Originally published June 3, 2016
This post is vaguely in response to the kid who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo. Let’s just get that out of the way. And while we’re at it, let me be clear: I am not a gorilla expert. I’m not a parenting expert. I’m not perfect. My kids aren’t perfect. I know we all make mistakes.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion. And I do. An opinion fueled largely by a frustration that has been growing since LONG before I had kids of my own. Hell, it’s been growing since I was a kid myself.
Because, you see, my whole life, I have encountered parents who just refuse to PARENT their damned kids. In a restaurant, I’d be eating my meal politely – the way I was supposed to – and some stupid kid behind me would be turned around in the booth, standing up, throwing crayons at my head. I’d be sitting in an airplane seat, bored out of my mind, and the kid behind me is kicking my seat to entertain himself. I’d be standing in a zoo, watching all the other kids climb all over the railings and blocking MY view of the animals, but I had to stay off the railings because it VERY CLEARLY SAYS not to climb on them.
Not only was it annoying to constantly have to deal with other people’s kids getting away with murder while I was forced to have a second rate experience everywhere we went, it wasn’t fair! How come that kid gets to act like that and I have to behave?! Even better, why won’t someone make that kid behave so we can ALL have a good time?! That’s some bullshit right there.
As I got older, the annoyances didn’t stop. There’s always someone’s rotten little brat running around a museum, climbing on things that AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE CLIMBED ON, or screaming in a movie theatre, or walking around to different tables in a restaurant. And I shouldn’t call those kids rotten little brats, really, because it isn’t their fault. It’s their parents’ fault. But, unfortunately, pinpointing the fault doesn’t change their behavior, so they ARE rotten little brats to those of us who have to deal with OUR experiences being ruined by them.
I know. I know what some of you are going to say. “If you don’t want to deal with kids, don’t go to public places.” You know what? The world doesn’t belong to you and your illbehaved offspring, and teaching them how to behave is basically your only job as a parent. Other than like…keeping them alive.
–Ok, we’re back —
Now, I don’t know the gorilla kid from Adam and I don’t know his mom from Eve.
I have read that several eyewitnesses saw the mother acknowledge her child saying he wanted to go swim with the gorillas, then ignore him and go back to her phone. Several times. That she was taking pictures on her phone while her child ran away from her, climbed a fence that was as tall as him, crawl under some bushes, and fall 15′ into a gorilla enclosure – an adventure that took longer than “a second.”
But I don’t know how accurate any of that is because I wasn’t there.
What I DO know is that I somehow managed to go to LOTS of places – from zoos, to Disneyland, to Egypt – before I was 5 years old, and I would never have DARED try going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be at that age. What I DO know, is that my children somehow managed to go to that SAME zoo when they were toddlers, and somehow miraculously managed to NOT fall into the gorilla enclosure.
How? Am I magical? Do I possess some incredible mind-power over my children? No. My children are imperfect little monsters that have been yelled at and swatted in every public place we’ve ever been (Lowe’s lighting department just last week…) because they want to run and act like fools and explore, but THERE IS A PLACE AND TIME FOR THAT. Whenever we are in a busy, public place, they are either holding my hand (or their father’s) or they are – at the very least – ALWAYS in my sight.
I am the mother who is CONSTANTLY nagging at my children: “WALK, don’t run,” “look with your EYES,” “don’t touch ANYTHING,” “don’t climb on that,” “stay by my side,” “hold my hand.” I’m sure I drive them batshit crazy with my nagging, but it isn’t going to stop me. Because without my constant nagging, their oh-so-easily-distracted little minds would get them (and my wallet..and their lives) into trouble. Big trouble. Trouble like, “you’re now the proud owner of this beautiful, broken, 6″ glass dragon and it only cost you $600!” Trouble like knocking over a $15,000 LEGO sculpture (oh, yes, those would have been my kids if I stopped nagging). Trouble like falling into a gorilla enclosure and making it necessary for a member of a critically endangered species to be shot.
It is a constant, infuriating, battle of wills to make my children behave – because I did NOT inherit whatever powerful presence my father had that kept us in line without ever even raising his voice – but it is a battle I will NEVER stop fighting. Because it is my JOB to make sure I know where they are and that they are NOT breaking rules or disrupting other people’s enjoyment.
They are NOT perfect. They do break things – their own bones, occasionally, but mostly my stuff. Just yesterday, 8 called me to tell me that 6 had broken the TV, and my response was “Not again.” Because 8 had broken a different TV a few years ago. (Thankfully, it was inaccurate information, but I wasn’t SURPRISED is what I’m getting at).
And I’m not here to nag at that woman, because I think the Internet (including me) has done enough of that – and hopefully she has learned from this tragic experience and will WATCH HER KIDS more closely in the future. Though I admit my frustration would abate a bit if she would just take responsibility for her negligence instead of saying “it was an accident” and blaming the zoo for faulty enclosures – which they may well be, but they’ve been fine for nearly 40 years without incident including the time MY rotten children were there, so…
But seriously, look how cute.
We all make mistakes as parents. I do. You do. That perfect mom that promises she never swears in front of her kids? She makes mistakes. But unless you take responsibility for your mistakes, own up to them, learn from them, you’re doing yourself – and your children – a disservice.
Sorry. Tangent. I do that.
The point is, there is a time and a place for you to let your children roam free and explore, to yell and scream and laugh and run and be kids-without-boundaries. But that place is not a zoo, or a library, or a museum, or an art show, or a restaurant-that-isn’t-Chuck-E-Cheese. You have a responsibility to teach…hell, TRAIN…your kids how to behave in different public places, and you have a responsibility to MAKE SURE they do so.
Because it isn’t fair to the people who are trying to enjoy their experience. It isn’t fair to the employees who have to clean up or repair things. It isn’t fair to other kids who aren’t having fun because your kids are ruining it for them.
There’s nothing wrong with a kids-will-be-kids mentality, as long as you understand that a Parents-will-Parent mentality has to go along with it. You’re not here to be your kids’ friend and make sure they’re never bored, or sad, or angry with you. You’re here to be their parent. Do it.