By Heather Sophr
Last month, while standing outside of my daughter's kindergarten classroom, I bent over to zip up her backpack. In those few seconds, I lost my 2-year-old son, James. In front of the watchful eyes of all the parents in my daughter's class, James managed to disappear without anyone seeing where he went. He had been right next to me, and then he wasn't. I immediately started calling out for him, running around the area outside the classroom. I looked at the playground -- he'd just told me he wanted to go on the slide -- but he wasn't there. I feared that he might have managed to slip past the gate attendant and could be running into the busy street that surrounds the school. As I and the other parents in my daughter's class searched, the teacher from the classroom next door walked out of her room, holding my son's hand. He'd ran into her room and sat down at a desk, ready to learn.
The news of a 4-year-old boy falling into the Gorilla Pit at the Cincinnati Zoo is horrifying. A beautiful, endangered silverback gorilla had to be killed to save the child, which is an absolute tragedy. But the situation is also horrifying because of how easily it could have happened to any of us. I know, you're going to tell me that you constantly watch your child, your child is well-behaved, your child would never do something so ridiculous. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, we must admit that it is impossible to watch a child 100% of the time -- and this is especially true if you have more than one child.
However, many do not agree. People on social media have called for the child's mother to be arrested. There have been death threats leveled against her. Some people have even said that she deserved to have her child die because she is clearly a negligent parent. There are eyewitness accounts that refute this, but an oversized portion of the blame is still being thrown at the mother. It's terribly unfair.
Four-year-olds are unpredictable, curious little beings. They have big dreams and imaginations, and little regard for danger and their own safety. Some eyewitnesses reportedly heard the boy say that he wanted to go in the gorilla pit and the mom told him, "No, you can't do that." I'm sure she never thought he'd actually go in. My daughter used to express all sorts of crazy desires, but I never thought she'd act on them. If she had, I'd hope the parents around us would have reacted with empathy, not pitchforks.
It's so hard to be a parent these days. If we keep our children close, on literal leashes, we're called helicopter parents. We're told to relax and let them be kids. But the second we let our children go and they do something wrong, we're accused of being negligent. I used to keep my son in a stroller when we'd drop my daughter off at school. He'd struggle and cry and beg to be let out, and I'd have parents tell me, "Just let him walk around!" I'm sure those same parents thought I was a bad mom when my son ran into that other classroom. But I was lucky, my son was okay. No one and nothing else got hurt because of something that happened in the blink of an eye. So many people seem to forget that children, no matter how well we've taught them, still make their own decisions, for better or for worse.
So let's all just take a deep breath and remember that kids are curious and impulsive and everyone is doing the best they can, and none of us have room to judge because we have ALL just been lucky.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Cincinnati Zoo
This piece was originally published by Heather Sophr on Mommy Nearest. Heather Spohr is a born and raised Angeleno and the Los Angeles editor of Mommy Nearest. When she isn't teaching her son and daughter to appreciate everything this great city has to offer, Heather can be found writing all over the internet, including her personal site, The Spohrs Are Multiplying.