In The Blink of an Eye: My Perspective on the Cincinnati Zoo Accident

Over the long holiday weekend, the story broke about the little four-year-old boy who somehow managed to get into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo. We all know how it ended, so I won’t recap, and I’m not getting into the controversy that surrounds the incident or zoos in general.

When I first saw the story, I will admit, I uttered the words, “Where were the parents?” to my husband. It took me approximately thirty seconds to realize that could easily have been us.

cinncinati zoo

I consider myself and my husband to be good parents. We work hard and are trying to raise respectful, sensitive little boys. We value doing the “right” thing and not the “popular” thing. We are definitely not perfect parents, by any means. Every day I feel like I failed one of my kids in one way or another.

I teeter on the line of neurotic when it comes to keeping kids safe, but I work hard to keep myself in check. I have two small boys; I could easily have a nervous breakdown if I focus on all things that are out of my control when it comes to raising them. I research everything extensively, from baby food, to safety gates, to car seats, to safe sleep. You can bet your you-know-what that my family follows every “rule” you can find. All furniture strapped to the wall? Check. Kids in sleep sacks until they’re two? Check. Proper placement of car seat chest clip and all family members trained? Check.

All that being said, if you have a child that can move on their own, you understand their ninja-like abilities. You can blink, and they will be across the room. I am not using this as a metaphor or to be dramatic; I’ve seen this happen with my own children.

We all have had (or will have) heart-stopping moments with our kids. The type of moment that when it’s over, you have tears streaming down your face and you’re hugging them so tight they’re screaming at you that you’re hurting them. The type of moment that will haunt you for years. The type of moment that you can’t even think about the “what if’s” because it makes you physically ill, so you just thank God profusely it ended up OK.

Let me share a couple of my own with you. Last fall, I was home with my three-week-old and my two-and-a-half-year-old. If you remember, the fall of 2015 was abnormally warm. My two-year-old wanted to go outside, but I needed to get us all ready to go to his doctor appointment. I was in the nursery changing my younger son’s diaper, when it clicked in my head that it had been quiet for too long. (In toddler time, that is anything more than 15 seconds.)

We all know that a quiet two-year-old means trouble. I came out into our living room and did not see him. I called for him, no response. I looked at the front door, it was closed.

I started to panic. I ran around my house yelling. Finally, I looked out my front window and my blood went cold. My two-year-old had recently learned to open the front door. Because of this, we normally keep it locked. However, my husband had forgotten to lock the deadbolt that morning, and I had forgotten to check it. I looked out the window to see my tiny, perfect human about 12 inches from stepping into the street. There was a house being built across the street and he wanted to see the diggers.

zooYou can imagine what happened next, I threw open the front door, screamed his name, and sprinted toward him. It was THAT moment – tears streaming down my face, hugging him so tightly I could have crushed every bone in his body.

Despite my best efforts, something really bad could have happened.

Now let’s imagine that this incident had gained national media attention. I am sure I would have been dragged through the mud. I can hear the comments: “If you can’t handle two kids, then don’t have two kids” or “You don’t take your eyes off them for a second! You just don’t.” My favorites would be the pedestal ones–the ones that go something like, “My two-year-old KNOWS not do that!” or “My kids are taught to listen!”

Here’s another example. A few weeks ago we were at CoralRidge Mall waiting for a table at Mellow Mushroom. My son was playing on the kiddy rides near the carousel that require a couple of quarters to work. My husband was standing right there, watching him. Not on his phone, not talking to anyone. Watching. My son crawled through one of the toys, and my husband didn’t see him come out the other side. He had somehow found a blind spot and skirted around the other end of the toy. By the time my husband could locate him, he was sprinting down the mall, laughing his head off.

I say this all the time – parenting is the most humbling experience of my life. NONE of us are perfect. Accidents happen. The reality is, these tiny humans we are raising all have minds of their own. We try hard – so, so hard – to mold them. We try to engrain in their heads that they need to listen so they don’t get hurt. We have to do this while allowing them to be independent so they grow up to by functioning, contributing members of society.

I don’t know the mama of this four-year-old, but I bet never in a million years did she think that their trip to the zoo that day would end the way it did. This moment will haunt her and her family forever. My heart goes out to her. I was not there that day; I don’t know what happened. Maybe she bent down to tie her shoe. Maybe she sneezed. Maybe she was digging in her purse for a tissue. All I know is that I have had my own heart-stopping moments – mine just did not catch national media attention.

So I challenge us all to get off our pedestals. I know my own pedestal is pretty short at this point, and I am only three years into this parenting gig. As fellow mothers, let’s extend grace instead of judgement.

Confession time: What heart-stopping moments have you had as a parent?


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