I feel like lately I've been surrounded by tragic stories involving the death of young children. There was the nanny that slayed two of her charges in Manhattan (the precious two year old lost shares a name with my own precious two year old), the mother that had her 2 year old and 4 year old swept away in the flooding of hurricane Sandy (not even a hundred miles from here), two friends have recently lost toddlers (one to a drowning accident and one never woke up in the morning without explanation), and most recently, a two-year old was mauled after falling into an exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Each of these stories has affected me deeply. I've been reminded of how lucky I am, cried tears for these families and held my own children a bit tighter.
When I heard about the accident at the Zoo I read article after article and read through the many, many comments left on their Facebook page. I couldn't help but think of the times I'd been there with my own family - at that same zoo...at that same exhibit. As I read through the thousands of comments, I kept seeing comments popping up questioning the mother. Where was she? Why wasn't she watching him? Why would she hoist him up on the railing? (She had been holding him up over the railing to see into the exhibit and he fell in.)
Perhaps it is irresponsible to place a child on the railing of an animal exhibit. Perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided. Perhaps this isn't the time for those admonishments.
Accidents happen. Horrific, awful things that could have been prevented happen and the correct human response is compassion. I'm not saying you can't ever ask questions - but hours after this kind of unspeakable tragedy when very few facts about the circumstances are available? Outside of a law enforcement investigation I think anything beyond empathy and condolences is inappropriate.
There have been plenty of times that I have been focusing my full attention on watching Leo and he has still fallen or gotten hurt. There have also been times that I have been distracted (by Zoe, a conversation, having to go the bathroom - you name it) and he has gotten into mischief or wandered out of sight. And I won't deny there have been times that I have made questionable decisions that inadvertently put my child in danger (forgetting to fasten the straps on the stroller, walking into the street as I check for cars rather than after) - and I've either noticed my mistake in time or been very lucky. In fact, when I looked back at my post from when I took Leo to the Pittsburgh Zoo last year I was aghast to see a picture of him perched on the rail of the giraffe exhibit. Needless to say I will never do that again. And I was wrong when I thought I'd never be so careless.
It's human nature to judge others - and parenting seems to be especially prone to judgement. I know I catch judgmental thoughts creeping in. I forget I'm prone to being human, too. It's easy to get distracted. It's possible to not think things through. It's often that we, parents, are tired. It's hard to keep in mind that at the zoo (which has a feeling of safety and fun) that you are mere feet from wild animals. I guarantee this mother will think about that decision to pick her child up for a better view for the rest of her life.
Maybe it is a defense mechanism to cast blame. If she was at fault, then it couldn't happen to you. You would never be so irresponsible...your child will never suffer the same fate.
I know that my two beautiful children are safely asleep in their beds right now not because I'm a fantastic mother who has never made a misstep, but because fortune has smiled upon me. Shame on anyone who upon hearing that a mother lost her child in a gruesome accident, their first reaction was to point a finger at her. I hope she and her family are finding some peace in each other. And I hope that perhaps her story keeps the same fate from befalling another child. Perhaps even my own.