A funny thing has happened over the past few days. It would seem that a pretty sizable majority of folk around the Western world have transformed into Carol and Mike Brady. You know, those so-called "perfect" parents?
These guys have it DOWN. They have not let their kids have any more than thirty minutes of structured, fully educational screen time, have served their sweethearts nothing but the most wonderful nutritionally-balanced meals and snacks, have not once yelled, raised their voices or otherwise lost their tempers during Jimmy's fourth tantrum of the day, have not once been inconsistent in their discipline (or, heaven forbid, lack of!), have made sure to timetable in hours of extra-curricular activities and volunteering and most importantly have never, EVER found their kid getting into something they shouldn't or lost sight of their children in public for even a single split second.
What other explanation could there be for the utter outpouring of vitriol towards Michelle Gregg, the mother of the four year old boy who climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo? At the time of writing this post there have been over 302,000 signatures (300,000 was the amount required to take it to the necessary authorities) on a petition to encourage child protection services and the police to have the parents be "held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life".
The petition also states,
“We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child's home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child's home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death”
I'm sorry, what now? Because the parents happened to lose sight of their kid in public for a few seconds that means they are negligent to the extent that they are in need of investigation? Lets not pretend it must've been longer than a few seconds for the boy to get into the enclosure. If you have young kids you know how incredibly fast they can be, and how little time it takes for them to get into something they shouldn't, particularly if they have their mind set on it. Sure, most of the time it's probably at home throwing baby wipes all over the living room floor whilst you're in the kitchen or smearing lotion on the furniture whilst you take a load of washing upstairs. They pet a strange dog after you tell them "no", which thankfully turns out to be friendly. They stick a small piece of Lego up their nose and then sneeze it out, or some other comparably inconsequential thing.
But it can just as easily be in public and running into the road whilst you're rummaging in your bag for a tissue, or disappearing into a crowd whilst you take your hand away from theirs to find your car keys, or as may have been the situation here, turning around to take care of another kid and telling them to stay put, then when you turn around and are desperately looking for them in the crowd you realise to your horror that they've somehow managed to slip through fences and drop fifteen feet into a gorilla enclosure. The difference between any of the above and what has occurred here being that this whole thing played out in a very public forum in the age of social media with scores of people filming and calling for charges to be made against the parents after the death of an animal. That's what it comes down to, you know? Had this situation not had the tragic outcome it had, I doubt anybody witnessing a parent letting go of a child's hand for a second or two would be calling for charges of criminal negligence.
And this is a tragedy. I am a huge animal lover and animal rights activist. I'm not a big fan of zoos to begin with, truth be told. And there's the whole issue about how on earth the kid managed to get in there in the first place. I hate that Harambe was shot; it makes my heart hurt that such a magnificent and endangered animal has been lost, and I know there have been other similar incidents where gorillas have not been killed for comparable behaviour. It is such a difficult situation; if the zoo had had instant effect tranquilizers on site, there may have been a different outcome for Harambe. Sadly, they did not. They made a decision based on the knowledge and equipment they had, and they are hated for it. I don't envy their position right now one bit. I have to say though, if that were my kid in there, I would do what needed to be done to protect them. I would shoot a gorilla to ensure the safety of my kid if that is what it took. I would shoot an elephant or a lion or a tiger or a freaking unicorn if I had to. Don't tell me that as a parent, you wouldn't do the same.
And please don't try and deflect the fact that this could just as easily have happened to you by saying that Michelle Gregg must have been talking on her phone or scrolling Facebook or that she obviously needs CPS to check on her home life because DAMN, GIRL. I can't imagine how she must be feeling right now. I can't imagine how she must've felt at the time - my heart goes out to her.
I've lost my kid in a supermarket. I've looked into the back seat of my car and noticed he'd managed to wriggle out of his car seat restraints. I've had to pull over because he was seconds away from managing to open the car door. I've had to run and rugby tackle my youngest to the ground when he was two because he ran off in a fit of temper straight towards the road outside our house when there were cars approaching. I've had to yank my eldest back from just stepping out into a busy road more times than I can count on one hand. I've had a few trips to the hospital with my boys for falls and scrapes that quite honestly, could probably have been avoided.
I am not a bad parent. This shit just doesn't get talked about because we know the judgement that would rain down on us if we dared to air it out, and because honestly, we're so scared to admit that there's NOTHING we can do to completely guarantee our child's safety.
Michelle Gregg is not a bad parent. But because we're so scared to admit that this could be us, we attack her and cast her out and call for criminal charges to make her "other" and deflect away from the sobering realisation that it could have just as easily been us.
Let's not, alright?