Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kids get away

If you have not been hiding under a rock, you have heard about the unfortunate incident at the Cincinnati zoo where a 4-year-old boy made his way into the gorilla enclosure, fell 15 feet and was tossed and displayed by a large silverback gorilla that had to be shot and killed. The story has layers: the child supposedly taunted his mom before making his break, other people were trying to stop him, the silverback seemed protective at first, the female gorillas left the exhibit but the male wouldn't, the crowd went frantic, the child was being flung around by the male.

And the chorus of haters immediately surfaced:

  • mom must have been negligent
  • she should have been watching the child/holding on to him the entire time
  • she should have jumped in and saved him from the gorillas
  • the gorilla should have been lured away with treats
  • the gorilla should have been tranquilized
  • ten minutes of response time is much too long
  • parents should be sued by the zoo
  • parents should sue the zoo
  • gorillas don't belong in zoos
  • the enclosure should have been higher
I am feeling sick to my stomach. Sometimes really horrible things happen, and there is nobody to blame. Sometimes it might be someone's fault, but what have been gained by pointing fingers? 

And my heart goes out to that mom in the spotlight.

I have written before about parents who claim that their children would never do that. I am impressed by the amount of parents who are confident that they are fully aware of all their children's whereabouts at all times. So in the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, I will share my stories of children getting away.

My second child, 10 yo, was always a runner. Since he learned how to walk, he didn't walk, he ran. Once I took him and his brother to the zoo. He was still 3, so I brought a stroller for him, where he sat most of the time. At that zoo, the primate area was a giant loop, with one entrance/exit and exhibits off to the sides. The boys kept asking me to pick them up so they could see the monkeys. I must have been lifting them up and down for a while, alternating. At some point, they went ahead and I was catching up, with a stroller. I didn't even have texting on the phone, so no, I was not doing anything else, just following after the boys. It was getting close to lunchtime and I had to teach right after, so I was anxious to leave the area, feed them, and head back. I turned the corner and my oldest, 5 at the time, was there, but no sight of 3-year-old. I assumed he walked ahead, after all, this is a loop, so he must be at the next exhibit. I am following them, I am hoisting them up, he must have gone ahead to the orangutans where he can see without being picked up. I drag my oldest along, but 3 year old is not to be found. I come to the exit and freak out: now he could have gone into the rest of the zoo, or back into the exhibit, or I somehow missed him. I knew he was a runner, so I was staying right there, close behind, with him in the stroller. Where is he? I drag 5 year old back with me, looking closely. He protests, he cannot see any animals like this. I circle back the entire exhibit and fully panic now. He must have exited and gone into the zoo. And he's three. And I have no idea where to look for him. And I have to teach soon. What am I going to tell the school, that I am late because I lost a child at the zoo?!

Waves of gut-wrenching panic sweep over me. I find a zookeeper and tell him that I am missing a child. I remember what he was wearing (back in the day I used to get my boys dressed in bright orange or red shirts, because I knew one is a runner). He pages the rest of the zookeepers and tells them to scan for a small boy. Meanwhile, he wants to head back to the primates where we started, to look again. 

I have no pride left, just a tense ball of nerves. I am dragging my other child who is complaining and complaining. As we enter the loop yet again. the keeper gets the page that my son was found. It was wintertime during school hours, the zoo was not busy. He was spotted sitting at the table not far from the cafe area. I ran, stroller and dragged 5 year old in my wake. The boy is sitting there, unperturbed. "I was waiting to have lunch, mommy".

At least we did not make the evening news. At least he was not curious to see what the orangutan was having for lunch.

I asked him about that incident now and he did not remember it. But it still quickens my pulse just to think of it.

And another time, when we were in Costco and he and his younger sisters got away and hid in the canoes. I also looked and looked, this time for two kids. Again, swallow your pride, ask for assistance. But Costco does not do loudspeaker announcements, so I get to die again, as each associate is paged separately. My son did remember that incident. He said that the canoes looked cool and he just wanted to see what the inside of one was like, and then they crawled inside and hid not to be kidnapped...

And multiple times, in stores, when I turned around and he was gone...

It is different with my other kids.  If they get lost, it is because they got separated. They will stand there, they will not escape. My current3-year-oldd does not wander off. But I am not bold enough to declare that it will never happen because I am so vigilant.

So let's drop finger-pointing and posturing, and share your stories of kids who got away. It does not make you a bad parent, it makes you an honest one.

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