Lately, we have heard horrible news about two toddlers who got away from their parents and traveled into danger. In one instance, a 3-year-old got away from his mother at a zoo, fell into the gorilla exhibit, and was “held hostage” by a 400-pound gorilla until it was shot and killed by zoo officials. In the other instance, a 2-year-old was wading in a lagoon at a Disney World hotel, as was his 4-year-old sister, when an alligator grabbed the child and dragged him into the lagoon, where he died, presumably by drowning.
The first thing that hit public airwaves in each of these incidents was intense criticism of the parents in charge. In fact, a petition on the Internet demanded that the mother whose child fell into the gorilla exhibit be charged with a crime. This morning, Max listened to some people who were critical of the parents who were letting their children wade in a lagoon where a sign proclaimed “No Swimming.”
I say this: There but for the grace of God go most of us. I understand that some parents are neglectful and even abusive, but I believe that most parents try hard to care for their children and keep them safe. I’m sure that most moms and dads have whipped around realizing that their children are not where they should be. I believe most parents have breathed a sigh of relief when they finally saw their children after experiencing a heart-stopping moment. And that includes Max and me.
We have believed ourselves to be pretty attentive — and lucky — parents. Emily never gave us a bit of trouble, other than being really picky about her clothes, but that’s another story. Well, we were at Universal Studios when she was about 5, and Max left her for a couple of minutes to get some money from me; I was in another store about 10 yards away. When he got back, she was gone. She had tired of waiting, and we were frantic for about five minutes while she blissfully strolled along the walkway, looking at all the storefronts. Neither Max nor I have ever gotten over that. We consider ourselves among the fortunate – we were able to spot her as she window shopped.
Another time, when she was about 2, I had invited some friends over for hamburgers. I took Emily with me to the grocery store, and then, when I had everything I needed, went outside, loaded her into the car, then left. Only after I got home did I realize that I had left my entire cart of groceries at Bing’s. I put Emily in the car again, drove back to Bing’s, and found my cookout ingredients gone. I bought more food and got home – this time with both child and food – and my friends never suspected that I had been so absent-minded as to leave my groceries in the cart. I wonder: What would have happened had I loaded the groceries in first? Would I have driven off, leaving my child in the shopping cart? I suppose it’s possible.
I also remember that, in the days before car seats, my mother left Libby and me in the car — it was not running — when she went into Charlie’s grocery store to pick up a pound of ground beef. I sat quietly, of course, but Libby climbed over the seat and put the car in reverse. I remember Charlie running out of the store and stopping the car before it rolled into the street.
Obviously, it’s difficult to be an attentive parent, regardless of how hard one might try. Toddlers are slippery, and they have ways of doing exactly what they want to do, even if we are watching. They can drown in a bathtub in just a few seconds when their parent goes around the corner to get another towel. They can put themselves in danger if they are left in a car for just a minute. They can slide under hedges and fall into gorilla exhibits. They can splash around and be attractive to alligators.
And how do we look at these events? Do we criticize the parents? Or do we thank the good Lord that it wasn’t us this time? Think about it.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.