I saw a toddler almost drown in the hotel pool today.

This was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen.

My family was enjoying another afternoon of pool time at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells. We are in Palm Springs with two other families, and most of the kids in our group were in the water splashing around with a couple of the dads. My daughter and I were lounging on deck chairs and chatting, kind of watching the action in the pool but not really paying much attention.

There was another group of families settled in on the deck chairs in front of us, right on the edge of the pool. They seemed to be having a good time. It looked like they had been at the pool for awhile. One of the moms was standing next to the group and talking to a couple of the other adults, when all of a sudden she gasped.

“Where is Michael?”

Everyone stopped talking. “Michael?” she called. “Michael?!?” All of the adults in the group stood up and began looking for Michael. The mom and the dad ran to the pool, and instantly the dad jumped in, dove down, and came back up with his son in his arms.

The weirdest thing was that no one else in or around the pool saw this happen. My daughter and I were horrified, and leapt up to see if we could help, but all of the other people around us didn’t bat an eyelash because they didn’t notice what was going on. Meanwhile, the dad kind of turned Michael upside down, and a bunch of water came rushing out of him. Michael must have been 18 months or so, a very small kid. He coughed and vomited more water. Then he cried, kind of weakly.

His mom snatched him up and held him. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” she repeated. She was clearly in shock. “I just turned my back for a minute and he wasn’t wearing his floaties and oh my god I can’t believe this happened oh my god oh my god!”

Meanwhile, one of the pool servers had seen what was going on and radioed for help. Another server and a manager rushed over. The manager was fantastic. She was very calm and efficient. She explained that she was going to call the paramedics and suggested that the family head up to their room for more privacy. Within a minute or so, the group had gathered all of their belongings and left the pool.

My daughter and I just held hands speechlessly. Start to finish, the entire incident had transpired in the space of perhaps five minutes. Maybe less.

The thing that sticks with me is how quietly Michael slipped into the water. He just went under; no one heard him. Thank god his parents noticed in time. Thank god, thank god. My heart just clenches when I think how things would have been different if even another thirty seconds had passed.

Another thing that I can’t stop thinking about is how no one noticed that this was happening. NONE of the dozen people in the water noticed, and of the twenty-odd people surrounding the pool, only my daughter and I heard and saw this terrible event unfold. I think it’s because people around a pool are used to screaming and commotion: how many times have you heard a kid scream or a mom yell a kid’s name? How common is it for people poolside to get a little rowdy and loud? If someone screams “oh my god,” most of the time it’s a non-event. We just ignore it; it’s part of the background noise at a pool.

I’m thinking about Michael and his family today. I hope they are all okay. And for all of us: as we head into the summer and start spending more time by the pool, let’s look out for each other.

Stay safe.


*I’ve changed Michael’s name, by the way. His real name is different.



  1. Bodies of water — be they bathtubs, pools, rivers, ponds, lakes or oceans — have lead to the death of many children. Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death of young minors. For children over the age of seven, the poor and ethnic minorities in the US are more likely to drown than wealthier kids of the same age due to fewer/less affordable opportunities to learn to swim.

    • Points Pixie says

      GUWonder – That’s a really good (and very sad) point about poor and ethnic minorities. It’s just heartbreaking.

  2. Dont buy kids floaties! It gives them a false sense of security around water. Kids should learn to swim and should never be around water without close supervision.

  3. same thing happened to me this past summer. I was in the swimming pool playing with my son 4yrs in the kids sections then he threw his toy in the deep section I went to grab it then in 5 second I turned around he was drowning luckily I was close to him so I was able to get to him so quickly. My wife had to go back to the room to get something. It was a nightmare I still think about it till today and when I saw your story I can exactly imagine the situation. I am so happy for the family that they were able to save their son.

    • Points Pixie says

      Rachid – Oh, how scary. I am so glad that both you and the family here were both able to save your children. Terrifying.

  4. Same kind of incident happened to me over Christmas break. Brother-in-law went to check his phone 50 feet away. He thought we were watching his kids, we thought he took the kids, one slipped away and headed right for the pool and jumped in. Thank goodness a server watched my nephew wander over to the pool. The server grabbed him before he sunk. Scariest thing that has ever happened to me. He was wearing floaties all day up to that point. My wife and I never put floaties on our kids and religiously make sure our home pool barrier is up and locked.

    • Points Pixie says

      KT – Wow, that is so scary and also so lucky. Thank goodness for the server! I’m so glad your nephew is safe.

  5. Just posting to add to the chorus of voices stating that floaties are dangerous. And so are those popular infant/toddler swim classes! Very young children CANNOT LEARN TO SWIM – all those classes do is to remove any instinctive fear of deep water the baby may have (which is NOT a good thing!) and give parents a false sense of their toddler’s abilities in the water.

    There is simply no substitute for watching young children with a hawk’s eye any time they are anywhere near water, since a child can drown in as little as two inches of the stuff. Once the kid’s past the toddler age and actually capable of learning the skills needed for real swimming, he or she should also be enrolled in a good program of swimming lessons, for safety’s sake.

    • Points Pixie says

      dlnevins – That is a very interesting point. My kids are past that age, and they are both strong swimmers, but I want to do more research into this. Thanks for bringing this into the discussion.

      • My rough and ready guide to swimmer versus non-swimmer is: if the child was tossed into the 10-foot section of the pool and left alone for 5 minutes, without any life vest or flotation devices at hand, would he/she still be on the surface of the water at the end of that time? If yes, the child can swim. If not, the child is a non-swimmer. I think VERY few 2-3 year olds would be capable of passing that test! So all toddlers and infants should be regarded as non-swimmers, no matter how many infant swim sessions they’ve taken, simply for safety’s sake.

        I think Wendy also raises a very good point: even Michael Phelps can drown if he’s knocked unconscious, or has a seizure or heart attack while in the water. So everyone, swimmer or non-swimmer, should wear properly-fitted Coast Guard-approved live vests while boating, jet-skiing, etc.

        Also, people need to know that there’s a HUGE difference between swimming in a swimming pool and swimming in “live” water such as a river or the ocean. Doing the latter requires developing the knowledge of how to work with rather than against the moving water, and learning to judge waves and currents. Learning to swim in a swimming pool doesn’t give you the skills to cope with the ocean (as a few unfortunate seaside vacationers learn the hard way every year). The late Peter Benchley (of “Jaws” fame) wrote a marvelous essay “How to Swim in the Ocean” (currently available as a chapter in his book “Shark Trouble”) which discusses in some depth the various dangers of ocean swimming and how to deal with them – I recommend it highly.

        • Points Pixie says

          dinevins – Thanks for the detailed update! You clearly know a lot about this topic. Hopefully your comment will help to keep more people safe.

  6. Spencer F says

    When I was a lifeguard in high school we didn’t allow those floaties on anybody in our pool for precisely this reason. Had to be a Coast Guard lifevest. That was too close.

  7. What a truly terrifying incident. I raised four who loved the water and were somewhat fearless. I was always aware of the dangers and often felt many people were way too casual with children around water. Something like you witnessed can happen so fast and as you so perceptively observed, it can go unnoticed, which is haunting. Have a cocktail or several and hug your children!

    • Points Pixie says

      smittytabb – I agree. I think many parents are VERY casual around water, especially in a resort-type situation like the one we were in. It is definitely a false sense of security, because as I saw, no one is really paying attention, unless that is ALL they are doing.

  8. I’m a firm believer that all children should be taught to swim as early as possible. Kids in our family are taught to swim before their first birthday.

    I like to go boating and fishing. I will not allow anyone on my boat without wearing a life vest that is coast guard approved. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are in a boating accident if you are knocked out you need that life vest on to save your life.

  9. I recently saw on facebook that a friend of friend had lost her twin daughters. The grandmother was babysitting while the mother ran out for an errand and the grandmother fell asleep. The children, not even 3, ran out of the house, at night, and drowned in a pool cover filled with rain water. Such a tragedy. Any amount of water can be dangerous.

  10. Terrifying. I read an article about a year ago called “Drowning doesn’t look like drowning.” It explained how our preconceived understanding of drowning involves things like thrashing, yelling for help, and waving arms, but those things rarely occur when someone is truly drowning. (Of course those people still need assistance, but they’re likely still remaining above the surface). Drowning is so quiet. It’s terrifying. So glad that child is safe!

    • Exactly. Drowning occurs when the person finally runs completely out of energy and slips under the water for the final time, so of course it’s a quiet event. It’s totally counter-intuitive, but it makes perfect sense when you really think about it.

    • Points Pixie says

      Melissa – Yes, and I think this child had simply walked down the pool steps until he was completely submerged. He was okay until suddenly he wasn’t. Quietly.

  11. The first child I ever knew to have died in an accident was the first (and then-only) child of family friends. They had a pool at home and were very deliberate in keeping their child and other children away from it until he could swim. For that purpose of teaching their son to swim, the child was sent to swim lessons at a YMCA or something like that and routinely dropped off for swim lessons. The child drowned at the swimming pool where the lessons were on-going and where there was at least one lifeguard on duty with many more trained as swim instructors and lifeguards. None of them noticed the child had drowned until it was too late.

    The tragedy of coming back to pick up a dead child after having dropped him off to learn to swim and have a better chance to survive and enjoy life — I still remember it and can’t but think about how silently dangerous the lovely ocean and lakes and pools and rivers in my neighborhoods can be to young school children, particularly those young children who can’t swim as well as adults and don’t yet have proper respect for the dangers that come via big and small bodies of water.

    • Points Pixie says

      GUWonder – Wow, what a sad story. I can’t even imagine how terrible that would be. And I agree about needing to have serious respect for the water. Thanks for the comment.

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