February 27, 2011
It all started on one exceptionally warm summer week in southern England. The children I worked with, but also my colleagues, wanted to make the most of the sunshine while it lasted. Being lucky enough to be a driving distance from a seaside resort (Southbourne), a plan was set for an outing the next afternoon. The lucky adults were Tasha, Lisa, Mark and I, taking sand loving Andrew, sociable Katie and the youngest sweetheart Lewis.
The afternoon was gorgeous. The beach was golden with only few people there. Lewis chose the best spot for our picnic. Andrew shared his discovery: a tasty sandwich with real sand in it. Not as bad as it sounds, just crunchier.
With full bellies, Mark and Lewis played in the frothy white waves. Andrew engaged himself in building something that looked like a sandcastle. Katie was glowing, with eyes fixed at the nearby lighthouse, talking about boats and swimming. The lighthouse was good 1.5 km away, at the end of a rock-build seawall. Seagulls circled above our idyllic afternoon.
Suddenly all looked up.
A dog was approaching Lewis, and even the dog owner knew something was wrong.
“Whaaaaah!” Lewis’ scream filled the air. Tasha ran to his rescue, but I froze.
Would the dog attack? How would Lewis react? To our relief, the dog owner gathered his wits quickly and turned his friendly labrador back heading to Andrew and me. We appreciated her playful jumps with pats and compliments; never mind the damage on the sandcastle.
Lisa took Katie closer to the beach and both were wading in the refreshing waters. Calmness returned.
Maybe a quarter of an hour passed and my mind cautioned me to re-apply the sun block. By corned of eye I noticed Katie in the water – swimming. Not knowing of her water skills, something inside me was alarmed. Lisa reassured us that everything was under control. But it was not.
Katie jumped into the deep water and started swimming.
Where was she going? “Lisa, do something, she’s heading to France!” I shouted. We did not know, but Katie was off to see the lighthouse.
Lisa understood the urgency. “I am a strong swimmer. I grew up here.”
Tasha, Mark and Lewis were playing happily with seaweed with backs turned to us. Andrew watched with interest.
Despite many calls from Lisa, it was obvious that Katie did not want to come back. Nor threats, nor bribes worked. Katie surprised us all and her careless laughter floating over the beach attracted stares from a neighbouring family.
Lisa jumped in fully dressed. Meanwhile, Tasha, Mark and Lewis came to our picnic blanket. My heart was pumping, brain spinning. No one else could swim. Lisa would need help in the water as she was obviously not catching up with Katie. She could have been a good swimmer, but her big body was letting her down.
“I’ll go in.” I volunteered. Mark and Tasha agreed.
The water was horribly salty and cold, my jeans were heavy and my blouse was awkwardly floating around my body. Luckily, I had remembered to take off my sandals and glasses. My mind focused to catch up with he girls. I must swim fast... My eyes were itching, but my body got used to swimming fully clothed.
Meanwhile, as I learned afterwards, Mark reported the incident to the coast guard. Lewis and Andrew sensed that something was wrong, but they cooperated brilliantly. Tasha’s helplessness grew as she watched three small heads drifting closer to the seawall.
I was not sure how long I had been swimming, maybe 30 minutes, maybe more. My sight was useless without my glasses. Then I heard Katie calling my name. I knew she was fine by the sound of her voice. Lisa, in contrast, sounded tired but happy not to be alone so far away from the shore.
A relief jetted out: “I’m exhausted! Katie keeps holding to me. The tide’s taking us towards the rocks. Let’s persuade Katie to swim back. She doesn’t listen to me. Glad you’re here….”
I don’t remember much after this apart from talking to Katie to turn back, or at least swim away from the rocks.
Suddenly, I understood her fascination with the lighthouse, boats, seagulls…. Then Katie laughed and shouted: “Boat!” “Rescue!”
I looked around, expecting a small motor boat. There was a huge two-floor white boat floating past us to the open sea. Lisa, being a local girl, instructed us: “Shout! They’re here to save us. Shout! Wave!” But I did not believe the boat was here for us. It was such a big ship, heading to the open waters. Then, in a few minutes, it turned round speeding towards us.
Lisa was right. She calmed down. I panicked, trying to escape from being run over by a big monster. Katie was happy. Her boat came. A man with a broad smile was lowered down with a harness. He wrapped it around Katie and she was pulled up by another guard in an orange west. Then Lisa. Then me. The man last. A few other uniformed men gave us warm blankets and hot tea. I suppose, we were all in shock. They took us on the second floor to recover.
We sat quietly with steaming cups and my mind wandered back in time.
A year ago, when I applied for this job working with children with learning disabilities, communication problems and autism, I knew little about the “adrenalin perks” attached. I expected to have my theoretical knowledge in special child care challenged. Meanwhile, I started to look at the world through a new set of glasses, their glasses. Despite the limited communication, we have built trust and bounded.
I wanted to understand these children with special needs, to enrich their life. They, often unknowingly, changed mine.
Words 970 (including title)