Have you ever been in a position where your child has done something stupid?
Oh, you haven’t? You must not have kids then.
Every child does something stupid. They run into the road, they step in a huge puddle right before the school bus comes, they grab onto the garage door as it opens and accidentally ride it as it goes up, terrified because they can’t let go and they’re really high. They fall off swings, they fall into pools, they fall down stairs. They don’t always listen. Most of the time, we grab them before something really bad happens. Sometimes you have to go to the ER. If you’re really lucky, you scrape through childhood with a cast or two and maybe a few stitches.
Why do children do stupid things? Because their brain is not fully developed. And parents can tell them over and over not to do something because it’s dangerous, but their lack of impulse control and overwhelming curiosity can trump their listening skills, and they do it anyway…just to see what will happen. Most of the time the consequence is not dire. This time, at the Cincinnati zoo, for this child, it could have been.
Personally, I hate zoos. I don’t like seeing animals in captivity. I don’t like the chaos that ensues when I bring my three children without another adult, because they all seem to want to see different things at different times. (We almost never go to the zoo.) And PS? When I taught elementary school and had to take 100 kids to the zoo, that was horrible. I was counting heads all day…even with all the chaperones. Zoos are not easy outings. There are lots of areas for kids to get lost. Lots of moments that can turn into accidents.
This child fell into the gorilla enclosure. Maybe he didn’t listen to his mom. Maybe his mom should’ve pulled him away from the edge. Maybe his mom should’ve left the exhibit if he’d started to get rambunctious. Maybe his mom thought this would be like every other time, and “he’d probably be fine.”
How many times a day do you say this to yourself as a parent??
If you didn’t, how would you survive parenthood??
So she probably thought he’d be fine. She probably thought, there’s no way he’ll go over the edge.
But then he did. And the nightmare began for everyone.
Should she have watched him better? Probably. But this was a horrible, tragic, awful accident. It’s devastating that it ended the way it did. But can we please stop crucifying this mother? People are saying things like, “she shouldn’t have taken her eyes off kid, even for a second!” or, “she shouldn’t have let go of his hand!” but these things are completely unrealistic. Other people are blaming her mercilessly and suggesting that she should be arrested, prosecuted, and even that her kids should be taken from her!
To all of you super judgers, you don’t know what you would do until you’re in it. And hopefully you never are. But the really crazy thing is, we don’t even know what really happened!
Some people, who saw the incident, explained: ” the boy climbed over a 3-foot-tall fence and went through bushes that separate visitors from the moat. The boy fell down into the shallow water, about 15 feet below, according to a police report.”
It seems pretty clear from various news sources that the enclosure wasn’t super tight. However, every article I researched about this incident claimed different facts about what happened right before the child fell in. For instance, in some stories, he’s three. In others, he’s four. (big developmental difference!!) In some stories he told his mom he wanted to meet Harambe. In other stories, he hid under the bushes and then fell in. In some stories, she yelled at him and then was distracted by her other children. In other stories, she was taking a photo on her phone. There is no singular story of how this happened. And yet, everyone seems ready to condemn her…but they don’t even know the facts. Shameful. Just stop it. It’s disgraceful.
Here’s something else. If you don’t have kids, or if you haven’t ever been responsible for multiple young children, you don’t get to say that this mother wasn’t watching her child or that she should’ve done something differently. Not only were you not there, but you don’t know what you would do, and you’ve never been in a similar situation, so you can’t even imagine.
Do I believe that kids should have boundaries? Absolutely. Kids should have rules. Kids should respect those rules. But sometimes, our best laid plans don’t work out. And there are sometimes really awful consequences.
Now, I want to make one thing clear. It is horrible that Harambe was killed. Especially because he had no control over the situation. He didn’t choose to be born into captivity. He didn’t escape and start acting aggressive. There was an accident. People got scared and he was killed. It’s a horrible, tragic story that we all wish had a different ending. There is no disputing that. I wish people hadn’t gotten so angry and loud. Maybe Harambe would’ve stayed calm. But, I have no idea what I would have done in that situation, and I imagine it was next to impossible not to start screaming and feel terrified when your child was in a gorilla enclosure.
I’ll leave you with this. If you think this has never happened before, that’s not true either. “This isn’t the first time a child has fallen into a gorilla enclosure. But when a 3-year-old child fell into the den at Illinois’ Brookfield Zoo in 1996, the story had a very different ending. The female gorilla Binti Jua gently cradled the child and eventually carried him over to paramedics.”
This has happened before. It just had a better ending that time. But it kind of makes you wonder why it’s so easy to get into gorilla exhibits, doesn’t it?