Whitesburg KY

Let’s not burn the ‘zoo mom’ at the stake



If you haven’t heard what happened at the Cincinnati Zoo two weekends ago, I’m just going to assume you are in the belly of a lion, with limited Wi-Fi.

Otherwise, you’d know that a preschooler wiggled his way into the gorilla exhibit and had to be saved, unfortunately, by zookeepers shooting Harambe, the 400-pound gorilla holding onto him. The gorilla died. The boy has been treated and released from the hospital.

The public has, naturally, weighed in on this, as if any of us in our armchairs have any insights as to what was happening or should have happened. Many people are livid that the zookeepers killed the animal, but just as many seem to be blaming the human mom.

Because, of course, bad things only happen to the children of bad parents, and parents who are distracted are freakishly awful. And so, an outrageous meme is going around that shows a beautiful gorilla with the caption: “I was killed because a b—— wasn’t watching her child.”


The local TV station WLWT5 explained that the gorilla was not simply tranquilized, “because when the animal is agitated … the tranquilizer may not take effect right away. This was the first time Cincinnati Zoo officials have killed an animal in this manner. … The zoo also said this is the first security breach at Gorilla World since it opened in 1978.”

When something terrible has not happened, ever, I’d say we are allowed to assume it’s not going to happen. Sort of like if the manhole in front of my apartment suddenly blew up. I don’t think I’d blame the mom of any kid who happened to be walking by it at the time, even if the mom wasn’t right there.

When we are faced with sudden sadness, we have a few choices. We can sigh. We can pray. We can donate — for instance, to an animal sanctuary. We can commit ourselves to trying to make the world a better place, if only to feel less despair. Or we can force ourselves to understand that the incomprehensible — especially sudden death — either has a bigger meaning (it’s part of God’s plan) or it doesn’t (fate is fickle).

What is easier than all of these is to sink into the sewer of selfrighteousness and pretend that if only someone had been doing what we believe WE would have done in that unpredictable situation, everything would be peachy. That way we get to feel smug AND angry — a heady combination, and the perfect kindling for a witch burning.

Let’s not burn any witches as we mourn the gorilla.

While we’re at it, let’s not act as if a place where millions of children have run around WITHOUT getting into any danger is actually teeming with menace. We’ve already done that with our fear of letting kids wait in the car a few minutes. We ignore the fact that waiting in the Camry outside the cleaners for three minutes has nothing to do with waiting in the Camry outside the casino for three hours (a real danger), and we jump on the moms who don’t drag their kids into the shop with them.

It is not negligent to trust the overwhelming odds when it comes to safety. It is moral posturing and mass hysteria to scream that any time a parent is not directly watching and preferably touching her child, she has put her tot in peril.

This is a new degree of child surveillance that we are starting to demand, thanks, in part, to stories like the very sad but very rare one at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog, “Free-Range Kids,” and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, “World’s Worst Mom” airs on the Discovery Life Channel.

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