s a natural way to stay afloat.
It took years for me to realize that in teaching it to me, my father was conveying other valuable life lessons, too:
1. I learned that I was not powerless. When faced with a problem, even a problem so overwhelming it got the better of most people⎯my efforts against it need not be in vain.
2. I discovered that getting worked up about a problem usually makes it worse. One reason drown proofing saves potential victims is by sparing them the panic and hysteria which causes many people to drown in minutes when they could survive for much longer.
3. I learned that sometimes in the face of crisis, the best thing to do is to stall for time. The longer you manage to stay afloat, the greater your chances of surviving until help is on the horizon.
4. I learned that my hide was worth saving. Perhaps this was the most valuable lesson of all. My continued existence was important enough to my father that he gave up what little leisure he had at the end of a day to teach me to survive in a world that wasn't always a safe place.
5. I learned that the world isn't always a safe place. My father didn't sugarcoat facts or sanitize fairy tales. He told me what to expect and helped prepare me to cope with the world as it was, not as he wished it would be.
Teach your kid drown proofing and it could save her life, as it has saved mine on many occasions, even when I have been far away from any body of water. Thanks, Dad.