The parents of the boy who wormed his way into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo will not be prosecuted. That is fantastic news for anyone who has ever lost track of a beloved child for a few seconds, minutes, or hours—in other words, every parent on earth (including the Prime Minister of England, who accidentally left his kid at a pub). As the prosecutor put it:
"If anyone does not believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they've never had kids," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said at a news conference Monday. "Because they can and they do."
With any luck, this will now be the last word on the boy/mom/gorilla/zoo/internet-gone-crazy-with-mom-bashing story. This is a hope no doubt shared by Kimberly Harrington who noticed something rabid in our culture: The intense need to blame, especially when a child gets hurt. She writes:
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but in the aftermath of all kinds of tragedies in this country, one of the most common questions that's asked—after "Oh my God is everyone alright?" or "How many people were killed?"—is "Where was the mother?" (always the mother) or "What kind of horrible monster raised this kid-teenager-grown ass adult?"
It was asked after Columbine. It's asked after other mass shootings because as we all know, mothers alone create mass murderers. And it's asked any time a child is injured or killed…
Often, the only way to staunch the outrage and umbrage is to name an over-reaching law in the dead child's name, or go after the parents in court.
And yet, Harrington reminds us, sometimes bad things just happen, even to wonderful parents:
Six years ago a five-year-old girl in the same town where we now live was killed while riding her bicycle. It happened on one of the first beautiful May days that felt like summer might just come back to Vermont. She was out riding her bike with her parents walking behind, a car approached and was about to turn when he noticed she was having a problem with her bike. He waited. The parents thanked him and waved him on, no one realizing that she had suddenly sped up on her bike, and the driver—not seeing her—turned, pinning her underneath. Neighbors came running out with car jacks, anything, everything they could do to help free her, but it was too late. Nothing helped. They couldn't save her.
The conclusion of the local news article about her death has stayed with me six years later, "It does not look like any criminal charges will be filed. Police say there is no evidence of excessive speed or negligence; this appears to be just a tragic accident."
Which is exactly what the zoo prosecutor just determined as well.
The notion that somehow parents can and must be in control of their children every day in every situation is a new one, and it doesn't even guarantee safety, as that sad story shows. Making helicopter parenting the law of the land leads to makes life difficult for perfectly fine parents, and stunts perfectly scrappy kids, who, for instance, are not even allowed to wait at home alone for a few hours after school.
This lust for blame will continue until some brave prosecutors start standing up to the perfect parent paradigm, as one did in Cincinnati today.