Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Worst Nightmare

Among my many television news writing pet peeves is a promo, a come on, a tease (that's what we in the biz call it), promising to tell you something that will save your child's life, and scare the hell out of you in the process.

"It's every parent's worst nightmare," they say with authority. Really? You polled every parent, and this is their worst nightmare? "Something lurking in your kitchen, your bathroom, your backyard..." It's an embarrassment. Father forgive them, they know not what they do.

But here is my actual worst nightmare as a parent. ONE parent's worst nightmare. Maybe others have the same. This one is mine: water.

My daughter is fearless around water, and it scares the hell out of me. A normally calm and relaxed father, I turn into shivering, shaking, cowering fool when my daughter is around water. The pool, the pond, the ocean. It's my worst nightmare.

This, despite the fact that I am trained as a lifeguard. I worked as one in high school and college. Maybe not in lifeguard shape these days, but still, the skills are there.

I was watching my daughter on the beach one day while we were on vacation. She wanted to go by the water, in the water. And she refused to hold my hand. You know how it goes. "Hold my hand, sweetheart," followed by a swift yanking of the arm away from you coupled with a shout of "no" in protest.

So the entire morning, I was playing defense. Shadowing the receiver. My back to the water, I channeled all of those drills from football practice. Backpedaling, shuffling side to side, and - at a moments notice - diving for the loose ball.

Back and forth she ran and I ran with her, five feet deeper to keep separation so I could take an angle to cut her off. Prevent defense as the waves fizzled at my ankles. She would suddenly decide to sprint into the waves, and I would make my break, grab her, and set her back on dry land. It was a game. She loved it. I was so nervous I was nauseous.

And so we did that for 20 minutes. A half an hour. Now we're getting close to the jetty. Another obstacle to contend with. Another naturally occurring phenomenon that has gained her curiosity. Another thing for me to worry about.

Finally, after 45 minutes, I signaled for my wife. She met me down at the water. "I can't do this anymore."

I was exhausted. Mentally and physically. Playing by the water isn't fun. It's a nightmare.

We spent the next day at my parents' pool. The same pool where so many good memories were born. And the same nightmare played out. Now it's a recurring nightmare. Freddy Kruger is Strawberry Shortcake compared to this nightmare.

Running around the pool. Reaching for toys that are floating in the pool. Once again refusing to hold anyone's hand when she's anywhere near the pool.

This from a person who does not enjoy going underwater.

I don't doubt my ability to jump into action if she were to plunge into the water without notice. Or whether she'd be safe if that were to happen. But that's a scenario I - and I believe every parent - would rather avoid.

It's my worst nightmare. Wake me when it's over.

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