You Could Have Made The Same Mistake

I’ll never forget that moment.

It was more about what didn’t happen than what did.

I was with my wife and my two year old daughter, and we were checking in to the children’s museum in our neighborhood.  It was exactly like every other time we had come.  Showing them our member card, shuffling through our stuff, making sure we were all in order before moving on.

It was just a moment.  But that’s all it took.

We looked up, and she was gone.

We looked around.  She had to be close.  How on earth could she get far, right?  I stayed calm, sure I would find her.

I circled the entrance, where I was sure she would be.  Nothing.  I felt panic starting to rise inside of me.  Felt it in my wife as well as she started speaking to one of the people at the front desk saying, “We don’t know what happened to our daughter… yes, can you please… yes, thank you.”

It became clear that she wasn’t there.  What scared me more than anything was that she might have gone outside.  The doors were right there, she could have just as easily gone out of them as into the museum.

The people at the museum immediately sent a group of people to look for her.  I went outside and looked around, my heart in my chest, tears in my eyes.  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.

I started running in a mad panic, never feeling this scared in my life.  I tried to push all the disturbing images of what might happen out of my mind, but they kept invading.

Finally, my wife came up to me.  She looked at me with relief.  They had found my little girl.  We ran back to the entrance.  One of the employees was holding her hand, bringing her to us.  She had a smile on her face, no idea how much fear she had put in us.

I hugged her and held her close.  I told her never to run away like that again.  But inside, I was blaming myself.


That feeling of searing anger, of absolute outrage at myself when I held my daughter close came back to me recently.  It was as I watched the internet outrage at a mother whose child had escaped her, run into a gorilla’s cage, and almost died before the zookeepers shot the gorilla and killed it in order to save him.

Suddenly, it was like seeing my own anger directed at the mother, but from all over the world and by others.

And I realized just how easy it is, how simple, to blame.  It is the crutch we use when the world makes no sense.  It made no sense to me that my daughter disappeared from my grasp when all I did was look away for a moment.  It made no sense to me that she could have easily died.  It made no sense to me that I was spared that horrible fate.

And now, the world was faced with a similarly absurd moment.  A child disappeared, his mother seemingly made a mistake, and the quickest, easiest answer seemed to be to blame her for the entire problem.


I’d wager that most parents have had at least one moment like mine in their parenting lives.  In retrospect, it is almost banal, just a hiccup in the crazy ups and downs of being  a parent.  But in the moment, it is utterly devastating.  Because parenting is really a constant stream of situations that we have to be almost paranoid to deal with normally.  We are hyper-aware that anything can go wrong in a moment.

Without a doubt, after that day, I made sure to be much more vigilant around my daughter, even more than I was before.  I’ve learned to become almost obsessively committed to making sure she doesn’t run off on me.

That was one lesson of the experience, but it wasn’t the only one, or even the main one.

The other was longer-learned, one that required (and requires) years of meditation to truly comprehend.

It is this: no parent is perfect.  We are all people, flawed people, no different than when we were flawed people before we had children.  The difference is that now our flaws are magnified beyond reason because even a small one can mean the life or death of a small child.

Even harder to accept as a parent: sometimes there is literally nothing you can do.  You send your child to school, you hope for the best, but those moments, when you first accept them, are terrifying because you’ve accepted now that for hours of the day at a time anything on earth can happen to your child.  This is part of being a parent.  And any learning parent will need to accept this if they want their child to mature beyond diapers.

Even more important: even when we are around, anything can happen.  This is an almost incomprehensible reality, but it’s true.  Just as anything could happen to us at any moment (a reality that enough of us have trouble truly understanding), anything could happen to our children, despite our deepest-held desires.

In other words, a huge part of being a parent is learning to forgive yourself.  Whether it was your fault or not, there will be moments where things will go wrong.  And you either learn from it, or learn to let go of it, or hopefully both.


Unfortunately, it seems, one of the most important facts of parenting is now being actively attacked on the regular thanks to social media.

From children crying on airplanes to a child sneaking into the pen of a gorilla and almost getting killed, we live in a world where any and all things that go wrong with children has become a chance to crucify the parents.

It seems, unfortunately, that even when the most horrific nightmare for a parent actually comes to pass, we are so obsessed with placing blame that we cannot take a moment to understand the nature of parenting, and of life: that it is entirely possible that something can happen without there being anyone to blame, for example.  That even a mistake does not mean that a mother deserves to be punished for negligence.  That any one of us could have done just as bad or worse.  That most of us are simply lucky that our mistakes have not been streamed on the internet for the world to see and judge.

And this is really the essence of the problem in our new outrage-fueled tech nightmare: that forgiveness is no longer an option.  That assuming the best in others is a weakness.  That blame should be out default setting when tragedy occurs, rather than empathy, caring, sadness.

This goes beyond the ease with which we blame parents.  It goes down to the essence of how we as a society deal with a world that often makes no sense, and horrible things happen.  Blame is easy.  Empathy hard.  Understanding even harder.

But ultimately, blame is a crutch, and empathy and understanding are the virtues by which our society should handle crisis.


I will never forget that moment with my daughter because in that moment I understood all the other moments I had attacked myself so viciously.  I realized how much mistakes are interwoven with fate.  That life is usually just us navigating our ups and downs as fallible people and trying to learn while still ultimately accepting that we will continue to fail.

In the storm that is social media judgment, it would be good for us to remember such things, if only for ourselves.

The world wants us to blame.  The mob wants us to crucify.  The media wants to spread it all for the clicks.

But we are, internally, stronger than that.  Able to learn the essence of parenting, and thus the essence of life: we are all human, and we all deserve to be given the space to make mistakes without cutting ourselves to pieces.

And if we are strong enough, we can learn to apply it to others.  And to start, piece by piece, moment by moment, to stand up to the people who think they know what a parent – a zookeeper – anyone – should have done in a moment where mistakes and fate have combined to create tragedy.





51 responses to “You Could Have Made The Same Mistake”

  1. Mary Ruth Andrews Avatar
    Mary Ruth Andrews

    Thirty five years ago, the same fear clutched my throat in a Kmart. I turned around and he was gone, my three year old, whose forehead the sun rose and set upon. He was found fifteen minutes later in the outer entrance of the store. We are human beings, made by the same G-d, and must remember our humanness, our ability at any given moment to fail miserably, any one of us. And to lift each other up in the shadow of our failings, not destroy each other in our haste to exalt ourselves.

  2. Beth Connell Avatar
    Beth Connell

    in my younger years I too probably would have been blaming and shaming to some extent. The older I get the less I am interested. We live in a fallen world and things happen. We can either help facilitate healing and wholeness or be a part of the problem. I love your response to this issue and I really hope we all take to heart the compassion of forgiveness.

  3. Ania Tamas Avatar
    Ania Tamas

    I so hear you. Happend twice with my oldest boy and once with my girl. I mean I had them right there and next thing he was gone . I got so scared the 1st time it happened because we where in a croud . He went in the store . With my girl we didn´t realized she was gone until I asked my husband where is she . I thought he had her. We where at church and we started looking for her until the security guy came in with her – she was almost to the exit of the garden of the church heading to the a busy road . I am the golum type mom I wach my kids like my precious but mistakes happens or lack of comunication between spouses .

  4. Lillian Soloweszyk Avatar
    Lillian Soloweszyk

    That’s ridiculous! Yes parent should be punished for neglect. And they can be- that’s why child neglect is illegal! In this case, it resulted in the death of a caged animal. In other instances, it results in the death od other PEOPLE. Last year, a father left his loaded gun under the bed and hus4 year old shot and killed the neighbor boy who was 6. Should this father be punished for his negligence or should we forgive and forget because everyone makes mistakes? The parents with a dead son believed this other parent should be punished for his neglect and the courts agreed because they awarded the parents half a million dollars. And who has to pay? The parent guilt of neglect! Yes, parenting is hard and no one is perfect but that doesn’t relieve you of all responsibility for your child. They are in your care, you are fully responsible for them and when your negligent leads to harm or death of others or severe destruction of property, you have to pay up. Even if you look at the Zoo situation in purely financial terms, without morality, the animals can cost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the least this parent should ve required to pay for the loss of money to the zoo. If your child had managed to destroy a piece of art worth $100,000 when she escaped your sight, you don’t think you should be required to pay for the damage? That’s pure chutzpah!

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Obviously parents are responsible for their children. However, comparing a parent that lost track of their child (especially without enough details to back up what actually happened) is completely incomparable to leaving a loaded gun out.

      That’s exactly where empathy and understanding come in, we need to be able to see when we shouldn’t jump to these conclusions just because they happened under the watch of a parent. We need to think with nuance.

      1. get2djnow Avatar

        So only examples that you like are worthy of empathy. Awesome.

    2. get2djnow Avatar

      Great points, and as Mike Doyle said after you: Rule 1: Keep your kid out of the Gorilla pit. Rule 2: See Rule 1.

  5. MikeDoyle Avatar

    No, no, no. Just no. Rule number one of parenting: keep your child out of the gorilla exhibit. Rule number 2, see rule number one. There’s no excuse. If you’re not going to take responsibility for safeguarding your child’s LIFE, then what are you going to take responsibility for? Compassion and forgiveness come later. Taking responsibility comes first.

    1. Sholom Ber Stiefel Avatar
      Sholom Ber Stiefel

      Just 2 questions Mike:
      1) Are you a father?
      2) What were your feelings while watching the video of the kid being dragged across the water?

    2. get2djnow Avatar

      Thank you. I was looking for a comment like your before leaving one of my own. I find it curious that people are willing to excuse any behavior because they identify with it. It’s worth it to point out that this has not happened in the history of the zoo. I wonder why, could it be that other people that have visited the zoo before this were at least watching their kids closely enough that by the 3rd redundant fence to prevent this incident a parent was freaking out?

  6. Meira E. Schneider-Atik Avatar
    Meira E. Schneider-Atik

    Show me a parent who hasn’t lost sight of his/her child and I’ll show you a parent who hasn’t been a parent long enough for it to happen. We have no right to judge. And by the way, the police did investigate and found no evidence of negligence by the parents or by the zoo. Accidents happen.

  7. Erin Gladding Avatar
    Erin Gladding

    Thank you for this well written story. I agree with all of your points but especially the part where you say something can happen without there being someone to blame.

  8. Tiiffy Avatar

    I think, ultimately, those who blame would be the ones to blame themselves. We know no one is perfect which, nonetheless, does not excuse us to neglect our responsibilities and anticipate the consequences for our actions. If it was us in that situation, we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves; since it’s not us in the situation, we can tell them they shouldn’t live with themselves because we wouldn’t be able to.

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