We can all agree it was horrendous. From the perspective of knowing a beautiful, endangered creature was killed. And watching a small child be flung around like a toy, possibly about to be crushed in front of zoo visitors and his own mother.
Apparently, we can’t all agree that our kids sometimes are kids and climb over fences they aren’t supposed to. And sometimes parents are parents and don’t see when they do.
And yet, here we are: People are threatening the mother of this child, have started a change.org petition to have Child Protective Services look into her home life, are bashing her everywhere they can.
Majestic Harambe is dead, and now so is some of our humanity.
I wasn’t planning to write about Harambe and the 3-year-old child who fell into his domain. And that’s because I didn’t want to offer up yet another place to host the dark world that I know so well now as the editor of On Parenting: the commenting, judging perfect people. I wasn’t planning to write because anything I say here isn’t going to change one of those dark minds or make that lonely person anonymously typing away go plant flowers or feed the homeless. Or to raise funds for silverback conservation.
But then I read the comments from Amanda O’Donoughue, explaining what she saw when she watched the video of Harambe and the little boy.
And my mind can’t stop going to that time I was an exhausted new mom and couldn’t find my newborn on the bed where I had just placed him. He was there, all helpless 8 pounds of him, right under the sheet I had unwittingly covered him with. Or that afternoon when my entire extended family lost my cousin’s young daughter at the beach. We all thought she was with someone else, she wandered off in the blink of an eye and got seriously lost. A kind group of teen girls found her. I remembered how my mother often told us that she walked off as a small child and went looking for her aunt’s house, wandering the streets of Pittsburgh before anyone realized she was missing. Or when my childhood best friend’s mom watched from the kitchen as her toddler dropped off a second floor deck to the ground below. I remember jumping off the ledge of our porch when I was small because I thought I could fly like Superman. I couldn’t get my breath for what seemed like hours and my mom only showed up after I was okay. Want some more? Okay. How about that time my younger son broke his arm in a bounce house while I stood outside of it talking to someone. A colleague lost her daughter at the zoo who walked out of a petting zoo pen when someone opened the gate. A dad whose preschool son wandered out of the house in the middle of the night, the terrible almost drowning of another writer’s child. Or that day I took my boys to the zoo with my mother-in-law who told me to look around, laughing. So many of the kids were climbing the railings along the sidewalk, grabbing tree branches, running away from their parents.
In other words, welcome to the world of being.
Sometimes that results in tragedy, but most of the time those mistakes go unnoticed, or they become something to laugh over at the Thanksgiving table. It used to be that’s where it went. Now, people can be outraged in public, but anonymously. They judge, they type up their anonymous thoughts, they demand that this horrified mother be sued, arrested, visited upon by CPS. Forget that their mistake might be the next one that everyone loves to hate.
The zoo incident is terrible for everyone, for everything. It’s terrible for that zoo keeper, the person who had to shoot. It’s terrible for the people who were standing nearby. The visitors who tried to grab the boy, but he slipped right through. It’s terrible for conservationists. It’s unbearable for this mother, heard on the video yelling to her son: “Mommy loves you! Stay calm!” as everyone around her screamed. As she screamed as she watched her 3-year-old look up at the giant gorilla who a zookeeper watched crush a coconut with one hand.
A mother took her kids to the zoo. She looked away. And then the world caved in on her.
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