When I was a teenager, my friends and I were frequent visitors of Disneyland….one of the beautiful things about growing up in Southern California – we LOVED that place. We knew the layout of the park perfectly – when to zig left when most visitors zagged right, when to head straight for the back of the park and the absolute best time to jump in line for Space Mountain (this was pre-Fast Pass, folks!).
It was during those visits that we, know-it-all-teens, began to notice what was then a new trend in parenting – the backpack or harness leash for small children. As well versed as we were in all-things child rearing, we were outspoken (with each other) about our future plans to never, ever, ever be THAT parent.
“I will never put my child on a leash….can you imagine?”
Fast forward more than fifteen years, give me the benefit of experience and I found my perspective had shifted. While I never had a ‘runner’ as a child, (and therefore never did have a leash) I had plenty of friends whose children’s life work was to wriggle their hands free of their parents and dart….through parks, grocery stores, parking lots, zoos and yes, Disneyland.
Hence, the leash.
I’m confident the parent who invented the child-leash had a runner.
Note: it is also incredibly easy to judge the parent of a runner until you a) ARE a parent of a runner or b) have a friend or family member who has a child who runs – just for the fun of it. It isn’t, in fact, poor parenting. It is temperament and personality.
Much like Delaney walked just after twelve months and Cooper? Well, he crawled at five and was walking by seven. He was born wanting to catch his big sister. That Cooper? He wasn’t a runner, but he was a climber. Our pediatrician told me she was confident I was going to come down stairs one day and find him on top of the refrigerator. Fortunately, that never happened.
Otherwise, you’d be adding that to the list of things that happened on my watch.
Like that time, seven years ago, that I lost my daughter at the zoo. One minute she was right in front of me, staring at the hippos through the glass in a brand new and very crowded exhibit, and the next she was gone.
I thought my husband had her.
He thought I had her.
The truth is, she was ‘LOST’ for about four minutes, but it was an eternal four minutes. A period of time, that even remembering it now, makes it difficult to breath. I was yelling her name. But it’s a ZOO. It is loud. Parents are barking at their kids. Kids are clamoring to see the hippos, to be picked up for a better view, to go inside the tank for a quick swim with the animals, to get a drink, to move on to the elephants, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.
But I needed to find my girl. I couldn’t see past the people, and I was panicked.
You know how I found her? The moment a man lifted her over his head and said, ‘anybody lose a kid?’
Yes. Yes, I did. We did.
Lost and found.
The relief I felt then and now as I think about it still pinches my heart, making it hard for me to grab a full breath.
You see, it happened on my watch.
And when it did, for some reason, I felt comfortable enough sharing it right here on line. I admitted that I lost my girl, that I felt terrible, I was embarrassed and sad. Sure, my post wasn’t flooded with hundreds of comments, but the people who DID reply ALL said the same thing.
Danielle, I’ve done it, too.
Danielle, I’m relieved for you.
Danielle, you aren’t a bad mom.
You know what that is? Empathy. Support. Community. Understanding.
I figure you know where I’m going with all of this, right? You would have to live on another planet to have missed that a toddler fell in to the Gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo in the last week, and as a result, the Zoo made the gut wrenching decision to take the gorilla, Harambe, down, in order to guarantee they could save the child’s life.
There is no doubt in my mind this situation is tragic on so many levels, but I am astonished at the vitriol being leveled at the mother and her family. Not only is the internet suddenly chock full of parenting and gorilla experts, but the pure hatred, the toxicity, the MEMES being created at the expense of a mother who almost lost her child.
Let’s be clear, the loss of a beautiful, endangered creature is incredibly sad. And I certainly understand there are people who believe zoos shouldn’t exist to begin with and that animals have no place in captivity. Fine. If either of those groups had their way, this tragic accident would never have happened.
But zoos do exist. And families do go.
This was an accident.
No, the mother doesn’t have too many children because the internet suddenly thinks four is too many for a mother and/or family.
No, she wasn’t being neglectful, she took her children to the zoo on a holiday weekend for heaven’s sake.
Yes, sometimes we, as mothers, as parents, turn our attention from one child to the other when they speak to us. It doesn’t make us bad parents.
Yes, I do trust that the officials at the zoo would have done anything to keep Harambe alive and that the actions they took were made because they felt they had no choice. They chose the child’s life…they determined he was in danger.
I honestly do not know a parent who cannot give you a heart-stopping-there-by-the-grace-of-god-my-child-is-safe-moment. I have friends who have lost children in stores, the beach, their own neighborhood, whose children have touched stoves, have nearly drowned while at parties full of friends and family and so many other accidents.
When did we start collectively assuming the worst and demanding someone be to blame?
Because there was an accident…a terrible one, must the court of the internet, 99.999999% or whom were a) not there, b) have never been to the Cincinnati Zoo c) are most definitely not experts in Silverback Gorillas determine who is at fault, attach our names to cruel words and start and/or sign petitions to levy responsibility?
Do we sleep better at night having posted on Facebook (or Twitter or on a comment on a blog post) that a mother who had do endure the pure terror of seeing her toddler dragged around by a 400 pound gorilla DESERVED that fear, DESERVED to possibly watch her child die because it was her own fault, and by god, that gorilla was a better mother than she?
Is this where we really are?
Not empathy? Not compassion? Not any understanding.
There will be those who say, but wait…I DO have compassion – for Harambe.
Again, while I am definitely sorry this tragic accident ended as it did, and I wish there was a way both the child and Harambe could have been saved, I cannot embrace the lack of humanity I have witnessed for this family, this mother, this child – in the name of Harambe.
My Golden Rule will always lead me back to this….how would I hope and pray others would treat me?
As they did seven years ago when it did happen on my watch, when I did lose my daughter and I was, thank god, saved from any kind of tragic consequence.