Just under a year ago, Nicole Hughes's 3-year-old son Levi slipped away from his parents on a family trip to Alabama and was found by Nicole moments later, face down in a swimming pool. Just a few minutes prior to the drowning incident that would lead to his death, she had split a brownie with him as he eagerly awaited going on a nighttime crab hunt.
Determined to create awareness around water safety, Nicole has been working tirelessly since Levi's June 2018 death to educate parents so that no one else has to ever go through what her family has. First, she created the "water guardian" tag — a lanyard that can be worn by an adult who acts as a designated guardian to kids who have access to water — which has been endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association as an initiative that can help save lives. Now, she's urging parents to enroll their toddlers in the "right swim lessons," as in April 2018 she and her husband made the decision to push Levi's first swimming lessons until he was 4 years old — just six weeks later is when she "pulled his lifeless body out of a pool."
"ALL SWIM LESSONS ARE NOT CREATED EQUALLY."
"Please enroll your toddler in the RIGHT swim lessons, ones that focus on water competency. 'Survival' is the goal. If your child can 'swim' but only WITH a flotation device, that is not swimming," Nicole wrote on her Facebook page, Levi's Legacy. "If your precious 3-year-old somehow found his way to the deep end, could he survive? It is important to remember that ALL SWIM LESSONS ARE NOT CREATED EQUALLY. If you lack access to quality options, choose the best private instructor you can find. It should not take years for your child to learn to swim. Once they can swim, keep them in lessons, because drowning is a lifelong risk."
Nicole notes that swimming lessons shouldn't be considered extracurricular activities that are on par with things like dance classes or football, as drowning is the number one cause of death for kids ages 1 through 4. Both of Nicole's daughters received private swimming lessons at the age of 3, and now the mum wishes she could go back in time to enroll Levi as well.
"I understand the hesitation around swim lessons. I used to be a typical mom of 3 kids, forced to weigh every decision on time, finances, and my own parenting energy — which all seemed stretched too thin," she wrote. "Time? Let me tell you about TIME, about this lifetime without my son, about every moment he isn't here, every bedtime kiss he will miss. You don't want this eternity of time that stretches before me. Money? Much of my life was spent on a budget, and I know money is a luxury. Many nonprofits offer scholarships. Ask for swim lessons instead of gifts. Exhaust every option — budget and beg. The cost of swim lessons is a fraction of the price of a funeral. Tears? Your child hates swim lessons, even though the instructor is gentle-yet-persistent? Well, crying means breathing. On the night my world ended, I only heard silence by the pool. I would have given my life to hear my son crying."
The mom ends her post with a poignant thought about the last day of her son's life and how his ability to "swim" with a puddle jumper — which is considered the safest flotation device for kids, according to the US Coast Guard — wasn't enough. Though they're a safe option while your children are knowingly spending time around water, a puddle jumper can't work to help your child who doesn't know how to swim when they're not wearing the device.
"I THOUGHT I took water safety seriously," she wrote, then referencing photos she shared of Levi wearing his puddle jumper at the beach. "These photos were taken June 10, as we unknowingly marched toward the end. I now know that the puddle jumper gave Levi a false sense of security in the pool, and I want to snatch it off and enroll him in survival swim lessons. Please don't wait on swim lessons."