By Jenna DeVito-Roisum
Mason Alexander Roisum was born into this world on September 7, 2006. This was the first of the two happiest days of my life. (The second being the birth of my daughter). My husband and I learned we were pregnant with Mason on January 1st of that same year. I fell in love immediately. That love deepened the moment he was placed in my arms, and grew every day thereafter. As a Mom I never knew I could love someone so deeply. I didn’t think it was possible to fall more in love than I already had. Yet, everyday that is exactly what happened. I loved him more than the day before. I often say that one of the greatest gifts Mason gave me was learning how deep love can be. My daughter, Avery, taught me that love grows exponentially; it does not divide, as I feared it would. I am privileged to be their mother. I felt that from the moment of conception – being a mother is an honor, a gift, and I am blessed to have these little spirits in my life.
Mason had only a layer of bleach blond fuzz on top of his perfect little head. His hair did not start growing in until he was about 18 months old – and then it stuck straight up. But it was perfectly him. He was an amazing little boy; so smart, funny, fun loving, our little scientist – but what people noticed most about him; the comment we always received (after “Look at that hair!”) was “He is so gentle.”
And he was such a gentle, gentle spirit. He was a quiet observer. He liked to see what was going on, get a feel for things – then he’d participate. At the playground he preferred to look at bugs, find acorns or feed the ducks rather than run around. He was a little monkey, though– climbing up on the couch long before he could walk. He loved to climb. And he always had his truck and his big stuffed chicken – Dee Dee. He had his favorite songs that would cause him to break out in a silly, robotic-looking dance (he had his dads rhythm, hehe), his favorite color (yellow) and his absolute best buddie in the entire world – his dog, Otis. The two were inseparable. He adored his little sister and loved to help out with her care when he could. He always seemed older than his age. We had to remind ourselves that he was only two – because we’d forget (until he’d have a tantrum or do something a ‘typical’ two year old would do). He just seemed wise beyond his years; an old, old soul.
March 27, 2009 was a typical spring day in Florida. The air was warming up, the weather was beautiful, sunny. I kissed my son goodbye at 1:12 pm. When I returned home from work at 5:30pm, there were Sheriffs cruisers in front of our house. My world turned upside down. In a split second, everything had changed. The boys were playing outside while the baby slept. When she woke up they headed inside, but my husband forgot to close the door. Without warning, my son followed the dog back outside, and investigators believe he tried imitating the dog getting a drink from the partially inset above-ground pool. I had not yet ordered the gate – it was on top of my “to-do” list, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I thought – we have an above-ground pool, no ladder – we don’t leave him alone outside, he’s afraid of the big pool – we are always right here. It was a priority – but not an urgency. I didn’t realize a child could drown so quickly. I never imagined that my little boy would pull himself up and lean over into the pool – a pool he was afraid of. I just never thought this would happen to us.
I knew then, that at some point, I was going to educate as many people as I could on drowning prevention and how quickly drownings can happen. But most importantly, I want to educate the community on how to make our children safer in and near the water. Since Mason’s drowning, it has been my mission to teach as many people about water safety as I can. I have joined our local Water Safety Committee http://flsafepools.com/ I have started the annual “Masons Walk for Drowning Prevention” – a fundraising event whose purpose is two-fold: to educate the community on water safety and drowning prevention as well as to raise money for a local non-profit that pays for underprivileged children to take swim lessons. I have also become a certified swim instructor and plan to start my own infant/toddler aquatics program in my area.
I am a firm believer in child-centered swim lessons. My daughter, who is now 2-1/2 (the age Mason was when he drowned) has been swimming since she could walk. I do not believe in fearing the water, but rather in respecting the water. And this is what I strive to teach people now. I am a firm believer in layers of protection – the more you have the better will be.
On the second anniversary of Mason’s death, I put together a walk-a-thon fundraiser – Mason’s Walk for Drowning Prevention. I assembled safety packets for all of our participants and asked that they share the information they learn about water safety with others. All of the money raised went to benefit The Katelyn Foundation – a local non-profit foundation dedicated to child safety. Their primary function is offering free swim lessons to underprivileged children in several neighboring counties. We were able to raise enough money to pay for approximately 135 children to take swim lessons. I also recently became certified as a water safety instructor (WSI) and look forward to teaching young children this enjoyable, healthy and potentially life-saving skill.
A child can drown in as little as 20 seconds. Mason wasn’t in the pool very long. He was in the pool only a minute and a half, at most. I have always been very safety conscious – but the most dangerous item in our household was left unsecured – though we didn’t think so at that time. I do not want people to fear the water, but rather I want people to respect the water. I do not want any other parent, grandparent or caregiver to ever have to feel the pain of losing a child to a preventable death. Layers of protection are vital, because even the most diligent, attentive parent cannot watch a child 24/7. Our brains are not wired to do so and often we tend to “space out” or get distracted. We are, afterall, only human- and it only takes a moment for a toddler to slip out of sight.
A piece of my heart is missing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my beautiful little boy. My husband and I were changed instantly and dramatically that day. There is no going back to the people we were. I smile, I laugh, I treasure my daughter even more than before, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be as carefree and happy as I was before Mason drowned. My daughter is beautiful, happy, and I am lucky to have her in my life. It is difficult to write this story, but but I want people to know that layers of protection are a must. It only takes a heartbeat for your life to change irrevocably, irreversibly – forever. I share Mason’s story because it could save another child’s life, and I do not want any other family to have to go through a tragic event like this. Drowning IS preventable.