As a mother of two children, there is a very simple answer to the debate about whether the mother of the three year old who climbed into the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla enclosure is at fault.
She is at fault. Period. End of discussion. Should she be punished? I say no. Is she at fault. I say yes.
Now look, I get it, a three-year-old kid is one of the trickiest, sneakiest animals on the planet. Unless you cover your kid in bubble wrap from ages 3 to 5, there will be a whoops that could have been prevented.
There are two different discussions about this case: who was at fault and who should be punished. I understand why there is debate about whether authorities should officially charge the mother. But there is no dodging the fact that she was at fault. And all parents have been there.
When my oldest daughter was about 4 years old, she went into the bathroom before bed to brush her teeth. When she came out she looked like she had a nosebleed. But she did not. She had picked up her dad’s razor and decided to shave her non-existent moustache. We didn’t even realize that she was tall enough to reach it. The cut wasn’t serious — but it could have been. Was it an accident? Of course. Was it our fault? Yes, it was. Ultimately, it was our responsibility to make sure sharp things were not in reach.
Ten years later, I was still making careless mistakes. When my youngest daughter was about six months old, I was walking around my apartment, sleep-deprived and exhausted, trying to get her to go to sleep. I had my eyes closed as I stumbled around singing to her and I walked right into a wall and heard a thunk. My kid had a lump on her head the size of a golf ball and I was horrified. How could I do this to my baby? What if she had brain damage? What if she was affected in any way? I rushed her to the pediatrician who looked at me like he wanted to smile as he said, “She’s got a bump on her head. She’ll live.”
The kid was fine. And there were a few more thunks to come. Of course, no one would say I should have been punished for what was an honest accident. But that doesn’t change a critical fact — it was my fault. Should I have been arrested and charged with neglect? No. But was I at fault? Yes. I was supposed to get help if I was too exhausted to handle my daughter with care. I was supposed to put her to bed and just let her cry instead of walking her around the apartment while too tired to avoid walking into walls.
Again, there are no perfect parents and we all make mistakes. But making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re not at fault. It just means you had no ill will and it was an accident.
You’re driving a car and the car in front stops short and you hit the bumper. Guess what? It was an accident but it’s still your fault. A kid jumps out in the street chasing a ball and you hit the kid. Guess what? It was an accident but it’s still your fault.
So if this mother were a perfect parent, she would have been holding him tight as they walked past the enclosure. Or she would have had him on a tight kiddie leash to keep an eye on him at all times. Or she would have noticed that it wasn’t high enough to keep kids out and walked away from the exhibit right away. Or she wouldn’t have gone to a zoo in the first place because there are no guarantees that it’s safe.
She should not be punished for not doing any of those things. But the fact remains that no matter how unrealistic it is to go to extreme lengths to keep him from getting inside that enclosure — that’s what she should have done.
Again, parents aren’t perfect. But when it comes to protecting our children, we have to come damn close if we want to get them to puberty in one piece.
Just a few months ago, my 9-year-old asked me if she could try a new dish with pesto sauce for lunch. I said yes and told her that she would love it. Right at lunchtime, I saw the school’s number on my phone. And in that instant, my knees buckled. I didn’t even pick up the phone yet and it dawned on me. Pesto sauce is nothing but garlic, oil and ground pine nuts. And my daughter is severely allergic to all tree nuts. I was beating myself up the entire ride to the school, where she was being transported to the emergency room in an ambulance. I know my kid is allergic to tree nuts! How the hell did I not remember that pesto is nothing but tree nuts! I was in tears when I pulled up to the school and saw her being wheeled out on a stretcher, her face covered with a mask to help her breathe.
I honestly feared that I would be punished somehow, either with an investigation by child services or maybe even have her taken away from me. At the hospital, the nurses asked me what happened and I told them. “It’s OK, Mrs. King” the nurse said, “She’ll be fine. It was an accident.”
It was an accident. But it was also my fault.
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(Photo: Deonne Dickerson via Facebook)