I've talked about it here before, but parenthood profoundly changed how I respond to the news. Once you have a child, it is almost impossible to watch the news without putting yourself or your child in the place of those suffering. What if it was your child that went missing? What if it was you that got killed in a car accident? What if your child was being bullied...or was one of the bullies? In this day and age of social media, there is a news overload. We see and hear so many stories, and between the links and the social media shares and comments, it's hard to escape them sometimes. It makes a lot of us paranoid and scared. But it also makes us more aware and enabled. But let's face it...it's exhausting. My heart is so heavy right now.
It has not been a good couple weeks for news, particularly from a parent perspective. Obviously there was the gorilla thing. A child got into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, got dragged around by the gorilla, and the gorilla had to be shot. People got all up in arms about shooting an endangered gorilla, let alone one that never asked to be stuck in a zoo in the first place. But parents are sitting there like, "Hey, if it was my kid, kill anything you need to to save them." Of course, there was that other faction of parents saying, "That would never happen to my kid," which as any logical parent knows is a bunch of crap because it only takes a second. If you have another kid to attend to, or take a second to watch the animals when your kid wiggles their hand out of yours, anything can go wrong very fast. Heck, last weekend when we were at the zoo, I was happy we had four adults for two kids, because both kids were a little hard to handle. There were a lot of barriers that seemed awfully low and easy for anyone to climb over. It's not that hard. We can do everything in our power to prevent it, yes, but things happen. Those parents could have had perfect attention for the rest of that trip, but the one second one looked away, the worst can happen and no one cares that 99.9% of the other seconds were 100% under control. Life stinks like that.
And then, of course, we had the three stories right in a row out of Orlando over the last week. First, the singer that got shot by a crazed ex-boyfriend, then the horrible mass shooting at the club, and then a few nights ago the awful news of the two-year-old snatched by an alligator at Disney. The first shooting was senseless and sad. The second shooting was horrific. I don't care what your thoughts are on gays or Muslims or anything else. It was an absolutely tragic moment for humanity. That anyone can think that it's okay for there to be 49 less gay people (minus the shooter) in this world (which has happened, sadly) is an abomination. Any intelligent Christian should know that we all sin, and even if their sin seems a bit more complicated than, say, gossiping with your neighbor, they are still PEOPLE. People God loves. Maybe they make him sad at times, but so do the rest of us. ALL of us. And if one of those kids was your kid, nothing else would matter. It's tragic and terrible and as a parent it makes me sick to think there are people in this world that think it's okay to deal with your anger in that manner. I pray no one I love ever crosses paths with someone like that.
And then, the other night, the horrible finish to the threesome of sad stories, the little boy snatched by an alligator from a Disney beach. Initially people were quick to lay down blame (more on that in a bit), but it became clear (if nothing else by the social media pictures numerous friends of mine posted of their kids playing on the same exact beach in the same exact shallow water) that the signs only warned against swimming, not playing or wading...and definitely not alligators. It's simply a horrific tragedy that leaves any parent sick to their stomach. You're at the happiest place on earth, and your kid ends up getting carried off and drowned by an alligator. It's surreal and awful and one of the worst things I can think of. I can only look at my sweet Carter, who is only a year older, and I can't imagine my horror watching him get carried off by an alligator...or anything else for that matter. Same for Jacob, obviously, but the age thing makes the image so much more real. And anyway, we had a tragedy closer to home this week that struck two kids closer to Jacob's age so I've been picturing enough with him already.
Over the weekend, an extended family was hiking in Letchworth State Park, the same place we went for some low-key hiking last fall. I mentioned in that post that there were so many people going into areas they weren't supposed to, and it scared me. Well, this family went off a trail and ended up in shallow water near the top of the Lower Falls. A little boy slipped on an algae-covered rock and fell in, and in an attempt to help him, six other people fell in after him. All of them went over the Lower Falls. Two brothers, ages 6 and 9, died. The rest of the family had injuries but survived. They found the first boy's body rather quickly, but it took a couple days to find the other. It's so tragic, and the worst part is, it could have been prevented by staying out of an area they shouldn't have been in. But again, placing blame doesn't help matters and all it takes is a second. It is so incredibly sad that two little boys ended up dead as a result of some bad judgment and even worse luck. Hundreds of other people could make the same bad decision and end up fine, so why did they have to die?
Accidents happen. Split-second bad decisions are made. Horrible luck can hit at any time. Yes, there are steps we can take to prevent these things, but not everything will work all the time. We can do everything right, have one slip-up, and it just happens to be the time that things align to do the worst damage. For example, there have been a couple times where one of our kids wasn't buckled in their car seat due to a miscommunication, and we simply didn't know until we went to get them out. God forbid that would have been the time we got in an accident. Recently in Batavia, halfway between here and Buffalo, two little twin boys (again, right around Carter's age) died in a house fire. They're still trying to figure out the cause, but they do know that the boys were home alone. Clearly that did not help matters and there was some majorly bad judgment happening there, but they also know the fire started in the boys' bedroom, so even if someone was home, who's to say they could have had enough time to get them out? Blame aside, it's such a terrible tragedy and while it could have possibly been prevented, it just happened to be the worst possible scenario.
As I said, social media and the constant barrage of news makes all of these stories so much more intense and top-of-mind than they would have been years ago. Every time one of them comes up in my newsfeed, it's practically the equivalent of the scab getting ripped off and starting the healing process all over again. One of my Facebook friends posted a status that got controversial, about how no one seems to think rules apply to them these days. While she later admitted the gator situation didn't really apply, there was a conversation about how rules do tend to be ignored now. Why does everyone think they know better? I chimed in and said that no one ever thinks it will happen to them. Another mom said she's constantly worrying about things, and I responded that I do too, but I think there's a difference between thinking you'll be the unfortunate exception, and living your life as if you expect something to happen. You can worry like crazy, but let's be real--it's rare that one of these tragedies would happen to you and you seriously wouldn't be surprised. If we all acted on our worry, we'd never leave the house.
So if so many of us are worried and practically sick with sympathy, why is it that so many other parents are so quick to judge and place blame? I honestly think many people are attempting to steel themselves against the sad and scary reality. They need to distance themselves from it, and the best ways to do that are to a) assure themselves that would never happen to them because they are a superior parent; or b) blame someone or something so even if it did happen to them, it would not be their fault. The flaw, of course, is that regardless of who is at fault or how superior of a parent they are, if something happens, nothing can change that. Once your child is hurt or gone, no amount of blaming or perfect parenting is going to fix that. Those Disney parents can't do a darn thing to go back in time and bring their son back. Had they known the water had gators they never would have let their son on that beach, but they didn't. And despite their best intentions, they can't go back and fix it. They can blame Disney, but it still won't bring their son back. So as parents, can't we just feel sad for them, keep an extra eye on our surroundings, hug our kids again, and skip the blame game all together?
As a parent I'm just not sure how to process all of this. I don't know how to protect my kids better. I don't know how to stop fearing everything or feeling immense pain for the parents. I worry about the future of society for my kids, and wonder what's going to stop us from imploding. We can only keep living and praying and doing our best. This was a tough week to work through, and my heart is sad. The headlines will change, but reality will not for the people involved. Let's keep their loss in mind and move forward by living life to the fullest. Hug your kids, play with them, make memories. It all goes way too fast, and we need to savor the time we have. It's all we can do.