About five years ago when Baby C was just a few months old he was chillin’ in his walker one night while I sat at the computer doing…something I don’t even remember. Probably answering blog comments or something. It’s not important. What is important is Baby C. And he was in his walker.
C navigated from the kitchen, where I was sitting, to the living room, and then to the steps. Now, had he not been in his walker this would have alarmed me because he was only a few months old and you just don’t give an infant access to the staircase without supervision. Everyone knows that’s just ludicrous. However, he was in his walker so I didn’t sweat it. Kids that can’t even walk, and can barely stand for that matter, can’t get out of their walkers, amiright?
Since I was absolutely positive he was absolutely safe absolutely, I turned my attention back to that thing I was doing that I can’t remember. Then, a few short seconds later, I heard THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP CRASH, then the sound of my sweet Baby C wailing the most horrific scream I’d ever heard escape his precious, miniature lungs.
I bolted from the table and raced to find C lying on top of his overturned walker at the base of the staircase. Somehow C had gotten out of his walker, climbed up some stairs, and then fell all the way back down.
Instinct took over. I quickly inspected the entirety of his itty-bitty body. I checked for broken bones, lacerations, swelling, etc. The worst thing I found on him was a red spot on the back of his head where he must have smacked it against something on his way down.
Once I was positive he had no serious injuries, I clutched him tightly to my chest and began to weep. I had done this. I had failed him. I had underestimated him and he had gotten hurt as a result. I was stricken with guilt.
In the end there were no visible marks to prove what had happened. No lasting consequences. The red spot faded after just a few minutes time. Inside, though, my heart was skinned and scabbed over. It felt like it had been chained to the back of a 4×4 and driven down a gravel road. It took me some time to get over an, in the end, extremely minor incident. Though it was a minor incident, it could have been much worse. The possibilities of what could have happened to him while tumbling down those stairs are endless, but by the grace of whatever deity you believe in the only permanent scar from that incident rests on the edge of my guilty heart.
I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t have a similar story. Not a one of us doesn’t have a story where our child(ren) got hurt because we weren’t as vigilant as parents as we should have been, yet the mother whose child sneaked through (not climbed over) a poorly constructed fence into a gorilla exhibit the other day is being raked over the internet’s virtual coals. I’ve read some vicious shit on Facebook today condemning that mother. She was negligent. She needs to be charged. Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Rage.
Puhlease. Calm the fuck down, internet. You’re giving yourself an ulcer.
Witnesses have said that the child made a dash for the fence before anyone could even react. That child was through a gap in the fence before anyone could catch up. Now, could the mother have done more to prevent this? Sure. She could have had the child strapped into a stroller or something. Does this mean she’s a horrible mother for not having her child strapped to a prison on wheels? Absolutely not.
Though I am prone to crises of confidence in my parenting ability, overall I think I’m a pretty damned good father. I’m, of course, far from perfect. I have my flaws, but my kids have, thus far, turned out pretty fantastic. Should my abilities as a father be judged based solely on that one incident? No, that would be stupid. Yes, I had a lapse in judgment, but that one lapse doesn’t define me as a father or negate all the good I’ve done for my children.
Likewise, this woman’s ability to care for her son shouldn’t be determined by this one incident. The only thing 99.9% of us know about this woman is that her 4-year-old got into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. That’s it. That is no basis for judging this woman as a mother (not that any of us has a right to judge her anyhow). Yes, her child got away from her. Yes, she could have done more to prevent it. No, she’s not a deadbeat or negligent mother. So let’s just pretend that this woman feels about the size of an ant inside, and is drowning in a growing pool of her own shame, because she probably is. I know I would be. Let’s also pretend that all the blowhards online calling for her to be arrested are making her feel even more guilt-ridden and ashamed, because they probably are.
How about instead of rage, compassion? Despite popular opinion, kicking someone while they’re down isn’t the most opportune time to do so. Frankly, we shouldn’t be kicking anyone at all.
While we’re on the subject of this horrible incident, let’s discuss a couple of other things…
That fence? It needs to be reconstructed. As an attraction mainly for kids, any zoo should be as safe as it possibly can be. A four-year-old should not be able to slip through a gap in the fence.
The day after the gorilla was put down there were protesters at the zoo. Animal rights activists were protesting the killing of the gorilla. While I understand their frustration, the fact remains that doing so likely saved that boy’s life. If those people would settle down and listen to the professionals (you know, the people who know the most about gorillas) then they might understand why the decision was made. For what it’s worth, I agree with the professionals. Not just because they’re experts, but because their logic actually, you know, makes sense. It’s tragic that it ended this way, but the right decision was made.
In the end, there is failure and blame littered all the way around this entire tragedy. How about, instead of tying anyone involved to a virtual stake and igniting them, we show a little sympathy for a mother who just lived through what was likely the most harrowing moments of her life? How about we take a moment to appreciate that the four-year-old was relatively unharmed during this ordeal? How about we realize that the zoo didn’t want to kill that gorilla, but instead did the unthinkable because it was the only sure way to save that child’s life? You know, show a little compassion for some folks who, despite having made the right decision, still live with the guilt of having made it. And then following through with it.
Put down your stones, internet. You need not cast them today.