Unless you’ve been living in a social media bubble for the past week, you’ve heard about Harambe the gorilla. For all those bubble dwellers, let me fill you in. Harambe was a 17-year-old male silverback gorilla who lived at the Cincinnati Zoo. Born in captivity, he was a beloved member of the zoo family his whole life until he was shot and killed last Saturday after a young boy fell into his enclosure.
Now let me stop to say something here. This article is not to debate whether or not Harambe should have been killed. The lovely Internet is abound with all sorts of theories about what was necessary, and frankly, since I am not a primatologist and did not ever meet and or work with Harambe or gorillas of any sort, I am going to do a rare thing today: admit that I do not know the answer. I will say gorillas are NOT just “really big people” so anthropomorphizing the actions of the animal do no good. Not surprisingly, everyone with Wi-Fi is suddenly a gorilla expert, and frankly, the vast majority of us have no clue what we are talking about. No, I will leave that theorizing to the real professionals. Rather, I am going to talk about something truly hateful and disturbing: the acid vitriol being thrown at the boy’s mother.
Whenever a tragedy strikes, people always look for someone to blame. Apparently assigning blame helps the tragedy makes sense. In this case, the little boy’s mother has basically become Atlas holding the weight of world hatred on her shoulders. “What kind of mother looks away from their children?!” “What kind of mother gets THAT distracted?!” “What kind of mother doesn’t notice her child has gone?!”
I’ll tell you what kind: me.
It was a gorgeous and hot July day here is Reno and my oldest had been invited to a birthday party. The house throwing it was large and beautiful and had a spacious, open yard that wrapped all the way around it. My youngest was a mere 15 months old at that time and already was redefining the term independent. He would run, and I mean run, from us the first chance he got. I jealousy watched my friend’s children cling close to them as I chased my baby all around that yard. But hey, he exuded joy and giggles with every step so I obliged. Cake time came, and I moved to catch up with some girlfriends while my baby shoved some cake in his mouth next to his brother and friends. My husband was close by, so I figured now was a good time to get in some needed girl chat.. I looked back over to his spot about 3 minutes later and all the kids were gone. They were a few feet away, chasing a ball. But I didn’t see my baby.
“David, where’s Sebastian?”
“I thought you were watching him.”
“What do you mean?!” Panic waves were flooding over me. “I thought YOU were watching him!! Oh my God where is HE??!!”
I think I went throw the full range of human fear and terror in those first few seconds. Panic, fear, rage, terror…they were all flying so fast at me I couldn’t focus. The backyard was open in the front and only had a post and plank fence, he could easily have crawled underneath. Was he in that bunch of trees? Oh God the front yard! The street! I kicked off my summer platform sandals as ran through the rock, concrete, and asphalt, not even noticing the gash I would later find on my heel, up the steep driveway, and down the road. And there, thank God, a good 20 feet down the road, there was my little explorer. He was happily running down the street. Shockingly, while there were a few families leaving the party, only one bothered to stop and say, “Why is a baby running down the road by himself?” and pick him up. In total, the entire scene played out in less than 5 minutes.
It was literally the worst 5 minutes of my life, and I have been through some pretty extremely miserable situations, including surviving an evacuation from a war zone. I would go through that damn evacuation everyday over feeling the sheer helplessness I felt at that moment. No, I wouldn’t want to go through that misery again, but it did open my eyes to something. I dropped my sanctimommy cape that day. After all, you don’t exactly fit in the ranks of sanctimommy if you lose your kid. I also gained more compassion for my fellow moms. See, when you stop pretending you’re perfect, or that your child would never do that, you realize we are all just winging this thing called parenting and all make the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, sometimes those same mistakes have different consequences. I wasn’t on my guard for less time than a commercial break of a sitcom and my baby, my 15-month old BABY, ran 50 feet out the backyard, another 70 up a steep driveway, and 20 feet down a road. Her son crawled under an open enclosure fence, scramble 15 feet, and fell down a wall in the time it takes to buckle a baby into a stroller. I lost track of my baby for less than five minutes and he ran up the street. She lost track of hers for the same amount of time and he fell in a gorilla pit. To save her son, the gorilla was killed, and now people are gunning for the mother’s blood. #JusticeforHarambe is a perfect example. This vile Change.org petition goes a far as to request Child Protective Services be sent to the home as obviously anyone who loses track of a child must also be an unfit parent.
In the end, compassion goes a long way. If anything positive comes out of this tragedy I hope it’s that. Compassion for the zoo that lost a beautiful member of its family, compassion for mother whose short bout of distraction caused injury to her child, death to a gorilla, and the collective hate of the Internet, and compassion for the Western Lowland gorillas and their cousins left in the wild. Their numbers dwindle every year due to loss of habitat, disease, and illegal hunting. If you want to help make this situation right, instead of trying to get a child removed from his family, why not research organizations that support wild populations of gorillas? After all, that’s who Harambe was an ambassador for. Here are some great ones: The Gorilla Organization; Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund; Wildlife Conservation Society. There are any more out there doing important work, and supporting them is a far better way to honor Harambe’s life than berating a mother. Trust me, she is berating herself enough. She doesn’t need your signature on a bullshit Change.org piece to add to her guilt.