The Mortal Coil

For the first time in several years, I didn’t ponder my own mortality on my birthday. Well, I’m lying, in that I had a moment, late in the day, in which I wondered out loud if I’ve passed the midpoint of my life at age 44. Susanne is confident I’m still in the first half, but in any case, there was a small reminder that life is fleeting and best implemented with enthusiasm. To put it more precisely than I did in the first sentence of this post, I didn’t get all morose about aging and dying, which is good, because I don’t generally walk around spouting off nihilistic prophecy. Though some of my birthdays in the last decade have been a bit—ahem—neurotic.

Emile enjoying cherries straight from the tree.Two days after my birthday, a good friend and also my past and Susanne’s current physical therapist brought a huge balloon and a strawberry-rhubarb pie to the house to wish me a bon anniversairie. She apologized profusely (so Susanne tells me; I wasn’t home at the time) for being tardy, but Tuesday had just been too hectic of a day and she couldn’t get to it, and she hoped it wasn’t too awful of her to be belated about the whole thing. Who would be a stickler for dates when pie is involved? Seriously.

Emile of course was gaga over the balloon, which was transparent except for the rainbow-colored HAPPY BIRTHDAY and a giant rainbow cupcake. He exclaimed that there was CAKE on the balloon, pointing at it more like a professional hunting dog and not so much in a “J’accuse!” way. He also wanted possession of the balloon. I was willing to go along with this until he insisted on bringing it outside and releasing it into the gorgeous blue late spring sky, and then I grappled with my 2-year-old to get it back in the house. It now hovers above our mantle, the silver ribbon cutting through the middle of our family portrait as the balloon gently jostles around. Emile seems to have made some kind of peace with just being able to look at daddy’s present.

Less issue was made by my eldest child over the sudden appearance of pie. A cake would have been obvious, but a store-bought pie sits in an unassuming tin pan, kind of like a quiche, and while Emile will eat quiche (real kids do), he’s not going to lose his calm manner over one, either. The pie rested gently in a glass covered cake dish, seeming off the radar of small children. Until Grandma’s visit and our lunch yesterday, after which we carved into the P-I-E. Now Emile knows that P-I-E means pie and that marks the fist thing I can’t spell to keep it from his NSA-issued hearing.

On Saturday we went to a birthday party for a friend’s daughter who had just turned three. It was a potluck of sorts with a buffet born of random cuisine and convenience—hummus, pesto, wafer cookies, sesame noodles, hot dogs. Fancy water (so I call it) in a pretty glass dispenser looked refreshing mingling as it was with sliced cucumbers and basil leaves. There was also a universe of toys for small people, including lacrosse sticks (sized down for toddlers), bouncing balls, foot-propelled cars, water balloons, and an inflatable pool, grandly occupying the middle of the front yard like a conversation piece at a curated show. Emile squealed and Susanne rushed home in the car to gather up his pool hat, swimsuit, and swim diaper. We knew there would be no keeping him out of the chilly water.

He’s a kid who notices anything larger than the size of an ant, so of course he was going to dwell on the pool. I pulled him into the house’s side yard and tried to entertain/distract him with one of those ball and velcro paddle things. Apparently these only work if one’s toddler has decent aim, produced on at least a semi-regular basis. Soon enough Susanne ventured back to us and had Emile changed in quick order. Here is where we were met, however, with a strange storm of intersections that culminated in an emergency:

  • Emile’s nonexistent experience with inflatable pools—he only knew the pool at the YMCA and some rigid pools in friends’ yards
  • Older kids in the pools with their longer legs modeled jumping in and out of the pool with ease, which he wanted to copy
  • Twenty parents all in close proximity gave the sense that everybody was completely safe—how could anything go wrong in front of all of us?

He’d kept clambering over the edge of the pool to follow a ball that well, that he insisted on launching into and out of the water. Susanne had earlier given him some reminders that this was not like other pools he’d been in recently, and he had nodded that he understood. Oh, that meddling Mommy, his expression told us.

In a flash as he was rushing back into the pool he lost his footing and then he was under the water. Maybe a quarter second passed and we looked at each other, his chocolate brown eyes staring at me through the surface of the water, his bright blue hat still clinging to his temples, his fingers splayed open in shock, like they were tentacles searching for any purchase. In the next quarter second, or so it felt, I calculated that he was in trouble. Later it occurred to me that I’d had training in this very situation as a lifeguard in the last 1980s—it’s not the thrashing, screaming person who is in distress or close to drowning, it’s the still person who can’t figure out how to get their head above water. I calculated the quickest way to him and even though I considered running around the pool to get to where he was, I threw out this option instantly and dove in like I was stealing home plate.

It was some kind of parabola arc that I made, plunging into the pool and popping up at the other end, missing the 4-year-old who was also in the water, and then my hands were around my son and I pushed him up out of the water. He was still wide eyed and completely surprised and I knew I needed to assess whether he could breathe, which was easily figured out by seeing if he could talk.

“Are you okay, buddy?”

“I scared.”

I blinked back tears, and put my lips on his chest and gave him a sloppy zurbert. The fart sound was the only noise at the party, as the adults and kids had all noticed that I’d jumped into the little kiddie pool.

Emile laughed. I blew air onto him again and he laughed louder. I held his sopping head to my chest and kissed him and told him I loved him and he was okay. Which I think he knew. Maybe I should thank all of those swim classes, I thought, for teaching him to hold his breath under water. And soon after that thought he went back to splashing in the pool. I held onto my jeans which now had something like 18 percent of the pool’s water sopped up in their fibers. A few folks gaped at me. One asked if I’d fallen in. Maybe I’d gotten ahold of too much sangria.

I pulled out my cell phone and the host took it and put it in a bowl of rice. Two days later it still won’t turn on.

Susanne looked at me and put her arms around me as she handed me Emile’s beach towel.

“If you wanted a new phone you could have just said so,” she said, kissing me on my cheek. “Good Daddy.”

After the birthday cake came out and our bellies were full—pesto! cheese! sesame noodles!—we drove home, me sitting on the towel. I asked Emile that night about the incident.

“Were you scared when you fell under the water?”

“Yes, but you came and got me.”

“I did get you. I love you, Emile.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

Yes, I sure hope I’m not at my own halfway mark yet.

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