Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cincinnati Zoo takeaway

So unless you've been living under a rock lately (in which case, I envy you), you already know that recently, a highly endangered silverback gorilla was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo because a 3 year old managed to clamber into the enclosure. While the two female gorillas in the exhibit responded to their handlers and left the exhibit, the male did not and actually interacted with the child. The zoo determined the safest course of action for the child was unfortunately to kill the gorilla, who was behaving in a way consistent with his sex and species. It is a sad, tragic loss.

But none of this is news. Social media is awash in verbal diarrhea about how the zoo is at fault and the parents are horrible and they should have done X or they should have done Y and why didn't the parents do Z and the mother is a terrible person and blah blah blah.

Blah blah blah.

It has amazes me how many people are simultaneously parenting experts and gorilla behaviour experts who know exactly what the parents did wrong and know exactly what the zoo should have done. How many people just "know" from a short video clip or the many varied and conflicting witness statements exactly what happened.



I'm not going to go into whether the zoo did the right thing or had the right enclosure. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I'm not an expert on gorilla behaviour and I am not an expert on safety standards. Maybe the enclosure was safe and the kid got "lucky" getting in - maybe it wasn't and we had just previously been lucky that more kids hadn't fallen in. I don't know. I'll leave that to people who know more about zoos than me.

I'm also not going to go into whether the parents weren't paying enough attention or whether they were, whether they should have jumped in after their kid or whether or not they tried to. I wasn't there, I don't know. Some witnesses say they were and some say they weren't. It's been said the police are investigating and I don't know if that's true, but regardless, I do not and will not have enough information to know if they were neglectful or not. I don't think it's clear cut enough for me to know.

But here's what I do know: It could happen to any parent. I have been accused of being overprotective and a helicopter parent, that I need to loosen up with my kids and let them take some risks, that I can't protect them from everything. But it could happen to me.

It could happen to me, because kids are fast. Small kids have no sense of self preservation. My son is going to be 3 shortly, and he does not understand what is dangerous. I hold his hand whenever we're outside, but he has wrenched his hand out of mine and taken off. He's never been hurt, but he's done it. My older daughter has held on to me when we're out, but she's let go and I haven't noticed because you get distracted by the other kid or you think she's holding on but it's the weight of your keys in your pocket. My son has climbed up things before I've caught up to him. He has grabbed things out of areas I didn't even know he'd learned to reach - and probably hadn't before he grabbed them. In his stroller, he's unbuckled himself and shot out of the stroller before I could even process he'd messed with the buckle. He's run towards the street when cars are coming. I've caught him (and cried hysterically after it was over) but he's done it. If he had the chance to run off at the zoo, I don't doubt that he'd try.

It could happen to me, because my son has no concept of heights. He doesn't understand that jumping off things means he could get hurt, or gods forbid, worse.When he was in diapers he tried to fling himself off the changing table. He's tried to leap off of my (high) bed. I doubt he'd think twice about leaping off a high barrier like that little boy in Cincinatti.

It could happen to me, because my son doesn't listen to "no" when he has his sights set on something. He understands what no means, but like many small children, it's a crap shoot whether he decides to listen. When he gets older, he'll listen more. My daughter certainly got better at listening to Mommy and Daddy when she grew. But right now? There is no way to say no when he wants to do something. You can distract him, redirect him, physically restrain him, but "no" isn't something he's decided he has to listen to yet. If I were in that zoo and he broke away, I could be running behind him screaming "No! Stop!" and he'd laugh, because to him, it would be a game. If he got to that barrier before I did. he might have slipped in too.

It could happen to me, because sometimes good kids do bad things that good parents can't save them from in time. Sometimes that misbehaviour has tragic consequences, as it did here. Toddlers have fallen out of windows, they have run into the street, they have jumped off things and gotten badly hurt. It happens to good parents who do the best they can to watch at every moment, it happens to people who worry, and it happens to people who are too confident to worry. We would like to believe it only happens to bad parents who aren't watching, but the truth is, it happens to good ones too. We can't be overconfident and assume we're too good for it to happen to us. Kids are humbling, and teach us every day that they can get hurt even when we think we're watching carefully.

I don't know if the Cincinatti parents are good parents or not. I don't know if the supposed criminal history has any relevance for their parenting. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Maybe they were paying attention and maybe they weren't. But I know I am a good mom who does her best, and I know it could have happened to me, to my kids - so the only thing I'm doing tonight is hugging my kids and being grateful that today, I was good enough at protecting my children. Today, I was faster than my 2 year old. Today, it didn't happen to me.

Rest in peace, Harambe. In the end, it's you who paid the price.

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