Raising children requires you to have eyes in the back of your head—and ears that can hear around corners. You need steady nerves, quick reflexes, and the ability to stay focused despite endless distractions.
What you don’t need—at all—is an attitude of smugness.
The incident of the 3-year-old slipping into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo is generating lots of reactions. The smug folks are rolling their eyes, assuming that the child’s parents were just carelessly irresponsible. The rest, especially those with several kids close in age, are thinking, “There but for the grace of God…”
Put me in the second group. No, my kids never found themselves on the wrong side of the fence at the zoo, but our 2-year old and 4-year old boys did manage to total our minivan. With me standing right there.
So I know very well how things can happen in a split second. Even when every precaution has been taken.
It was a soft summer afternoon in 1989. I was about to take our kids to run a few errands. “Please, can we drive?” our two little boys begged me. They loved to sit in the driver’s seat and pretend. “Sure,” I said, and I placed them in the front seat of our minivan, side by side. The car was turned off, and the keys were in my pocket. I stood right next to the drivers seat, inside the opened door. Happily, they “drove” along. Then, one of them reached for the shift lever.
Until that second, I had no idea that the shift lever of this late 1980’s automatic transmission vehicle could be shifted out of PARK when the vehicle was turned OFF.
Suddenly, the car began to roll backward, down our sloping driveway, our two little boys screaming in panic. I leaped onto the frame of the open doorway, but could not propel myself inside fast enough. The car picked up speed, rolled across the street, and managed to slip neatly between two trees and down a wooded embankment. I fell off, before the car hit a tree and came to a stop.
Miraculously, no one was hurt.
It was all over in less than 30 seconds. The shock? Not so fast.
I gathered my weeping little boys, and climbed up the embankment. Their sister, hysterical, saw the whole ghastly thing unfold from the front lawn.
I called my husband, who did not fully comprehend what had happened. How could he?
Then, I called the local service station to tow the car. The driver took one look down the embankment, scratched his head, and said, “Lady, for this, you’re gonna need a winch.”
I had managed to live to the age of 32 with no clue as to what a “winch” was. I soon found out.
When my husband came home and saw where the car ended up, I thought he would pass out. The only funny moment came when he was filling out the accident report for the insurance company, and under “Driver,” asked whether he should list the 2-year old or the 4-year old.
To say “life can change in the blink of an eye” is a cliché, but it is also true. Things can go horribly wrong, because children are unpredictable and parents are fallible human beings. Of course, you need to be attentive and use common sense. Of course, you need to keep your eyes on your kids and not on your phone. But once you have done all of these things, you also need luck to be with you.
Only the smug ignore the role that plain old luck plays in everyday life.
What we all need is a bit more empathy and a lot less judgment.