Staring into the abyss

By: Alison Dunn Jun 29, 2010
  Editorial

Three years ago, my husband and I sold our "starter home" and quickly began the search for a new, bigger home to accommodate our growing family. I knew exactly the neighbourhood I wanted, and exactly the style of house I wanted. Imagine my joy when, exactly one week after selling our house, the perfect house on the perfect street came on the market.

It was exactly what we wanted, with just the right number of upgrades – enough that we wouldn't have to sink any time or money into immediate renovations, but not so upgraded that we couldn't put our own stamp on it over the years. It had a spare bedroom, a family room with a fireplace, a big front yard and was on a quiet, tree-lined street close to parks, schools and shopping. It was, in short, perfect.

Our real estate agents immediately got us an appointment to see the house – it wouldn't last long in a hot real estate market. I walked through the front door and immediately felt at home. It was beautiful; airy and light-filled, with hardwood floors and neutral paint colours. I wandered toward the back of the house and looked out the beautiful sliding glass doors and… wait a minute. What was THAT?

My heart sank, for in the middle of this huge backyard was the one thing I absolutely did not want in a house. A big, gaping, black-covered hole was in the backyard. You guessed it – it was a swimming pool.

Ask any real estate agent and they'll tell you that swimming pools don't really add value to your home. Having a swimming pool is an extremely personal preference, and if a potential buyer doesn't want one, he or she won't buy your house.

Clearly I did not want a pool. Part of it was because my parents had a pool when I was growing up, and I knew how much work it was. But more importantly, I had a four-year-old and an 18-month old – and this pool was right there, smack in the middle of the backyard, with no fence or any other safe enclosure. I knew that I'd never be able to sleep at night thinking that one of my babies could just toddle head-first into that gaping abyss. I'd heard all the statistics of children drowning in their own homes. Nope, no way would I buy this house. I didn't care how perfect it was.

If you think you know where this story is going, well, you might just be wrong. Two days later, we made an offer on that house. Two months later, we moved in. What changed my mind? When did I decide to become a homeowner with a pool?

What happened was that I started to educate myself on the responsibilities of pool ownership. First and foremost, safety was paramount. We decided to completely enclose the pool on all four sides and install a self-closing gate. And we did just that – the day we took possession of the house. Now that the pool was safely enclosed, it was a heck of a lot safer.

But we didn't stop there. We also made sure to enroll our children in swimming lessons, and taught them never, never, never to go into the pool area without an adult. Three years later, they still respect that rule and observe all of our other safety rules as well (no running, no pushing, and absolutely NO swimming without an adult present at all times).

But even then I wonder, is that enough? What if they fall into the pool with their clothes on? What if one day, they decide to disobey me and go in without an adult present?

Luckily that has never come up, but I recently had a chance to chat with the folks at the Lifesaving Society about this very topic. They have a great program called Swim to Survive that helps teach both children and adults the very skills they need to survive an unexpected fall into the water. (You can read all about it in "Swim to survive" here on Primacy Life.) That's a course my entire family is going to be taking so we can make sure it won't happen to us.

Still, there are no guarantees in life. All we can do is take the right safety precautions to keep our children (and ourselves) safe around water. I don't for one minute regret our decision to buy this house with a pool. We've spent the past three years splashing, laughing and making the most of our summer in our backyard pool.

I've already told my husband I'll never buy a house without a pool again!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.