A girl can’t take ten steps these days without hearing chatter about the boy who fell into the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla cage, resulting in the 17-year old male gorilla’s death during the rescue operation. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone always has an opinion. And, as usual, they land all over the place.
The mother was at fault. How could she let her child just fall into the habitat? Why didn’t she jump in after him?
The zookeepers were at fault. Why didn’t they use tranquilizer guns? Why did the gorilla have to die?
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I feel like it’s intrinsically American to talk issues to death and theorize on how we would have responded differently, given the opportunity. And quite honestly, it’s not completely our fault: this is training received through the media, specifically news reports that rehash every juicy story to death.
But really, who are we to think we know best every dang time?
Having spent much of my youth caring for the well-being of my seven younger siblings, I thought I knew what parenting would be like. You tell the kids what to do, follow up and follow through, and bam!—perfect kids. I mean, yeah, there will be issues, but if you take things head-on, they’ll be worked out quickly enough. Right?
And then there’s marriage. Communicate. Apologize quickly. Forgive. Go on dates. Obviously this is the recipe for a perfect marriage. Isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong: my marriage is strong and I love my kids, but as far as things being perfect? That’s not even a real possibility.
The truth is, the older I get, the less I know. I have no clue how to parent. And building a strong marriage? I try. So I study and learn and mess up and do my best to grow. I really don’t have time or energy to waste worrying about someone else’s mistakes.
There’s this picture book my youngest brothers got out of the library 15 or so years ago that I’d read to them—What You Do is Easy, What I Do is Hard. As far as I can recall, the squirrel goes around the forest explaining to the other creatures why his life is so much more difficult than theirs. Not until he tries to carry out their tasks does he discover the obvious moral: we don’t know what another person’s life is like until we’ve lived it.
We face such a temptation to judge the world based on our subjective standards. Think about all the things we as women judge each other about: weight, fashion, religion, makeup, education, the value of your handbag, your hobbies, marriage status, whether or not you have kids, your job—or why you don’t have one—and more.
What about as mothers? We judge based upon parenting style, whether we breastfeed or use a bottle, the programs we get our kids into, dietary choices—the list is infinite. Sadly, I am just as guilty as the next girl for making some of these undeserved judgements.
We might never know the exact circumstances that led to the little boy falling into the gorilla habitat. As the mother of an extremely busy boy, I cringe when I hear people slam the mother. It could have been me. Seriously. (Don’t believe me? Comment below to get on my list for babysitting tryouts. 😉 )
So please—let’s make a pact. The next time we are tempted to pass judgement on another, let’s agree to repeat these words to ourselves: “Not my gorilla, not my child.” Because we will never know the full story of any life but our own.
Note: this post was inspired by my sister Hannah’s rant during sister art night and her following determination to make the hashtag #notyourgorillanotyourchild a thing. How about we do that for her? 😉