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The Deep End Dilemma, What Would You Do?

by on June 08, 2015 6:15 AM

I was sitting poolside at a resort last week, enjoying the sun and a book while my family was off doing other things.

For most of the morning, the crowd was small. There were a few family groupings as well as one or two single patrons reading or sleeping.

I was happy to be there, drenched in sunscreen and relaxing after another academic year. I had been there an hour or so when a group of young girls came into the pool area, obviously with plans to have some fun. "Travel sports team" I thought to myself.

I found myself smiling at their energy and enthusiasm. As might be expected with middle school aged girls, there was a lot of giggling, negotiating about who was going to sit at which chaise lounge and even some whining that the time they spent on hair and make-up was going to be wasted by getting wet.

I happen to be sitting near the deep end.

Within minutes of their arrival, the girls began pushing each other, jumping and then diving into the pool – a kidney shaped recreation pool in which the "deep end" dropped from 6' to 8' in a small section roped off from the shallow end. Painted in large letters on the deck of the pool near the 8' end was a sign that said NO DIVING.

What was a mother and former lifeguard to do?

It felt like one of those "life flashes before your eyes" moments. I could almost see it –the worst possible scenario – as if I were watching a video. It took me back to the days of parenting my own children. If one of them let go of my hand, I instantly pictured them running out into the street in front of that speeding car.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

Next month, it will be 26 years since my husband's youngest brother, Tom, dove into a backyard pool and hit his head on the slanted bottom between the deep and shallow ends. It was suggested at the time that, because of his height, his feet were probably still out of the water when he broke his neck. That slanted bottom is what researchers and lawyers calls "the quad wall." Because private pools are not regulated in terms of width and depth and diving boards, other unsuspecting divers have found themselves with the same injury.

Our family is a little sensitive about diving. My kids, and probably most, if not all of their cousins, were not ever allowed to dive into a swimming pool unless it was designed specifically for that purpose. We know, up close and personal, the implications of a diving injury.

As I sat there, unable to take my eyes of off the water, I was torn. Earlier in the week, we had watched several college-aged males and a grandfather do the exact same thing. Cringing with each subsequent dive, I never considered stepping over the line to tell another adult what to do.

This time, however, it was kids. Is it my responsibility to step in and correct the behaviors of someone else's children? Does my status as an "adult" put me in the position of managing the behaviors of teens even if they are strangers? What would I want someone to do if they were my children? Does being a Good Samaritan extend to trying to prevent accidents for strangers? Is this part of the "It takes a Village?"

I decided to pack up my stuff and leave the pool and I have questioned that decision ever since.

In conversations with people about the incident, reactions were mixed. Some were in the MYOB Camp (mind your own business). After all, the girls weren't under my charge. I was not in loco anyone's parentis. The pool was clearly marked regarding diving as well as the need for adult supervision. If the parent or adults in charge didn't see fit to supervise, why should I?

On the other hand, the "what ifs" in this situation are pretty darn powerful. In the time that I spent wiping the nervous sweat from my brow, scanning the pool deck for a backboard and making sure my phone was ready to dial 911, I could have said "Girls, the pool is too shallow for diving. Please follow the rules." Some friends felt that the awkwardness of stepping into someone else's business was worth the risk. They insisted the potential to stop a catastrophe should be a priority over any personal discomfort one might feel.

Later that evening, I saw the same group of girls crossing the parking lot on their way out. They were dressed up and looked as if they might be going out for dinner. This time, there was an adult with them. All had apparently made it through unscathed. Thankfully, this time the odds were in their favor.

As we head into the summer season and warm weather activities, this incident served as a reminder to be safe while having fun. A one second decision can have implications for a lifetime. A gentle reminder to those who may not understand or ignore the rules may make a difference.

It's not in my nature to walk away but for some reason this time I did. Next time, I won't.


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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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