x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Heeding the dangers of water

When it comes to young children, heed the dangers of water

The couple who were laid out on sun loungers cooking like steaks on a barbecue suddenly sat up with their mouths agape. Astrid had just breezed past them and, pausing only for a split second, flung herself into the deep end of the swimming pool. I had my eye on her, but we'd arrived only minutes earlier and I hadn't even managed to take off my T-shirt yet. Her bolt for the blue, I must admit, took me a tad by surprise.

The couple looked at Astrid bobbing up and down, glanced at each other, then looked back. Clearly they were contemplating whether they were on the brink of being required to perform a rescue, some kind of dramatic dive into the pool, perhaps followed by dragging this crazy kid back to dry land. They were in the limbo between normality and emergency: risk embarrassment by acting when nothing is wrong; risk disaster by not acting when something is wrong.

But Astrid was fine. The couple relaxed back into their baking. By the time I reached the poolside Astrid had already set off towards the shallow end, moving smoothly and steadily like a duckling across a pond.

In the hierarchy of parental paranoia, drowning is, I imagine, pretty low down the list. Unless, of course, you live on a houseboat or a yacht or somewhere such as the Mekong Delta. Improbable fears and obsessions - kidnapping, terror attacks, meteor showers - loom large. Common killers - not wearing seat belts, drowning in the bath - languish almost undisturbed in a dusty nook of the parental brain. That's the irrationality inherent in fear, I suppose. If you could explain away whatever you are afraid of logically, then whatever it was would lose much of its sting.

Every now and again a mantra comes up for air: a child can drown in less than an inch of water. I remember hearing that when I was about five years old. I recall contemplating the hidden dangers of a near-empty glass of water, trying to stick my snout into the receptacle, attempting to induce the possibility of that phrase, striving to eek out the peril of that vessel. Obviously, I couldn't do it, but for years afterwards every time I saw even a tiny amount of liquid, I pondered how it might be possible to drown in it. I guess that phrase - hackneyed and worn as it is - works.

It doesn't appear to have had an effect on Astrid yet, however. She is fearless around water. We repeat the instructions to wait for us before jumping in, not go in the water without her armbands on, to clear the side when she jumps, but she does not always listen. It has the potential to have dire consequences.

The children's pool is not very deep. It only comes up to Astrid's navel. As a result, I tend to be less cautious around it and pay less attention to Astrid than in the adult pool. One day, she ran towards the pool without her armbands on. Pretty quickly she was facedown on the bottom of the pool. She had jumped in and sunk like a brick. I rushed forward and plucked her out. She took a big gulp of air and was OK. When she can swim lengths of the pool with her armbands on, it's easy to forget she can't swim. Much of the danger of water for children comes from parents failing to remember that water is hazardous. That's why the phrase about drowning in an inch of water needs to be heeded.