My daughter nearly drowned last night. We’ve been going to swimming lessons at the Lions Club Aquatics park in Killeen and last night, my fear became reality. I was sitting about ten feet from the edge, close enough to watch but far enough that they would pay attention to the teachers and not me. Her and her sister were letting go of the edge and bobbing: all good training because they both need to know that when they hit bottom, they need to kick back to the top.

Well, the little one got pushed back to where she couldn’t reach the edge of the pool. My heart counted the beats. One. No head poking up. Two. No head. Three, and her little arms were waving in the top of the water…and mommy moved. All I remember is getting to the edge and seeing she was close enough for me to grab without diving into the water. I had her before the teachers did. I think I dove because my right knee hurts like hell this morning and I scuffed it up pretty good.

And what did I do? I snapped at her. I said this is what you get for not listening. I’d been telling her and her sister not to let go of the edge.

Really? My kid has the scare of a lifetime and I snap at her? Then she cried and I wrapped my arms around her and held on to her. And less than two minutes later, she jumped right back into the pool. It happened again toward the end of her lessons but this time, she laughed and held back onto the edge. Mommy did better this time too, except that I was getting pissed at them for not listening and continuing to let go of the edge.

That night, as they were getting ready for bed, I told her how proud I was of her for getting back in the water when any other kid would have screamed and cried and refused. She says in a small voice “I’m proud of you too, Mommy, for saving me.” And I laughed my ass off because it was cute and she was brave and she got back after it after she had the daylights scared out of her.

But see here’s the thing that I wanted her to take away from it. Never mind that it shaved another year off my life. Never mind that the old taste of panic that I had in Iraq about not being there to protect my children rose to the surface like a bad memory. She got back in the water. Something bad happened and she faced her fear and got back in the pool. She even went off the diving board.

I can’t always be around to protect my kids. Maybe it’s the nature of my life in the military that I know this but on an instinctive level, it rips my soul out to send my kids out into the world without me being there. I have to trust. I have to trust that the school will do the right thing. The swimming instructors were working with other kids and were all within five feet of her. But no one had seen her go under. Except me. I still trust that they’re doing their best, but I’m there. Think of it as risk mitigation on my part.

I have to prepare my children for life without me because when they’re in school, when they’re at their friends houses, when they’re grown, they will make decisions and have to react to things that no one will have prepared them for. And I have to trust that they’ll do something in those situations where they’re scared.

So I am proud of my little girl. She got back in the water and she still thinks she can swim even though she sinks like a stone. But we’ll keep working at it. The best thing I could have done for her last night was get her back in the water and even though my adrenaline stayed high for the rest of the lessons, she got back in.

I don’t think I can ask more than that.