When I was growing up, I used to LOVE watching fireworks on the 4th of July. My parents would take my sister and I to their friends house, right on Silver Lake – perfect viewing for the fireworks. I used to love how I could feel the sound of the fireworks booming. We got to stay up late, and eat good food. What’s not to love?
Then I had kids. Kids that have an aversion to sleeping. Fireworks were no longer a beautiful thing to be enjoyed – they were the thing that woke my kid back up.
But on the 4th of July 2012, the holiday changed for me forever. My kids were 7, 5, and 2. My older two kids were going to their dad’s for the holiday because they’d been invited to a backyard BBQ pool party. I picked up an overnight shift at work, because holidays pay extra. My shift was to start at 9pm. As I pulled into the parking lot, my phone rang, and I let it go to voicemail because I didn’t recognize the number. They called again, and again, and again. Finally, fearing that something might be wrong, I listened to the voicemail.
It was my kids’ dad. Something had gone wrong at the pool party. His voice was shaky. I didn’t make out much, other than “there’s been an accident” and “Noah’s been airlifted.”
There had been several families at the pool party – 12 kids and 8 adults – and in the chaos, nobody saw Noah slip under the surface. The only witness was my daughter Bethany, who was 5 at the time. She thought Noah was playing a joke by pretending to drown. Noah was at the bottom of the pool for an unknown amount of time – three to five minutes. He was pulled out of the pool and his stepmother Tracy (a nurse) performed CPR. Noah’s eyes opened. He began to cough. He was alive.
They airlifted him to the nearest hospital, which was in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
I didn’t even report for my shift – even though I was right in the parking lot, I just got in the car. My mom came along, and my husband drove. The hour long drive to LaCrosse felt eternal. We drove past all of the small town firework displays on the way there. I hated how so many people were celebrating – oohing and aahing at the fireworks – while I sobbed in the backseat of the car.
By the time we got to the hospital, the doctors had determined that he was going to make a full recovery. They had sedated him for the helicopter ride, so he didn’t wake up until about 3am. He was confused when he woke up, and he didn’t like the wires, tubes, and IV. He didn’t remember what happened. He had no idea.
While we were waiting together in the ICU, watching Noah sleep, Noah’s father said “Thanks for not being angry with me.”
It hadn’t even occurred to me to be angry with him. If anything, I was so grateful that his wife had saved Noah’s life by performing CPR. (She’s incredible, by the way. You can read more about her here).
Noah is 13 now. His memories of that day still aren’t complete. He doesn’t remember going under. By some miracle of God, he had no long-term effects and no brain damage despite being without oxygen for minutes. He’s a normal 7th grader – obsessed with football and video games. His recovery is nothing short of remarkable.
I’ll never be the same, though. It’s been almost six years and that day still affects how I parent. I end up being really lenient with Noah.
You want another donut? Have two! I’m just glad you’re alive! You want to stay up until midnight? SURE!
I’ve learned that I need to find a way to deal with the tremendous amount of guilt that I still carry if I want to parent effectively. Journaling helps. I’m a musician, so playing music and writing poetry are other outlets that I can use. I forgave Noah’s father and stepmother instantly – so why am I having trouble forgiving myself? I wasn’t even there.
My inner critic is really nasty sometimes – and I don’t have to listen to her. When I do, I try to make up for my feelings of guilt by letting Noah do whatever he wants. When I let Noah do whatever he wants, he’s not learning and growing. He’s not developing a character of gratitude. This is still a work in progress. By focusing on gratitude, my inner critic’s voice becomes smaller and smaller until she is silenced.
Fireworks now remind me of that gut-wrenching drive to LaCrosse. I re-live those feelings of panic and dread. Those emotions are still so fresh and real, sitting right under the surface.
Noah is at the age when he needs me less and less, but he knows that the 4th of July is the one where I need HIM. He reminds me to be grateful for what I have. He reminds me to celebrate the little things. Even when my inner critic tells me that I’m the worst mother ever, he tells me how wonderful I am. And on the days when he’s driving me up the wall (now that he’s in middle school, this seems to be more frequent), I remember how close I came to losing him.
The last few years in a row, I’ve been able to spend the 4th of July with Noah. We watch the fireworks together, hold hands and exchange tearful glances. In 2016, we were on a family vacation in Pennsylvania for the fireworks. It was pouring rain, but they lit them anyway. There was only one umbrella, so Noah and I stood under it together and watched the fireworks. My best friend saw the special moment and took a picture with my phone. I’ll treasure it forever.