It happened so quickly I still can't quite wrap my head around all the details. I do know that 2-year-old Anderson was there one minute and that he was gone in the next.
We were at a Walgreens in Michigan on a trip to show off David, who was tiny and new. As we often do at stores, we walked in and devised a quick and dirty plan to divide and conquer. Kurt would go grab snacks and I'd hunt down some allergy meds and we'd meet back at the register. Anderson said he wanted to go with Kurt, so I said "OK, hurry up and follow daddy," and when I saw him running toward Kurt, I turned around.
A few minutes later, baby David and I met Kurt up front, and I said "OK, you and Anderson go out to the car and we'll meet you there." He looked at me blankly. I turned white. I could barely get the words out - it was hard because all the air had been sucked out of my lungs.
"You don't have him?"
It's been almost 8 years and I still turn clammy recalling the moments between realizing we'd lost him and finding him again, outside, where he'd crossed the parking lot by himself and stood, tiny and sobbing for us next to our car.
So many scenarios flashed through my head - some realistic (he could have easily been hit by a car), some extremely unlikely (someone could have grabbed him). When I stopped shaking my panic was replaced with utter shame. I couldn't even walk back in to buy the things we'd abandoned, past the cashiers who had obviously seen him run out, given the expressions on their faces and their shared glance when we asked if they'd seen a little boy.
And I carried that shame and fear for years. Heck, I'm still a bit of a maniac when it comes to parking lot safety. But it could have been somewhere else, somewhere much worse. We could have been somewhere crowded like an amusement park or somewhere like a park, where there might have been open water... it could have been something so much worse, and ultimately it really was my fault.
But it was also an honest accident.
It happened so quickly. I really thought Kurt had noticed him when I sent Anderson in his direction. He didn't, and Anderson probably got distracted by a foot massager or a rack of Chapstick on his way to Kurt and then realized we were gone. I'm not proud of this moment, but I do finally realize it was one moment out of 10 years of moments. I'm a good mom. I'm attentive - I'm probably over-attentive. I love my kids. But, I'm also a human. Shit happens.
And so, when I saw the story about what happened at our zoo a few days ago, about Harambe the lowland gorilla and the little boy who breached the enclosure and managed to slip down into the pit, I got that clammy feeling immediately. And then when I read the account of someone who was standing nearby during this incident, about how he'd been there one second and gone the next... it's heart stopping to even contemplate. That's a 15-foot drop. He was apparently hauling ass through the bushes while helpless spectators yelled for him to stop, and he just didn't.
By all the actual accounts (not the rampant speculation that passes for sport on the internet these days), it was likely an honest accident.
A moment in time that was "so much worse" - tragic for Harambe, horrifying for the spectators and the boy's family, gut-wrenching for the zoo staff, especially the staff member who had to shoot Harambe, who was so loved by so many and who wasn't really doing anything wrong. It's a major relief that the boy will be just fine.
In the aftermath, I'm disheartened by the inclination of people to immediately sharpen the pitchforks and light up the torches. I try (and don't always succeed) to apply compassion where I can, not because I'm morally superior, but because it's never failed me. Even when I wind up disappointed and agree punishment is applicable for a fellow human being who has done a terrible, totally blame-worthy thing, my compassion isn't a wasted emotion because I can find something to feel compassionate about in any situation, and ultimately, it makes me feel better to focus there instead of on something more painful and judgmental. Selfish compassion. Apparently it's a thing? I'm no psychologist - I'm just saying my soul feels better when I practice compassion over judgment when I can. And "practice" is a key word here.
I'll never stop feeling clammy when I remember the Walgreens incident; I can only throw out hope into the universe that it's the scariest moment I have as a mom, and that my people will still keep loving me when I do screw it up. Let's face it - I'm going to screw it up from time to time. You heard it here first.