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     When a client brought a mermaid tail to her daughter’s riverside portrait session in Hunt last summer, photographer Bella Shearhart was hooked.

Taking the plunge
Water safety tips for small swimmers

Our summer vacation plans may be different this year, but at least we still have access to a seasonal staple: swimming pools! Kerrville’s Olympic Pool is open and the Hill Country is blessed to have an abundance of swimming holes in addition to three indoor year-round pools. The water not only cools us, but it allows us to have fun, get a great workout and stay safe as we all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Pools and other bodies of water, though, must be used responsibly. The Red Cross has put together some lessons we should all learn before we dip our toes in the water.

Why is water safety so important?

It only takes a moment. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line or apply sunscreen.

What does it mean to be water competent?

Water competency is a way of improving water safety for yourself and those around you through avoiding common dangers, developing fundamental water safety skills to make you safer in and around the water, and knowing how to prevent and respond to drowning emergencies. Water competency has three main components: water smarts, swimming skills and helping others.

Water Smarts

Take these sensible precautions when you’re around water (even if you’re not planning to swim):

  • Know your limitations, including physical fitness, medical conditions.
  • Never swim alone; swim with lifeguards and/or water watchers present.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket appropriate for your weight and size and the water activity. Always wear a life jacket while boating, regardless of swimming skill.
  • Swim sober.
  • Understand the dangers of hyperventilation and hypoxic blackout.
  • Know how to call for help.
  • Understand and adjust for the unique risks of the water environment you are in, such as river currents, ocean rip currents, water temperature, shallow or unclear water, and underwater hazards, such as vegetation and animals.

Swimming Skills

Learn how to perform these five skills in every type of water environment that you may encounter (pools, oceans, lakes, rivers and streams):

  • Enter water that’s over your head, then return to the surface.
  • Float or tread water for at least 1 minute.
  • Turn over and turn around in the water.
  • Swim at least 25 yards.
  • Exit the water.

Helping Others

These actions will help your family avoid emergencies – and help you respond if an emergency occurs:

  • Paying close attention to children or weak swimmers you are supervising in or near water.
  • Knowing the signs that someone is drowning.
  • Knowing ways to safely assist a drowning person, such as “reach or throw, don’t go.”
  • Knowing CPR and first aid.

Am I safe from COVID-19 while I'm in the water?

According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through recreational water. However, it is important to limit close contact with people outside of your home when visiting public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds, as well as natural bodies of water — like beaches and lakes — to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Can I get a good workout in the water?

Yes! Exercising in water makes you feel about 90% lighter, reports the American Council on Exercise. When you jump or run in the water, your body does not experience the same impact that these moves cause on land.

This makes water aerobics an ideal activity for those with arthritis, back problems, foot or leg injuries, knee conditions, as well as pregnant women and those who are obese. When exercising in water, you work against 12 times the resistance of air. Simply kicking and cupping the water helps contribute to muscle development, which translates into a higher metabolism and healthier body.

Why are swim lessons important?

According to the YMCA, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years old. And, the problem is particularly acute among minority communities. Swim lessons not only teach a child the traditional swim strokes, but how to respect the water, be safe in the pool, and what to do if they if they get scared or need to call for help.

Celebrating safely
How to make the birthday boy or girl feel special while social distancing

A birthday celebration for your child amid the COVID-19 crisis can be as exciting as your imagination. It can be anything you want to make it, but it will be held at home and limited to immediate family members. And, with today’s modern communication programs such as Zoom, other family members and friends will still be able to participate.

Some might feel that celebrating anything at all is a bit insensitive during a pandemic. Others disagree, saying they feel it’s important to still celebrate birthdays at this time. Normal lives seem to have vanished and, therefore, many feel it’s important to retain any possible shred of normalcy to remind us that there are still some pleasant activities in which to participate.

Psychologists agree that, in particular, children need to feel connected to their family and community. Birthday celebrations help to remind them that they still have people who care about them. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation.

Kerrville Psychologist Carolyn Osborn, MEd, LPC, has these thoughts to add about why celebrations for not only children but adults are so important, and particularly in these difficult times: “All humans have a basic need for love, belonging and deep connection, and it is important for mental health. We need to be a part of a family, a clan, a tribe, and this need persists our entire lives. Celebrating a birthday as well as an anniversary, graduation, new job, promotion, etc., is a wonderful way to let friends and family members know they are cared for and appreciated.

Big celebrations are nice, but cards, phone calls, Facebook posts, Facetime, Zoom or other smaller gestures are very welcome, too. That old slogan ‘Reach out and touch someone’ is always appropriate.”

Where to start?

A lot depends on the age and preferences of the child. A celebration for a toddler will not be as elaborate as that for an older child. Decide what the child’s favorite toys, food, TV programs, and books are, then create a celebration to incorporate some of these things.

You could begin by leaving some balloons in your child’s room at night so that they will be seen as soon as the child wakes up in the morning. Then, bring the toddler into the kitchen, where you can have some other simple decorations and talk about the day’s importance while eating breakfast.

In the afternoon, before or after nap time, you could schedule a Zoom session with relatives who want to express their birthday wishes, and allow the honoree to open presents at that time. Then, the candles on the birthday cake can be blown out and cake can be served. Hopefully, the other friends and relatives on Zoom will have some kind of cake, also, to join in the celebration.

Indoor treasure hunt

An old custom that is still meaningful is to ask friends and relatives to send birthday cards to the honoree a few days in advance of the party. Then you can hide the cards in various places around the house and make a treasure map to help the birthday boy or girl find them. Then family members can sit down, open the cards, and read them.

After the party, you may want to tape all the cards to a closet door in the child’s room so they can be viewed indefinitely.

A festive feeling

One mother said, “My daughter won’t remember her pandemic birthday party, and she doesn’t know what a pandemic is, but the experts I spoke with agree older children celebrating a birthday will probably be disappointed their plans have changed, on top of the sadness they may be experiencing from missing school and friends. This is all the more reason to make the day special, while also explaining to them that loved ones are staying home to stay safe and healthy.”

Sweetening the deal

We all try so hard to make a beautiful cake, but sometimes that is not possible. Depending on the birthday honoree’s age, let him or her help make the cake. It may not be an award winner, but the truth is most kids are happy with anything covered in frosting. Be sure to buy all kinds of fun decorations and let your child express his or her own creativity.

Types of parties

There are so many types of parties you can have at home, depending on the age and interests of the birthday boy or girl.

  • Western Party — Grill burgers and have a dinner with all the trimmings – baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw, peach cobbler. Play some country music, and if anyone in the family plays guitar, have a singalong outside. Try to identify the constellations in the sky at night. Then, go inside and watch an old Gene Autry or Roy Rogers movie on YouTube.
  • Pool Party — In warm weather, if you have a pool, have water races for older children. If no pool is available, fill a kiddie pool with water and help toddlers and others enjoy splashing in the water. Enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner outside, also savoring second helpings of the birthday cake served earlier in the day.
  • Backyard Camping — Weather permitting, set up a tent, start a bonfire, roast s’mores and enjoy camping food. After dark, tell ghost stories or sing campfire songs.
  • Movie Night — Hunker down in the evening as a family to watch a favorite movie chosen by the birthday boy or girl.

In planning your child’s birthday celebration, consider the core components for both parent and child.

“What makes birthdays special is that the child is the center of attention,” said one clinical psychologist, who is also a mother. “This feels good for kids when there is a lot of distraction around them. Amid the stress of a global pandemic, it’s worth considering what modern kids need. But this doesn’t mean you should count out parents’ desires. Plan food and activities that the entire family will enjoy.”