Confession: I Could Have Been that Cincinnati Zoo Mom

Confession time: I could have been that mom whose kid jumped into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo.

I only know as much as you do from the news reports, so this post is not about weighing in on who’s to blame for the whole tragic situation.

It just got me thinking about all the scary close calls I had as the mom of a “runner.”

Where’d He Go?

The first time my son ran, he was not much older than two. We had just moved to California, and I was shopping with him in a small local health food store.

Back then I had a flip phone, so I can’t be blamed for taking my eyes off him to scroll through my Instagram feed. I think I simply glanced down to read the label on a box of organic snacks. When I looked up, he was gone. A few frantic seconds later, I spotted him heading out the open doors of the market into a shimmer of sunlight and a street full of rushing cars.

I got there in time, scooped him up, and gave him a big hug. No use yelling at him, I yelled at myself all the way home.

Not Again

When he was around three, it happened again. This time, both my husband and I were to blame. We had moved again—into a 900 square foot rental in the wine country, with a tiny vineyard out front instead of a lawn. We were so starved for space, on pretty days we propped open the front door, and our porch became like another room.

An open door, and a shimmer of sunlight . . . it was one of those moments where my husband and I looked accusingly at one another and shouted, “I thought YOU were watching him!”

Within seconds, we caught sight of him on the pathway, toddling towards town. He stopped briefly at one point, and glanced over his shoulder at us as if to say, “I’m good mom and dad. I’ve got this one.”

My husband shadowed him for a time, then scooped him up in his arms and brought him home. No tears or yelling. A bit of shared guilt for losing sight of him, yet again.

Fast Forward

A few months ago, our teenage son plopped himself down on a stool in the kitchen as I made dinner, and my husband read the newspaper nearby.

He’s big now—really big. And he still lives life on his own terms. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say it can be difficult for a rule-follower like me. But with one more year of high school left, filled with milestones and college applications, we were all seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

That day in the kitchen, he wanted to talk. “Mom . . . dad . . . I’m done. I can’t stay. I’m ready to graduate, and start living my life. I’ve got a plan.”

An open door, a shimmer of sunlight . . .

Not so fast, I wanted to scream! I’ve got my eye on you this time!

I wanted to grab his hand and hold it tight and keep him from running out into the scary street of unsupported life so fast. He doesn’t know there are big gorillas out there, and mean people, and it’s not as fun as you think, or as fair as you think, or as exciting and full of adventure as you think. Stay here . . . get one more year under your belt, I begged.

But he only sees sunlight, and opportunity, and freedom.

So, we had to let him go.

I Get It

As the mom of a “runner,” I can’t weigh in on the parenting of the little boy who climbed over the fence and jumped down into an exhibit filled with gorillas.

I can only offer this, from my own experience:


Stealing bases—standard procedure for this guy.

From the outside, it looks like we’re not paying proper attention. Our kids do things differently, and sometimes impulsively. They’re hard to keep track of, as well as on track. You don’t have much control over their decisions, and controlling them makes them so unhappy, it becomes unhealthy for everyone in the family.

And you know how I feel about wellness. I think it’s worth choosing above money, notoriety, and success. Sometimes, choosing wellness is risky business.

It’s when you begin to look at prayer and the Grace of God as your only legitimate parenting strategies.

Good Wellness Advice . . . Stay Calm

There’s not much you can do as the mom of a “runner,” but exactly what that mom did at the zoo that day.

Did anyone hear her strong and focused voice in the video, as she watched her son being dragged through the water by a jungle giant? She keeps repeating, “Mommy’s here. Mommy’s here.” On the 911 tape you hear her saying, “Stay calm. Stay calm.” Can we give her a sliver of credit for her parenting in THAT moment?

My guess? Her son is a bit of a “runner” just like our son. And who knows, if he could talk, he might have yelled up to her, “I’m good mom. I’ve got this one.”

I’m thinking I’m not the only mom with a few scary parenting stories to tell. Anyone want to share a time when your little one got out of reach? How long did it take before you were able to forgive yourself? 🙂

Feel good. Be well.


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