Milo almost drowned twice before the age of two. The first time, he was laughing and splashing in the bathtub with his sister. And then he was flat on his back on the bottom of the tub. His hazel eyes wide open and curious. He showed no signs of distress. It was eerily peaceful. His sister and I stared at him briefly, not in horror but in wonder, then I reached in and sat him back up. He laughed.
The second time was at the pool. He was sitting on the middle step in the shallow end, watching the older children play. My husband and I were talking to friends when Milo silently slid down onto his back. Again he was face up under water, his eyes wide open, his body strangely peaceful, as if this happens from time to time and it’s not only normal, but pleasant. My husband scooped him up and held him to his chest. Milo laughed, again.
When Milo was almost 4 we visited some friends at a house by a large river. Several of us were gathered on a dock, waiting to take a speed boat trip to a nearby town. Milo wore a life jacket over his clothes. He crouched down to examine something in the water, reached toward the river and fell in face first. The life jacket came up behind his head like a pillow and prevented him from lifting his head out of the water. Again, he didn’t thrash. This time I jumped in, crouched under him and lifted him up over my head as I stood. My husband was on the dock and took him from me. I was extremely upset. Milo thought it was funny that I was wearing clothes but soaking wet.
Milo learned to swim easily and spends whole days in the pool. He particularly loves to go off the high dive, and when that’s not available, the low board. He doesn’t just love to smash his body hard against the surface of water, he needs it. He seeks it out. He will fearlessly jump off any extension over water — a ledge, a rock, a wall — without concern for depth, because the moment of impact is soothing. I’ll say that again, Milo finds the hard smack of water, its dominance, authority and elemental ferociousness soothing.
I love a hot bath, a hot-tub, swimming in a lake, wading into a waterfall’s spray, scrambling over the slippery rocks of a fast moving stream. I love water’s gentle baptism, its comforting wash. My favorite landscape on earth is the deep damp of Western Oregon. I would gladly live under a veil of dew. But Milo can’t resist a downpour so strong its torrent is horizontal. Milo prefers to be slammed.
We go to the beach every summer with friends. Everyone enjoys collecting shells on a long walk, jumping the waves and swimming out past where they break. Everyone but Milo. He chooses to stand so that he will be knocked down. He moves with the tide, inching his way in or out so that he is consistently positioned precisely where the wave is guaranteed to clobber him. He points and shouts at the ocean, like a child Prospero, demanding the water’s notice.
Milo is not one for a bath. But he loves a strong shower. Among the grab-bag of techniques he has learned to quiet his mind is meditative breathing. He does this with his father every night before bed. Yesterday I found him sitting in the lotus position on the floor of the shower, his eyes closed, his breathing long and slow. Water pounded his head, his bottom covered the drain. Water was sloshing above his knees and leaking over the threshold. The bathroom floor was flooding. Milo was the most peaceful he had been all weekend, not because he didn’t notice the hurricane he had created but because that tempest made him comfortable.
I allowed myself a moment to marvel at his ability to create an environment that not only mirrors what’s happening in his head, but an environment that feels natural to him. I allowed myself a moment to admire his pretty pink body, his pudgy fingers resting on his thighs, his broadening shoulders held upright and proud.
Then I flipped on the light and shouted, “Milo, there’s too much water, everywhere.” He opened his eyes and laughed.