I assume, unless you live under a rock, that you’ve heard about the recent gorilla tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend. The one where authorities shot a 450-pound endangered gorilla named Harambe who was dragging around a four-year-boy who had crawled into the gorilla exhibit.
Because tranquilizers would’ve taken too long to ensure the child’s safety, zoo officials killed the beloved gorilla.
The incident was very sad and many are downright angry about it. Some believe the child was in no danger (Jane Goodall claims the gorilla was protecting the kid) while others think the boy’s mother should be held criminally responsible (an online “Justice for Harambe” petition received over 100,000 signatures in under 48 hours).
Maybe it’s because everyone’s been talking about it lately, including my blogging buddy over at Midlife Margaritas, but I’d like to throw in my perspective as well.
Now, you’re probably assuming that because I’m a mom of two kids that writes a mommy blog, I’m about to defend the mom…
And you’d be right. Let me tell you why.
People who have never had children don’t really understand what parenting is like. There’s nothing wrong with that, because how could they? You may be extremely intelligent and have a great imagination, but until you’ve actually experienced something, you can’t truly know how it feels.
As a parent who was once a non-parent, I can tell you a few things about having kids that become crystal clear after you’ve made the jump:
- Parenting is extremely difficult. Every kid is different, but they’re all irrational
- You have to make a billion choices, all the time, about how to best handle your reckless, irrational kids
- Every single choice you make is wrong, according to someone
It starts before the kid even leaves your body. What are you eating during your pregnancy? Will you breastfeed (and subject everyone to obscenity) or use formula (and pump your kid full of chemicals)? Will you return to work (selfish) or stay at home (lazy)?
And it continues with your newborn (sleep training or cry-it-out?) and straight into toddler discipline. There’s someone out there claiming every method will scar your kids for life: spanking is physically abusive, raising your voice is emotionally abusive, and time-outs create fear of abandonment…
Yet if your kids act up, you’re clearly a negligent parent who needs to control them better.
It’s like we have these TV sitcom-induced fantasies about how reasonable kids would be if we just said the right things to them while playing relaxing music, but it doesn’t really work out that way.
Trust me, parents believe it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their kids, but it’s MUCH harder than it sounds. Kids are quick, curious, and mostly oblivious to the consequences of their actions. You watch them 24/7 while needing to do a bunch of other things too, like eat, sleep, pee, and sneeze.
It’s a rare parent who’s never lost sight of their kids for a second. You’d have to live in complete lockdown mode, never leaving the house unless your children are kept on leashes. And for every parent keeping his kids on leashes, there are hundreds of angry people thinking he’s humiliating them by treating them like animals.
One time, when Brontë was almost two, she ran out of the park and into the street.
She just stopped whatever she was doing and bolted, without warning. We screamed for her to stop, but she wouldn’t listen. I chased her, sobbing, while I was very pregnant and couldn’t reach her. We heard cars screeching mere moments before John finally caught up to her and made her stop.
It was terrifying. All we could picture was what would’ve happened if those cars hadn’t stopped. Brontë was testing her limits in those days and had no sense of what the real consequences might be. We did.
Luckily, everything was fine, but what if it weren’t? We would’ve been negligent. We would’ve been called unfit parents who should have their kids taken away.
The Cincinnati incident didn’t turn out so well. The family was unlucky… a mother lost sight of her tiny child for a moment, like nearly every parent has done.
Only she wasn’t as lucky as the rest of us.
OF COURSE, they had to shoot the gorilla. Maybe Harambe wouldn’t have hurt the child, but we can’t know that. We couldn’t have been sure. A lowland silverback gorilla can crush a coconut one-handed… that innocent child’s brains could’ve been splattered in seconds, and we can’t take that kind of risk.
The fact that it was a young child only makes it more critical, but I’d feel the same way if a grown adult had accidentally fallen into the enclosure.
I love animals and think we should spare them as much discomfort as possible, but when push comes to shove, we have to choose human life. If I’m ever in a survival starvation situation involving people and animals, I don’t want the animals drawing equal straws with everyone else.
Because it was so tragic, I think people need someone to blame. They want, for example, to hold the family financially liable for the cost of the gorilla.
But they aren’t considering the consequences. If we made families liable, then parents could never take their children to the zoo, or anywhere, because they couldn’t afford the possibility that something bad might happen. Everyone would grow up under house arrest, never learning, exploring, or facing the consequences of anything.
Unfortunately, bad things are going to happen. Life is unpredictable and sometimes the planets line up in just the wrong way. I think it’s extremely sad that Harambe had to be put down last weekend, but don’t think scapegoating the parents will help.