Cost of a moment

How long is a moment? Contemporary meanings are indefinite, but our ancestors in the middle ages defined it as 90 seconds, which was calculated from their sundial-driven division of an hour into 40 minutes.

As time has become more universally regulated and measured, a “moment” as used in literature and language since medieval times defies any widespread understanding of a uniform duration.

One particularly insightful if not quantifiable description of a moment, by someone somewhere, was: the amount of time that can pass you unawares.

Thus, a moment varies according to its context—longer than an “instant,” perhaps a matter of seconds that would stretch no further than its original minute-and-a-half boundary.

Nicole Hughes of Knoxville, Tenn., knows the forever cost of a lost moment. She joined a grieving fraternity of parents who share that knowledge last month when her 3-year-old son drowned at a beach-house pool in the Gulf Shores area.

In the ensuing maelstrom of such despair, answers are desperately sought but rarely found. In her search, Nicole began to learn what she hadn’t known about toddlers and water safety, and wondered why.

Why isn’t it drilled into parents’ heads, like car-seat safety, that drowning is the No. 1 cause of unintentional-injury death of children age 1-4?

Why aren’t parents warned that two out of every three child drownings occur when they’re not supposed to be swimming?

Why don’t pediatricians constantly remind parents that a child drowns silently in 30 seconds?

Why shouldn’t there be a thunderous, unending chorus of caution, especially in the summer, imploring constant supervision?

Parents all know the dangers in general. That ubiquity is often precisely what lowers the collective guard; everyone is assumed accountable, and thus no one is assigned accountability.

What they don’t know is the particulars: the prevalence the risk presents, the lack of any real margin for error in supervision, the complete preventability of nearly every child drowning.

In her son Levi’s instance, Nicole had just shared a brownie bite with him. Because the day’s swimming was over and it was dinnertime cleanup, Levi had only recently removed the life jacket he’d worn all day.

People were standing around talking, and Nicole was still chewing on her brownie bite when she walked across the room and–like protective moms tend to do—cast a watchful eye toward the pool outside as she passed.

“That’s how fast it happened,” she said. In that briefest moment among a vacationing crowd of a dozen adults, Levi had managed to go downstairs, out the heavy door, through the gate and into the water.

The six families all included doctors, friends from medical school in Alabama who gathered annually at the beach.

Nicole screamed as she descended the staircase. One doctor leapt from the balcony into the pool and reached Levi at the same moment his mother did. They pulled him from the deep end, intubated him, performed CPR and shocked his heart, coaxing a weak pulse.

Levi had skilled physicians trying to revive him till paramedics arrived. But after being airlifted to the hospital, he was pronounced dead a few hours later.

On average, drowning claims the lives of three children every day. In the sweltering Southern heat, with the water a welcome respite, the average is exceeded in the summer months.

Nicole’s nightmare will become reality for a thousand other families this year. Most readers probably know families touched by this tragedy.

But most may not yet know of Nicole’s idea, born of her loss and conceived in hope of saving others from her fate.

She created what’s called Water Guardian tags—credit-card-sized, waterproof cards attached to lanyards.

The idea, she said, is to literally “tag” someone (as in, “you’re it”) as the adult in charge of providing constant supervision of young kids both while swimming and when they’re not supposed to be around water (unloading the car, preparing dinner, etc.).

It’s designed as a visible physical reminder not to be multitasking, checking phones, or looking away even for a moment in distraction.

The cards cost $10 to produce, and are sold at cost through the foundation Nicole started (

For a leading cause of death to be 100 percent preventable, Nicole confidently believes drowning can be eradicated if enough parents know the facts and adopt a constant supervision-with-accountability mindset. She’s also determined to funnel her pain into fueling that change.

Arkansas summers can be as brutal as anywhere, and residential swimming pools are as popular as ever. There’s been a viral rage over the latest mosquito-killing gadget in the news, and heaven knows that in rice-field country those pests can ruin all quality of life after dark.

But really, that’s essentially a creature-comfort issue, not a lethal one.

It would be nice if Nicole’s Water Guardian tags could stir up an even bigger rush to buy, and catch fire as a true cause with real lifesaving results.

If you’re on Facebook, share the idea and her site. Do it in honor of someone you may know who, like Nicole, will always wish they could get back just one lost moment.


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