You will lose track of your kids at some point. Maybe for a moment, maybe for an hour. It does not matter how carefully you watch them. And I think that it's the worst when your kids are about four years old.
At four, my middle child saw life as a giant hide-and-go seek game to be played with gusto. I still remember the relief I felt when a security guard brought her back to me after I lost her at the Royal Botanical Gardens. She wasn't lost, she was hiding behind a big plant -- and her gleeful snickering gave her away.
Four-year-olds. They find trouble where ever they go.
On Saturday, I heard the story of a four-year-old boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. A 400-pound-plus gorilla took the boy -- gently at first but then more aggressively as he became agitated by the noise made by panicked spectators. After about 10 minutes, the zoo's dangerous animal response team shot and killed the gorilla in order to save the little boy's life.
I have nothing but sympathy for the poor mother, so I was stunned to read comment after comment on Facebook condemning her for not keeping her son safe. What?
I have nothing but sympathy for the poor mother, so I was stunned to read comment after comment on Facebook condemning her for not keeping her son safe. What? How could she have anticipated that? Who would think a child could be capable of getting anywhere near a gorilla at a zoo? And any parent can tell you that when it comes to escaping your watchful eye, Houdini had nothing on a typical four-year-old.
Or any kid, for that matter. Even my oldest child has gotten lost a few times, as cautious as she is. Last year, I lost her at the Royal Ontario Museum. She was seven at the time, and a very careful, responsible girl. We were waiting in an elevator lobby. When the elevator door opened, there was suddenly a crush of people all needing to go different ways. I couldn't navigate my stroller through the crowd but my oldest had no trouble darting through the people. She was the only one on the elevator when the door began to close. I saw the fear in her eyes as she watched me struggle to get through to her. Then she was gone.
There were no numbers above the doors to indicate if the elevator went up or down. I looked around for a set of stairs, thinking that if I ran fast enough I could catch up with her -- not likely with two kids in my arms. I was in tears and I didn't know what to do. My four-year-old sensed that I was distracted and, being four and full of mischief, tried to run away and hide, already laughing with delight. I quickly grabbed her by the arm and sat her down on the ground beside the baby.
"Don't move!" I barked.
I felt like the room was spinning. I had to think. Should I go downstairs with the kids to see if she got off the elevator? What if she stayed on and was on her way back? What if she had gone upstairs instead of down? My four-year-old jumped up to run away again.
I roughly sat her back down on the ground again and yelled, "DON'T MOVE!!"
From behind me, I heard some people muttering about my less-than-stellar parenting skills. Another person quietly replied that I had just lost my child on the elevator. I spun around to see a whole group of people just watching me. No one offered to help. I pointed at a random person and yelled for him to run downstairs and see if my daughter was waiting for me on the main floor. As he turned to go the elevator doors opened again and we all turned to look inside. It became strangely quiet.
Nobody got off. We just looked at the passengers and they looked back at us. After a moment, I asked if anyone had seen an unattended girl on the elevator. A woman replied that oh yes, the girl was quite upset; she was waiting with a security guard downstairs.
For the life of me, I can't understand why no one shared this information the second the doors opened to reveal me and my panicky, tear-stained face. My kids and I grabbed the next elevator down to the main floor. We saw my daughter immediately --she ran into my arms and we both cried some more and the security guard who found her came over to tell me that I really must try to watch my kids, as if this whole parenting-thing was new to me. I thanked him for his advice. I am Canadian, after all.
These days, each time we take an elevator, my kids and I rehearse what we'll do if we ever get separated again. As a parent, I do everything I can to protect and prepare my children, but I know that I can't see everything coming. Elevators aren't a part of our everyday lives, so it never occurred to me to have an elevator drill before that trip to the ROM.
There is no need to judge -- all kids get away from us at some point. Some more dramatically than others.
We also don't have a gorilla-escaping protocol either -- that would definitely fall under "unexpected". That's why it's so important that we as parents and people in general all band together when the unexpected happens. There is no need to judge -- all kids get away from us at some point. Some more dramatically than others.
To the mother of the four-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo: I heard you call out "Mommy loves you" so calmly while I was about to fall to pieces just watching the video. You're the kind of mom that I want in my village when I have a crisis. And as a fellow mom of two past four-year-olds and one future four-year-old: I'm so glad your little boy is safe.
Tamara Watson blogs about parenting, homeschooling and life in the slow lane at www.unhurriedhome.com.
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