Editor’s Note: We are grateful to our contributors Jim and Lynne Jackson, with Connected Families, for penning this response to the uproar stemming from the Cincinnati Zoo incident. We encourage you to read this post and this post, as well, to help inform your thinking about this event, and your response to it, as a Christ-follower.
Dear Cincinnati mom,
You. Your son. An encounter with a gorilla at the zoo. These things have made you an unsuspecting internet sensation. We don’t know you. But, we do know that parenting is hard enough without the world scrutinizing your every move.
We are guessing, of course, but we’re pretty sure you love your kids with ferocious love. You want what’s best for them, and you are their protector.
You had a lapse, like most parents do, but had you any notion that in that fleeting moment your son could defy the apparent safety of the zoo’s barrier, you’d have kept his hand in yours and assured his safety.
How could you know or ever realize that between your kids and the gorilla was a flawed barrier, or that your child could breach it? He must be an extremely observant and determined young man – the kind of youngster that can take the world by storm!
We once had a child like him. Our son is grown now, but twice he scared the liver out of us. Dubbed “Little Tornado” by his grandpa, he was constantly on the move. Exploring. Discovering. And sometimes disappearing. We covered the ledge near our kitchen table with chicken wire to protect him from crawling onto the table, over the ledge and down a staircase. After each meal we strapped the kitchen chairs to the table so that as a two-year-old he couldn’t pull the chairs over to the counter tops and climb the cabinets. And, as some have suggested in response to the Cincinnati zoo incident, we even used a leash sometimes so he wouldn’t vanish when we were out in public.
The point is, we were good disciplinarians but there was no stopping (nor did we want to stop) our child’s determined curiosity.
At least twice (as far as we know), his tenacity and our distraction nearly cost him and us dearly. Without going into the details, we once had to drag a lake looking for him because he disappeared at the beach. Another time he climbed through the fence at a cattle penning competition and was nearly kicked in the face by a bucking cow. Had either of those incidents gone as badly as they could have, we’d be living a lifetime of that pain. Numerous other times we found ourselves wondering, “Where’s Noah?” only to find him unexpectedly out the door, down the hall, up the stairs or through the crowd – in what seemed to be a split second. Yes, in those moments we let our guard down. And just like you, we remember the moments of terror that sometimes resulted. Those moments are forever etched in our minds. In the long run, they helped us be better parents.
Also, we learned, those scary moments did not define who our son would become.
Unless you’ve had a kid like Noah you couldn’t understand, but we believe you do understand. People blame parenting. Is this fair? Who among us is the perfect parent? (Tweet that)
We did the best we knew how with our son and kept growing better and better. He’s now a young man who confidently pursues his passions with energy and determination and is doing his part to make the world a better place. Our hope and prayer for you is that you’ll overcome this negative social media storm and that you and your family will also grow in a sense of confidence and purpose through this trial.
We have no doubt you are doing the best you can, and that you’d be the first to admit it’s not perfect. We parents can be pretty hard on ourselves even without the help of outsiders. We live in a world where bad things can happen in the blink of an eye and we are simply not capable of perfect care and attentiveness at every moment. Inattentiveness may have even contributed to what happened. But this incident need not define you! So our desire for you today is that you learn and grow from this. That you will stand strong against the voices that condemn you; that you will know a Strength beyond your family that is your protector; the lover of your souls and the lifter of your heads! Your son’s intensity, curiosity, strength, boldness and determination to do what other kids at the zoo never even thought about doing, are God-given gifts waiting to be channeled in wiser directions. May you continue to confidently and faithfully move toward the purposes for which you and your lively lad were created!
Jim and Lynne Jackson