You Are One Day Away From Being Tabloid News: Why We Are All the Gorilla Pit Mom

There has been some remarkably graceful commentary for the mother of the boy who fell […]

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 4.52.38 PMThere has been some remarkably graceful commentary for the mother of the boy who fell into the gorilla pit. We are telling stories about losing our kids in the grocery store or about that time they unbuckled their own car seats. But I want us to go a little deeper than that. We should not see articles criticizing this woman and think, “There but for the Grace of God go I.” We should see her image and think, “Hey! Look! There I am!”

Because our kids are always falling into gorilla pits. There may not be a camera present. People may not be internet shaming you. But every single day mothers (and fathers) make terrible parenting decisions that have the potential for dire consequences. Did you text your friend back with your kids in the car? Car accident. Have you ever panicked about the dosage on Children’s Tylenol? Liver failure. Have you ever said the F, D, or (my personal favorite) S word in front of your little one? Your kid is prison-ready. If you have never helplessly watched your child narrowly escape imminent death, then you must not have had children.

Life is full of gorilla pit failures. But we live in a culture that is only interested in talking about failure if there is a perceived victory to absolve the mistake. We long to control and to rise up from our lives, but there is no victory here. A boy was almost killed and his parents will be wounded forever. There is no “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” that will fix their hearts after such a terrifying moment. Certainly the newsfeed backlash must make the entire experience so much worse. Sometimes terrible things happen, and there are no mechanisms for blame that will make anyone feel better.

As I write this piece I have come out of a three-week period in my life that has contained a massive car accident, a beloved family dog we had to euthanize, and a gunman who walked into our neighborhood and shot randomly at my neighbors, killing one of them. I have not risen victoriously by the pulling up of my bootstraps. Bad things have happened that I have zero control over. And so I have responded in a very human way. I have cried uncontrollably, wondered “what if” constantly, and hugged my kids too much. Something tells me this mother from the zoo has had a similar few days.

worst day ever

What I wish for this shamed-by-the-entire-internet-mother is that she would not stand alone. I wish that we would see ourselves in her trauma. I wish we would remember those times that we have completely lost control. Unfortunately, we are not likely to do that. No one wants to admit that they have lost control of their lives. Because admitting that you have lost control means thinking back to a time when you actually felt like you had it. And let’s be honest, that time has never existed.

Instead, we cling to our mirage of control and we isolate the least, the last, and the lonely. We judge the woman and her five husbands. We sneer at the tax collector and his embarrassingly pitiful prayer. We hope that the mother of the boy is sorry enough about the trouble she caused at the zoo. But we do this because we have the convenience of private failure. We can hide our family dysfunction and our marriage issues. Our lives still look held together and lovely. As long as we can keep up the ruse, then we can sit comfortably in the seat of control and judgment.

We will leave this mother in the dunce hat corner by herself, because we do not want to empathize with her. We do not want to see ourselves in her. One of my theological heroes, Mbird’s Jacob Smith, has been quoted as saying, “We are all three days away from being tabloid news. And most of us are on day two.” That mother got out of bed in the morning, made her young son breakfast, and excitedly told him that they were going to the zoo that day. And now everyone hates her.

She should have found the clearance section at a Kohl’s Department store and sat in the parking lot recording videos. Then, no one could accuse her of hating animals. Then, no one could talk about how she was the worst mother in the history of matriarchy. Then, we could all adore her.


43 responses to “You Are One Day Away From Being Tabloid News: Why We Are All the Gorilla Pit Mom”

  1. jimby says:

    Oh, get over the Chewbacca mask lady already…

  2. Jenn Palmer says:

    Yes, this. Thank you.

  3. Logan says:

    I think you should be thinking more about the tragic death of the gorilla, Harambe, and not the mother, or defending her negligence. Plus, you’re presuming that “everyone” is negligent with their children. True, no one is perfect all the time with their kids, but NOT EVERYONE would leave their child unattended to at a zoo for even a small amount of time. And I think it’s very cowardly that liberals always feel they have to defend racial minorities, and very patronizing to them, as well. Please don’t censor this comment, but if you do, I won’t be surprised or angry, having known that SOMEONE, at least, has read it.

    • Ed says:

      Exactly Logan, these moms need to put leashes with a collar on their kids and keep them within a half arms length from at all times. If more moms did this more gorillas would be alive today. Hey, at least that little boy will learn a good lesson. Well maybe until the next movie with talking wild animals comes out. God have mercy on us all.

    • Cat says:

      Did I miss the part in the article about racial minorities? What does the mother’s race have to do with anything? The author is talking about grace and humility. And the author never suggested that EVERYONE would “leave their child unattended”. She suggests that we are all human and, if we are parents, have probably had moments of imperfection. The fact that you see kindness and forgiveness as traits that only a liberal could have is disturbing. Your failure to hear her message speaks more about you than it does about her.

    • Alice says:

      Why is it often the non-liberals who bring race and politics into something where neither is mentioned? SMH.

      There is no perfect mother or father, including you, Logan. We’ve all been guilty of some infraction along the way that by the grace of God did not turn into a tragedy.

  4. Robert says:

    Thanks for writing this. I agree completely.

  5. Suzanna says:

    That Jacob Smith quote is the best.

  6. Margaret says:

    Beautiful. The end gave me chills.

  7. Arnold says:

    Logan, you politicize a tragedy and strike out at what you perceive as “liberal.” Maybe you’re just an ass.

  8. Gaeleen says:

    You have said that very well. Thankyou!

  9. Debi Winrich says:

    Well, I certainly could stand accused. My middle son was a wanderer, an escape artist of the highest order evidenced by the following: I lost him at the San Diego Zoo five minutes past the entrance while waiting to rent a stroller. While nursing his baby fresh out of the womb brother, I had to rush to the backyard and climb a tree and rescue him from a treetop limb while in sweat pants and a nursing bra (I didn’t have the baby in my arms. I’m not that kind of mom). Soon after that I lost him at our local boat harbor after having lunch with some other moms. I had just set him down while turning to a friend to say goodbye. He was found just about to cross a busy intersection still sporting his warm weather duds: t-shirt, diaper and bib. There are other similar scenarios. The beach was a nightmare. Take your eyes off of him for a minute and he was grazing his way down the beach eating out of chip bags and tasting the fries of strangers. So, I’m with ya big time, Sarah. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. It’s a joyful journey but some days it’s scary as hell. Sometimes we don’t think we’ll make it out alive. See my Mothers Day Instagram for the color commentary (byorderofthecrown)

    • Gina says:

      Debi, I think I raised your son’s long-lost twin. I have the EXACT same stories, but in a different location.

    • Melissa E says:

      Debi, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story of imperfection. It takes great courage to do so in the anonymous judgment arena the internet provides. From one imperfect mom to another, well done.

      We are all more human when we own up to our imperfections and yet shake off the burden of shame so many around us are all too ready and happy to heap upon us. We are human.

      • Reese says:

        My now 20 year old son had 4 sets of stitches in his head before he was 4 years old. Not because I wasn’t watching him. I watched him every single time he took a header down the driveway, into the fireplace, off the sofa onto the coffee table, and off the back patio. Every time. I captured the best look of surprise on his face at his 16th birthday party. I captioned it: “Andrew is as surprised as the rest of us that he made it 16.”

    • Cheri says:

      I am so amazed, not to mention angry, that so many people have said so many hateful, mean and downright hurtful accusations to this mother. Anyone that has children knows all you have to do is blink and the child is moving. No one said she was not watching her children, one hateful person said she must have left them alone. “Left them alone”? Not true, she was standing with them. Sounds just like an ignorant opinion of someone who wasn’t even there. Anyone that has a child or children knows you only have to check one of your children and another one can take a step in some direction. I have 6 and I could tell a few of my little heart stopping experiences. But takes to much time. Why are people not even thinking about the fact there was an opening the child could go through. Maybe behind a bush, etc some place an adult might not even see. I don’t judge the zoo, because I don’t know why the opening was there. Someone should have known, yes, and it should have been fixed. But we do too much judging in this world without knowing why.Sometimes there are no right answers. This Mother can be totally innocent, but will have to live this down and hear about it forever. And I applaud you Debbie for your post. More of us should do this. Shame on the people who have children and know how these things can happen. Staying quiet or saying nothing is as bad as accusing someone who may have done nothing wrong. Except to treat her children to a fun day at the zoo. I hope this mother finds some solace in knowing so many people know this can happen, and that so many people do care. For the Mother, Bless you.

  10. Richard Cruse says:

    Wonderful article as usual Sarah. The speed and chaos of our existence these days increases the possibility of a totally unanticipated black swan showing up in your life which seems to wreck everything. Thanks be to God, Jesus will be there to be found

  11. Joey Pipkorn says:

    Great article $

  12. Richard T. says:

    Thanks for this perspective. Then again, if it hadn’t been for the human desire to exploit nature to satisfy our curiosity, this marvelous creature would still be in the wild. In that we all are guilty.

  13. Sherri says:

    All very good points and I did actually post earlier this week “There but for the grace of God, go I,” about this situation because I do see myself in her. I also posted how terrified I was when my son was a toddler/preschooler about taking him to crowded places because of how easy it is to lose a child in a crowd. It does not make you negligent or a bad person or deserving of ridicule and public shaming. Instead of judging her, we should be lifting her and her son up in prayer, showing her the grace and love that she deserves and we would want in her situation. She doesn’t need forgiveness because she did nothing wrong, but I know right now she is beating herself up more than anyone else every will. A parent beats themselves up over every little mistake because they want to be the best parents ever. But sometimes being the best parent ever is to show your children that nobody is perfect and to model forgiving and loving yourself. As to zoos

  14. Sharon says:

    Very well said. My kids are grown – got out of childhood alive, well, and are now functioning adults. Fortunately for their dad and me, and for our three sons, every person didn’t have a camera and the Internet. My kids fought each other, got away from me at the grocery store, chased each other with shovels and baseball bats threatening to kill each other . . . and bad things could have happened at every turn in the blink of an eye. I empathize with this mother and wish we all would stop judging. There but for the grace of God goes each one of us.

  15. MMC says:

    Absolute BS! Yes, things happen that are out of your control and you do the best you can to manage. Yes, kids can be a handful. But it is your job as a parent to be on top of it. When you take your child to a wild gorilla enclosure and he tells you he wants to climb in and you ignore him, it shouldn’t surprise you when he falls in. So who is at fault here, the gorilla? I think not. But of course he’s the one who is now dead.

    • Sly says:

      You think he asked? According to the mom, she was taking a video of the gorillas and the kid had his hand in her pocket. She felt him let go, then turned around and he was gone. She then started looking for him in the crowd. It didn’t really occur to her that there was a hole in the fence that he would squeeze through. The folks who saw him squeeze through the fence tried to grab him, but he evaded them too and darted through the brush and while they were trying to find a way in after him, he fell into the pit.

  16. Jen says:

    Thank you!!! Fantastically written and so true. Thank you!!

  17. Marsha says:

    Sarah elaborates beautifully on what Jesus said: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? “

  18. Louise Hudson says:

    Until now, “race” has not been a part of any of the discussions l’ve heard! This incident has impacted a lot of lives, and it saddens me for all involved. I’m not a fan of zoos. Thank you for the beautiful music.

  19. Gloria says:

    I love this article. My children are grown now, but when they were young it was a challenge each day. I’ve had one that would get into everything, including getting his head stuck in stairwell railing. Fire department had to get him unstuck. My daughter going after a ball slipped and fell down many concrete stairs and ended up in the ER. Just 2 of the many episodes we had. Its a sad tragedy all around. But don’t blame the Mother; its just a freak accident.

  20. Sue litton says:

    Yes a
    All This blaming the mother makes me sick, look at all that could happen to your own if it has not.that was a wild animal and that child’s life was not worth loosing him. The article was good and those of you for the anomal look at yourself. Do you make comments like this about the babies being aborted? I doubt it. Thank God that child is safe.

  21. Debi Winrich says:

    Gina and Melissa… Thank you. It is because Jesus got an “A” in our stead that I can even start to be vulnerable about my lousy mothering. My mother who came to faith on her death bed, was a practical mom in that she tied my toddler brother into his crib with a long strip of bed sheet which gave him wiggle room but when he climbed out he unfortunately ended up hanging upside down with his head resting comfortably on the hardwood floor. All this as a result of his early morning wanderings outside on the sidewalks where one day he ended up at my elementary school on the the first day of summer vacation after my kindergarten year. Fortunately there were people there cleaning up after a year graham cracker crumbs and paste. He was all of 2.5 years of age, wearing a drooping drenched diaper a cowboy hat and a toy pistol. Oh the 50’s. Where was child protective services when we needed them. ?

  22. Tina M says:

    Jane Goodall said it better. And she didn’t find it necessary to bash the laughing mask-wearing lady for the second week in a row.
    What is your grudge against a silly laughing lady? Maybe for your next piece, which should be coming along any second, you can examine why you are so resentful of a mother having a happy moment.

    • Alison White says:

      Tina, I hope you are well. My name is Alison. I read your comment to Sarah and have thought about it for a day or two. I also reread her article on the Chewbacca Mask Lady (C.M.L). May I disagree with you about two things, please? Not is spite, but in asking for you to take a deeper look at Mockingbird Ministries. This parachurch organization exists towards the hope of “connecting the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life.” The C.M.L video has gone viral. Who? C.M.L. What? Our American cultural reality. Where? “The interwebs.” When? Now. Why and how? Sarah discussed the why and how question in her article. She has thought about the video’s viral effect and culminated her musings into an expression of agreement for joy in our lives, yet with our neighbor near us, in front of us, close to us. I perceive no grudge from Sarah towards C.M.L. but a grief for our society that has needed to resort to our computer for intimacy when the potential for that intimacy could be right in front of us, looking into our eyes and breathing the same air…yet we are afraid to risk that real intimacy or (God help us.) we have no other option for any intimacy. I weep along these lines. It is a grievance within our society. We are disconnected. Sarah has no “grudge” and Sarah is not “resentful”. I cannot speak for her, but can only see what I see in her writings. This may be compared to God showing Himself in Christ crucified: I can only see what I see because of what he has shown of Himself through scripture and revelation.
      You asked a leading question followed by a sarcastic and assuming statement that is without intimate knowledge, joy, and love of your neighbor – you attack one for the sake of protecting another, neither of whom you experience up close and personal. Sarah spoke about this very thing as an epidemicin our American culture today.
      Please know I do not attack you. I live in a glass house and do not throw stones at you, Tina. Please look deeper with me. Hear with me these comfortable words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). I recall this scripture myself and I have hope for love.

      If willing, Brene Brown spoke in this 3 minute video I would like you to take a chance on (i.e., risk the encounter based in love):

  23. James Oppenheimer says:

    Well, I sure saw myself in the article.

  24. Marc Benton says:

    If I read the article correctly, this woman had 3 other children and a baby with her….would common sense not tell her that is too many children for one mother to watch????

  25. Ethan Johnson says:

    The people causing the controversy are disgusting. The sad fact is that they would have rather seen the boy die. They just don’t want to say it in that way. Remember… It’s an animal – some people need to be slapped back to reality.

  26. Spencer Leffel says:

    Thank God for Gregory Porter. And thanks for including his song here.

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