Last week many amazing things that happened all across this planet of ours: war, famine and whatever poor choices the Kardashians were making on any given day.
None of this seemed to strike a chord with more Americans than when a preschooler bolted from his mother and tumbled into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Tragically, in order to ensure the safety of the small human in the grip of the 450-pound gorilla, zoo experts killed the gorilla.
I am an animal lover and my heart breaks for the loss of such a beautiful creature innocently doing what is in its very nature to do. That said, I know that sometimes inexplicable accidents happen.
The child survived, so in the midst of tragedy, there were some blessings too.
This being the age of the internet, however, most commentators, many who by their own admission had no knowledge of primate behavior beyond what they’ve seen in Disney movies, insisted they knew better than experts what should have been done.
Animal professionals faced with an excruciating decision without moments to spare and parents already reeling from the near death of their child were publicly condemned and subjected to death threats.
How civilized. Maybe the wrong species is being kept in cages? Critics.
As I waded through the vitriol against the parent of the little boy who was apparently the only preschooler in the history of time to ever momentarily run away from his mother, what struck me the most was a very well written opinion from a witness to the incident.
Who is at fault? The writer felt that the parents were not negligent, the child moved quickly, the mother was instantly calling for him in the crowd, and that it truly was just a tragic accident.
I know it’s a refreshing change of pace to actually set aside our own armchair quarterbacking in favor of listening to the account of SOMEONE WHO WAS ACTUALLY THERE.
I found it very helpful. Nonetheless, facts do not dissuade the mob mentality of internet typists bent on feeling superior.
Comments and threats kept pouring in. Was the child’s mother preoccupied? Did she have the navel-gazing negligence of her child of “all modern parents” who, we are told, are certainly taking the world to heck in a handbasket (just as every generation has inexplicably been doing according to the opinion of the previous one since at least the mid-1800s).
Was she somehow to BLAME? I don’t know her and I don’t know her situation but as a fellow parent let me say, probably yes, but then again, no.
In a perfect world, none of us would ever lose sight of our children for even a moment. They would go from birth to adulthood cosseted in a bubble of safety. I would sign up for this bubble!
In the bubble, they would never inexplicably decide to bolt into a busy parking lot while you were frantically trying to unclip the baby’s car seat from the shopping cart and chase them. They would not dart into clothing racks to play “hide and seek” until security was called for a missing child. They would not lick the dog, tumble down stairs or carry a scar like a badge proclaiming to all the world “my mother turned her back for 30 seconds once,” in a perfect world.
I have found that this is rarely how things actually work. I have written repeatedly of my son’s bottle scar. Our daughter, at age 4, choked on a nickel.
I lost my toddler in a pumpkin patch (far scarier than it sounds with crowds, corn and combines roaring about). I looked away from him for a split second, in order to assist another child who was crying at my feet. In the time it took me to scoop up another sobbing and bloody child, my own was gone.
This story ends happily of course. He was located nearby at the wagon stand by a sweet little white-haired lady who held his hand as I sprinted, near sobbing, to him.
It makes a cute story now but the truth is that I was a loving, attentive, adoring and quite frankly generally overprotective mother, and still I lost track of my child.
He’s 19 and whole and happy and quite high achieving which is the only reason I feel somewhat safe telling these stories today.
I feel for parents. The eyes of the world and criticism are upon you. You are scorned for being “Helicopter Parents” forever hovering and coddling.
At the same time, you are vilified for not lashing your children to your chest until they turn 21. I am not saying we shouldn’t all try our best and hold little hands and wriggling bodies a little tighter around gorilla cages.
When we know better, we do better. What I am saying is that my children are not whole and happy because I was more clever, more talented, or simply a better mother than someone else.
Everyone makes mistakes. The next time we feel moved to criticize, we would all do well to thank God and Guardian Angels and practice a little gratitude instead.
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