My social media news feed has blown up these past few weeks with buzz about two very sad accidents involving children. For those who haven’t been following the news, on May 28th, a child fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, resulting in an endangered silverback gorilla having to be shot and killed in order to rescue the child. (Read the news article and see the video on the incident here.) Similarly, on June 14th, a 2-year-old boy was snatched from a Disney resort lake by an alligator. Remains of the toddler were found the following day. (Read the news report here.) Both incidents immediately garnered national media attention.
After both occurrences, there was an unbelievable amount of criticism directed toward the parents. And although the parents in Orlando seemed to take less of a character beating (and why? Race? The fact that a child died? Alligators aren’t as cute as gorillas?) the death of the beloved gorilla, Harambe sparked intense controversy and spurred videos like this:
While it is regretful that the gorilla had to die to save this child’s life, I don’t think anybody should be blamed. It seems that when accidents happen there is always someone to point the finger and cry, “Neglect!” There were fingers pointing everywhere. The zoo didn’t have adequate barriers, the zoo should’ve used a tranquilizer, the parents should have been watching better. Some even placed blame on the child, calling him stupid (as you can see). Why is it so hard for us to accept that accidents can simply happen? That there doesn’t always have to be somebody to blame? And why do people suddenly put on that robe of self-righteous bullshit and claim that such an incident could never happen to them? Are we that naive as parents? Do we really think that we are perfect? Or are we jumping on wherever the public opinion wagon seems to be headed? Sure, there are neglectful parents out there. But is our society so jaded that we are more willing to believe that these sort of things happen due to inattention or malice?
According to the CDC, the total number of accidental injury deaths for a child between the ages of 1 and 4 totaled 4,068 in the year 2013. Of those 4,068 child deaths, would it be fair to assume that all of those deaths could have been prevented if a parent was just being a little more diligent? Or, is it possible that no matter how diligent we are, accidents can still happen?
With daily headlines like these:
“Father Arrested in Death of Infant Daughter Left in Hot Car”
“Parents Charged With Murder After The Accidental Drowning Death Of Their 2-Year-Old Daughter”
“4-Year-Old Iowa Boy Fatally Shoots Himself in Head in Accident with No Adult Supervision”
it’s quite easy to assume that any accidental child death can be tied to parental neglect. But, given these headlines and the way we are inundated with them on a daily basis, would it surprise you to know that according to the CDC, accidental child deaths have actually decreased nearly 30% in the last decade? (Although if you were to ask Google you’d think all accidental child deaths were gun-related. But that’s a story for a whole other blog post.) I think that indicates that things are getting better instead of worse. I’d like to think so, at least.
In fact, I’d like to assume the best about people. When I saw the above video, I felt a need to jump in and defend this woman, who had to watch in terror as her little baby was dragged helplessly around the gorilla habitat by a 500 lb. wild animal. I can only imagine how she felt. It brought to mind every “almost” and “could have been” scenarios that I have encountered as a mother.
Having two autistic boys who are very precocious, I’m not afraid to admit I’ve had some close calls. I recounted one of these close calls on the facebook thread that grew from the above video, in what I hoped was a strong defense for the woman – it could happen to anyone, kids are quick, what if this kid is autistic, etc.
The incident happened during the phase where my eldest son, Seth’s elopement was at its worst. We had trouble going anywhere with him. He had learned how to wiggle out of strollers and car seats and harness leads. And he would run every chance he got. On one of our rare outings, we were eating at a restaurant with an outside eating area that was completely enclosed – no gates, even. The enclosure was wrought iron, the bars were close enough together that we knew he couldn’t fit through and tall enough that he couldn’t climb them. We decided to sit outside because it was an area that we felt would be safe, the least disruptive to other diners, (our son was prone to large-scale meltdowns if over stimulated) and quieter/less stimulating for my son.
As I was gathering condiments inside the restaurant, my husband decided to go to the outdoor eating space with the kids and get settled. While my husband was strapping our younger son into a highchair, Seth had managed to find a gap in the fence where the iron had been bent slightly. Just slight enough that it escaped our notice, and just slight enough that he was able to squeeze his body through. By the time my husband was done strapping in our son and turned around, Seth had escaped through the parking lot and was running towards a very busy highway. My husband couldn’t fit through the space to go after him, and the rest of the patio was completely locked up. There was no way to get to him before he got to the highway if he ran through the restaurant and out the front doors. My husband ended up jumping on top of a table, vaulting himself over the top of the enclosure and sprinting to him, scooping him up merely a dozen or so feet from the busy highway. I didn’t see any of this as I was inside the restaurant. On the way to the patio with our condiments, I met my husband, breathless and pale-faced, as he was returning to our table with Seth. After he’d regained his color and breath he told me the what had happened.
And it was just that fast. Moments. Mere moments. There would have been no way my son could’ve survived if he’d made it to the highway. And I think, when I see people calling that Cincinnati woman negligent, “if my husband had been slower, if my son had been faster, if the parking lot were smaller, my son would be dead, and I’d be the one being called a negligent parent.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have to think about the what-ifs, because as soon as I relayed this information in a public forum, I was labeled negligent by all mighty, all knowing, child-free facebook community members and told I shouldn’t have children, I was a bad parent, and that my children should be taken away from me.
I doubt the Cincinnati woman expected her child would be able crawl into the enclosure. In fact, I’d wager that her biggest fear that day wasn’t her child getting into the gorilla pit. She trusted the zoo facilities to be secure. (And I’m not pointing fingers at the zoo, because they hadn’t had an incident at this exhibit since it opened.) She was probably more worried that someone had taken off with her son.
How ever many children die each year due to accidental deaths, no matter how good we get at preventing them, accidents happen. The number will never be zero despite all the parent-shaming we do. So just don’t. Cause face it, you’re no fucking Mary Poppins either.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and I’m curious what your opinions are in regards to some of the questions I asked. Please comment and share. 🙂