When your son falls into a frozen lake

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A few days ago I took a stroll through Wimbledon Commons with my son, as my wife was traveling.It was a typical London day: 3 seasons in a day. When we decided to leave the apartment it was sunny and felt kind of warm. When we arrived at the forest, it was gloomy and chilly. And by the time we made it back home, it was already night time and really cold. The whole ordeal took just one hour, but it felt much much longer.

It was a typical London day: 3 seasons in a day. When we decided to leave the apartment it was sunny and felt kind of warm. When we arrived at the forest, it was gloomy and chilly. And by the time e made it back home, it was already night time and really cold. The whole ordeal took just one hour, but it felt much much longer.

Unlike in our usual (although a lot less frequent than I would like) routine, instead of walking into the forest, we accessed the Commons through the main entrance, and went straight to the small lake where swan, geese and ducks were really happy to see us and our bag of oats. I guess in the cold weather a lot less people come by to feed them.

We love to talk to them, and admire their beauty. Not just the amazing Mandarin ducks, but all of them. We try to distribute the oats as much as possible so ‘bullies’ don’t get away with their aggressive behavior. And there is always something else that we enjoy, wether it is a dog diving into the water, a flower in an unexpected place, or trying a new “plant recognizing app”.

This time my son was fascinated with the layers of ice forming all over the lake. So he approached the edge, with a stick, standing on a small piece of wood, to test how thick they were. Then he started picking them up and playing with them: using them as photo props against a tree bark, stacking them, and breaking them on my head as if it was an action movie and I had just gone through a window head first (which brought me some bad childhood memories, that all of a sudden were not as bad because I was with my son).

Throughout his ‘ice fishing’ activity, I remained firmly grounded on shore, holding onto his jacket making sure he would not loose his balance and fall.

At one point he seemed to lose interest, and it was getting really cold, so I asked him to stop, and I started walking away. A few steps later I heard a loud splash. Before I could even process the sound, I was by the edge of the lake, ready to kick my shoes and jacket off and jump into the ice to rescue him.

Fortunately he did not sink and I saw him standing in the water. The bottom of the lake is quite irregular, and was able to step onto a platform, and from that jump back to the shore.

He was smiling, I guess a nervous reaction to an extreme unexpected event. Or perhaps because a dog, seeing him plunge, decided to join him and jumped in too (although not to rescue him, since he jumped off into a patch of unfrozen water, chasing ducks)!

I was not angry or panicked, but rather I reacted as I always do in those circumstances, as I was told by my mother: like a machine. I assessed the situation and proceeded with executive efficiency to minimize damage. First I asked him if anything was broken, if anything hurt. Then I checked his garments: all soaking wet except his waterproof jacket, which for some lucky angle in the fall had remained dry. So the first thing we did was to squeeze all the water our of his socks and pants (I even considered giving him my clothes, but his clothes don’t fit me, and his jacket was very warm and dry).

Then I quickly calculated how long it would take to get home, and if that was the best option (as the temperatures were below zero), or if it was better to head in other direction (seek the closest home or business, call a cab, etc). We decided to head home fast, but not running, to avoid slipping and falling, or getting exhausted and having to stop to catch breath.

But, funny enough, all that cold-headed reaction can’t prevent the confusion the shock causes, and I started rushing us through the wrong path. Luckily he noticed soon enough and we corrected course.

Once we made it home he went straight into a warm long shower that felt like forever. When he came out, I made sure there were no purple tissues, specially lips, toes, fingers… he was fine and as we later found out, even his phone, which was inside the jacket pocket, survived the frozen waters!

Lessons learned:

  • Life happens
  • He now knows better the dangers of standing on a small piece of wood by a frozen lake, and that should make him assess general risks better, but hopefully not to the point of total risk aversion
  • Even if you want to be there all the time to protect them at all times, sometimes you will not be there. And some day you will not be at all
  • In an emergency, keep your cool… but be aware that you are more likely to make stupid mistakes
  • Always remember that frustration and anger come from fear. Focus on love instead
  • All is good that ends good. Now he has a cool anecdote to tell his friends. Life leaves scars and marks, avoid them, but wear them with pride, son.

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