There, but for the Grace of God, Go I

We had a tragedy in Pittsburgh this week. On Saturday, a two-year-old child fell into an exhibit at the zoo and was killed by the animals inside. I know just the spot–it’s the lookout in the African Painted Dogs exhibit.

According to news reports, the child’s mother held him up to the railing for a better look. He somehow eluded her grasp, fell over the railing, bounced off the protective netting beneath, and landed in the enclosure. The predatory, carnivorous dogs acted as we might expect pack animals to behave.

The response from the community here has been, largely, to shame this mother. The zoo has taken down its Facebook page. I’ve stopped reading comments on news articles about the situation. I can’t bear it when people I call friends speak unthinkable things about this mother.

Because I could so easily be her.

How many times have I held my children up above the railing so they could see better? How many times have I sprinted, breathless, after Miles who climbed a railing. I am certain if he were a few inches taller, he could climb the very railing in question.

To be the mother of my spirited child is to always be looking, to always be thinking, “Ok. How will Miles endanger himself and how will I respond?” It’s a thought pattern that’s become habit for me. I take note of weak spots in yard fences. I note whether the back alley or front street has more vehicular traffic when visiting friends. I try to calculate which door he’ll be more likely to open and escape through and keep my eye eternally on that door.

The more time we spend with other three-year-olds, the more I see parents who don’t have to hold tightly to their children’s hands for fear they’ll quickly dart into the street. Parents who haven’t developed a special hand-hold that wraps some fingers around the very wriggly wrist to keep my child just that much more in contact with my body.

When we look at the African savannah exhibits at the zoo, I feel a certainty that Miles will one day find a way into the stream to get a better look at the coy. Certain in the way I am certain each day he’ll run onto the porch, naked, and then down the sidewalk toward who knows where…unless we keep the deadbolts always turned. And so, I am always thinking, “Ok, what will I do with Felix? How will I get Miles out of the stream? Out of that small space? Down from that ledge?”

So when I heard about this disaster, I collapsed in a nervous heap. My heart aches for this mother, who wanted to give her little boy a closer look and then disaster struck. I know nothing about her–whether she had other children along with her, or at home. But I can put myself in her shoes, in her nervous mama heart.

I am learning that a lack of awareness of danger is part of sensory processing dysfunction, something Miles will work on in OT. I am learning that my son goes a bit beyond typical preschooler curiosity in his running away from me, escaping our house, climbing and jumping from structures. I wonder if this little boy shared that personality trait. I wonder if he’d been having a really calm morning and his mother wanted to feel like she had a typical kid, just once, who could tolerate being calmly lifted up to get a closer look.

I know that this disaster has done nothing to ease my anxiety on taking my child out in public. I know it’s changed how I’ll approach situations others might look upon as harmless. Like the famous Blue Slide Playground, which has no fence and lies beside a busy road. We won’t be going back there. Not until I have man-to-man coverage with the children and maybe not even then.

My instinct now is to hibernate with the children, to tuck them into my lap and pin them down and never let them go. I’m sure this will ease as our community heals from this tragedy. For now, though, we are locked in my house and hunkered down.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 4:01 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


15 Responses to “There, but for the Grace of God, Go I”

  1. michelle Says:

    Nicely expressed Katy. That mother is each of us. None of us are ever perfectly in control. All of us have made many many decisions that could have gone a very bad way -at any time. Everyone wants to blame the mother so that they can feel safe. If it was somehow her fault, it makes them feel as if their child is exempt from this a tragedy such as this. My heart aches for her.

  2. Amy Farr Says:

    Oh Katy I feel the exact same way. We’ve had more than our share of close calls with Ryan for the same reasons. My heart breaks for this mother and shakes me to my core because I know that we could easily be in a similar situation.

  3. red pen mama Says:

    Oh, thank you for showing sympathy for this mother. My heart, I can’t even express.

    My Kate ran into the street on the South Side one day, and almost got hit by a pickup truck. Thank GOD the driver saw her, and had just turned so he wasn’t going that fast, so was able to stop. In my nightmares, well, let’s not speak of that.

    It’s terrifying sometimes, being a parent. And we all need to hold each other up and help each other out instead of tearing each other down.

  4. Judy @MommyNews Blog Says:

    Oh Katy, I hear you. I have so many times done things so similar to what this mother “did” – I can’t even imagine how she must feel. She blames herself without the rest of us doing it and you know what – it wasn’t her fault. We have all done the same thing and gotten lucky. I can’t even imagine. I also feel for the zoo. Its a tragedy – a one-in-a-million chance that hit it’s mark here. The zoo is still safe and as moms there will be times that we are still “less than perfect”. I wish I could hug her and tell her it’s not her fault. I wish those who blame her would look in the mirror and instead of laying blame, thank their lucky stars that something similar didn’t happen to them.

  5. EricaG Says:

    I’ve been so shocked and saddened by this accident. I don’t know why I keep reading the hateful comments, looking for one more article to trying to explain such a terrible tragedy. I agree with you completely. We are all just a moment away from tragedy everyday, and I, too, want to keep my babies very close right now.

  6. Stephanie Says:

    I know I have lifted Oliver up for a better look. And he does still get away sometimes even when we use his monkey harness. Kids are fast! I am disgusted by the negative, heartless comments that have posted by so many mean-spirited, judgmental people. I did read though, that is not an uncommon reaction to a tragedy like this. It is actually a coping mechanism. I still find it awful though.

  7. katy Says:

    I hadn’t considered that this blaming or shaming would be a coping mechanism…

  8. Rachel Says:

    I literally couldn’t fall asleep Sunday night because of the anxiety I felt for this mom. My Trey was going to have surgery the next morning, yet I was praying for this mom’s heart instead because I simply cannot imagine the pain and horror. I think people feel safe to judge others when their comments are relatively anonymous…you can’t see me behind my keyboard! And that’s just sad and wrong. I can only hope that those same people would never actually say that to the mom’s face. What’s even worse is the connotation that the mom ‘deserved’ what happened because she ‘broke a rule’. Gross. A Facebook friend of mine started a group called “Glimmer of Hope” in an attempt to have people submit positive messages to the mom, zoo staff and responders and she will go to the zoo and post all the messages wherever she can get close enough. Sounds like a nice idea.

  9. katy Says:

    I’ll have to look into this Glimmer of Hope and see what I can send along. I am glad that exists! All I’ve seen (not that I’ve been looking hard) have been negative things for the most part and it’s so shameful to think about.

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  11. Amy Says:

    Standing in line at Giant Eagle yesterday the man behind me started talking to the boys and then said to me “Did you hear about the 2 year old at the zoo?” and started to say how he can’t believe the mother could do something like that as if I was going to join in criticizing her. He couldn’t believe I disagreed with him and I couldn’t believe some complete stranger had the nerve to talk about that to me like that and right in front of my children! My children have run up and down that ramp in front of that exhibit with their friends on multiple trips to the zoo (I have never even actually seen those dogs on any visit). Everyone stops there, takes a break, eats a snack or lunch and lets their children wander a bit. Something really bad could have happened, there are several times a day really bad things could happen to my children, but most of the time they don’t. It isn’t because I’m any the better a parent that it’s not my kid, so I am so sad that mom is going through this, it just makes me sick to my stomach. There was a boy here in town that got hit and killed by a train this weekend too. I’m completely losing it when my children do things like run down the front sidewalk towards the street right now.

  12. katy Says:

    I wouldn’t know what to say to someone who brought that up to me in line in front of my kids! I am usually so flustered in public I wouldn’t have been expecting such a discussion and am worried I might not have been brave for that mother and spoken up for her…but I’d like to hope I would tell him how I feel!

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  14. Jason Bittel Says:

    Amen. And a coworker just shared this with me, which resonates with your post all over the place! (Even the final line!)

  15. katy Says:

    Thanks for sharing that piece, Jason. I wish I’d written it!

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