When it comes to the beach, I take more of a stick-my-feet-into-the-water approach to the waves, which I see as beautiful and refreshing, but deceptive. What looks calm on the surface can be hiding a strong undertow; one step in can be waist-high water, the second step—water over your head. My sister, on the other hand, is more of a swim-out-really-far-and-never-look-back kind of girl, which is why it was a terrible idea to take her to the beach, but not the worst idea that I have ever had, so it all evens out in the end.
It’s hard to keep a constant eye on both your kids and your kid sister, so I didn’t realize how far she had swum out until the lifeguard began bellowing at her in rapid, angry Hebrew through the megaphone. When I looked up to see whom the lifeguard was addressing, she was just a speck of color in a (literal) sea of blue. I called her name, and gestured her closer with wild hand motions over my head. “Menucha, come back!” I called, my voice getting swallowed up by the wind. “Come back to the shore!”
She waved at me and gave me a jaunty thumbs-up. All is well, said her thumbs-up, so chill out and stop being an overbearing older sister (her hand motions cover a lot of non-verbal ground) and I breathed easier. Then she began to swim back. At least, she tried to. She seemed just as far away to me a few minutes after she had begun paddling back. The lifeguard called out again, urgent words telling her to just stay put and tread water, and then I saw someone zooming out towards her on a jet ski, the blue waters foaming white in its wake. The lifeguard was on board, and gestured towards my sister to climb onto the rubber raft attached to the jet ski, and she did so. Moments later, she was back at my side. She was grinning.
“That was awesome!” she said. “Although it would have been more fun if I got to ride on the jet ski instead of the raft. Still, it was fun.”
“Fun?” I stared at her with self-righteous fury. “Fun? They had to save you! You were drowning!”
She squeezed her hair out and gave me a superior look as only a little sister can give one’s much older and totally wiser sibling. “I was not drowning,” she explained to me patiently. “I was swimming towards the shore. It’s just that I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “That makes sense. Hey, interesting fact: Do you know another word for ‘swimming towards the shore but not getting anywhere?’”
My sister did not even know and still to this day refuses to acknowledge that she was in imminent danger of drowning. Thankfully, the lifeguard—and her much, much smarter older sister who out of modesty I will not name but whose name rhymes with Nina Deuman—knew that if someone is swimming towards the shore with all her might and yet not making any progress, she will eventually tire and slip beneath the waves. No one can swim forever.
Here’s the most important thing to know as we head into summer vacation: Older sisters are always right.
Also, here’s another important thing to know: Drowning does not look like drowning.
When most people picture someone drowning, they picture the victim screaming for help, flailing their arms, eyes wide with panic, choking on the water. This misconception is largely due to inaccurate descriptions of drowning seen in books and media, and it can be a fatal mistake.
Because real drowning does not resemble anything like that.
A chilling statistic: Approximately 750 children drown every year, and 375 of them do so within 25 yards of an adult. In ten percent of these cases, an adult will actually watch them drown—and have no idea that it is even happening.
Mario Vittone, a former coast guard rescue swimmer, shares a disturbing story of a couple relaxing in the water on a sand bar, just neck-deep in the water, when the captain of a small speedboat leaped out of his cockpit into the water, fully clothed, and barreled towards them.