For 38 years, around a million children a year have walked through the gates of the Cincinnati Zoo — a million children with their parents and siblings, with their grandparents and friends.
Most of those children would have walked to the gorillas’ enclosure. Most of those children would have walked right up close to see the giant beasts in action, to laugh at them sleeping, to copy them grunting, to coo over the baby gorillas and remark on just how much like us they are.
Of these million and millions of children, one small boy did something different though.
This small boy didn’t just laugh and coo, he slipped under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall.
We all then know what happened don’t we?
This was a tragedy. It could have been a worse tragedy, it could have been the life of the little boy but it still was a sickening event, and whenever a tragedy occurs, what we want to do is to make sense of it.
To lay blame, to find fault. To work out why and how.
In this case, the world has laid blame in three different areas.
It was the zoo’s fault, the mother’s fault, the boy himself.
The mother of the boy, Michelle Gregg, has been blamed most of all because she wasn’t “watching her damn kid”.
It has been suggested by some that she was committing the great parenting sin of BEING ON HER PHONE and by others that she was committing the great parenting sin of NOT HOLDING THE BOY’S HAND the entire time they were there.
This morning, the boy’s mother took to social media, briefly — before being hounded out through death threats and pure vitriol — to make a statement saying “accidents happen”.
“As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kid,” Michelle Gregg said.
Read more of the mother’s statement here.
She obviously felt she had to justify why she was not gripping tightly onto the hand of her small child, that she had to assure the world she wasn’t negligent. To explain the “accident”.
Have you ever taken your eyes off your child? Looked at the shelves in the supermarket for a product you needed for tonight’s stir-fry while your pre-schooler runs to another aisle?
Turned to your baby to wipe a drool of snot oozing from their nose leaving your other children out of direct line of sight for a minute or two? Stepped away a few feet to chat to a neighbour? Or glanced at your phone to take a photo or send a text message?
I know I have.
Shauna nearly left her daughter at the Eiffel Tower. Image supplied.
Have you let your six-year-old push his baby sister’s pram for a minute, letting him feel like a big boy and been shocked when he has, distracted, causing his baby sister to be injured as the pram rolled down the hill?
Has your four-year-old pushed his two-year-old brother off a couch onto the carpet somehow, causing his wrist to snap and break?
Have you left your daughter in a lift on the Eiffel Tower stepping out without her only to have a French woman wrench you back and cry: “Don’t forget ze babe.”
Or is that just me? Should I have gripped the pram tighter? Not let my two-year-old on the couch? Held my daughter in my arms in that crowded lift rather than putting her down for a moment?
Michelle Gregg has now shut down her social media accounts. Image via Facebook.
Should Michelle Gregg have held her cheeky four-year-old’s hand every single second of that glorious day at the Cincinnati Zoo just in case he could have been the one in tens of millions of children who might crawl under a rail and into a moat?
This one statistically rare event has launched us into a frenzy of judgement and shaming of, even crowing for the life of Michelle Gregg.
We judge her and shame her and want her blamed and yet want our own children to grow up carefree and learn independence.
But what we can’t have is the best of both worlds.
We can't on one hand ache for a time when parents were more laid back, before “helicopter mums” gripped their children tight and never let them out of their sight, we can’t scream that parents are smothering their children in bubble wrap leaving them entitled and needy and then raise all hell when a mother doesn’t hold the hand of a spirited four-year-old.
We can't on one hand ache for a time when parents were more laid back and then raise all hell when a mother doesn’t hold the hand of a spirited four-year-old. Image via iStock.
Parenting writer Bunmi Laditan took to Facebook today to express similar sentiments.
"Has anyone else noticed that the need to criticize parents has reached fever pitch? At this point it's almost pure hatred. It feels like there's a very real sentiment of disdain for people with children. The joy people take in tearing down parents is palpable. Where does it stem from?" she said.
But what we've stepped past is the fact that despite our longing for answers, in some situations, there isn’t actually anyone to blame.
This morning, the staff at Cincinnati Zoo have spoken out in a lengthy press conference where zoo director Thayne Maynard rightly refused to accept that it was the fault of the enclosure.
He said the zoo is confident their enclosures are safe and adhere to the very same standards our zoos here in Australia have.
“People, kids and others can climb over barriers. We work really hard to make sure this is safe,” he said.
“That said people can climb over barriers and that’s what happened. We stand by our decision and we would make the same call today.”
What we need to accept is that in some situations, accidents simply do happen.
Parents take their eyes off children. Wayward four-year-olds test the limits of their sheltered world. Gorillas do what gorillas do and investigate a stranger in their midst.
Those entrusted with the care of a million visitors a day had to make a decision that broke hearts.