I am not a perfect parent. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. My children have bruises and scratches from falls and silly injuries that could have been prevented. They eat junk food at times and occasionally, I let them watch tv that is much too old for them. Last month, I “lost” my 5 year old son at a renaissance faire when he ducked into a child’s maze as we were talking to a vendor 10 feet away. I thought my husband was watching him, he thought I was watching him. I was horrified when I realized neither of us had eyes on him. Within about 40 seconds, I realized he was less than 10 feet away, in a child’s maze – but that 10 feet and few seconds… it feels like miles and hours when you are faced with all the potential dangers. Your sweet boy… he was about that distance from you when this happened, right? See, I have no room to judge. I am not a “pitchfork wielding” mom who casts stones from my perfectly clean, organized, glass house with perfect children who never stray.
You don’t know me, but now, because of this, I know you. I can’t possibly imagine the horror that you have witnessed, the fear that you endured, the loss that must be eating away at you like a black hole, threatening to suck you in. I can’t possibly fathom the level of grief that you are having to breathe through to carry-on, to wake up in the morning, to be willing to open your eyes and get out of bed, to care for your daughter in spite of no longer having a son. I can’t imagine the strength of will that it must take to do the most simple of things; eat, smile, even blinking your eyes takes effort and the sheer force of some kind of magical power to be capable of doing it.
I don’t know your pain, your sorrow, you’re sweet, beautiful memories of pregnancy, birth and those two, precious years, now clouded by a sea of tears so bitter that it’s hard not to choke. I know that you have been through something that I will never understand. I also know many who jumped to judge you the second they heard about what happened. For many reasons, they jumped to conclusions and assumed the worst of you.
I want you to know I was one of those people. I said this was a result of “hands-off” and complacent parenting trends. I said parents feel shamed for caring too much about “tiny” rules, so they just don’t follow them. Rules like don’t let a toddler eat whole grapes, or play with money they could choke on, or sit in a car booster instead of a carseat before they’re ready. They ignore the dangers by letting a baby who can’t swim splash in a pool without a lifejacket and ignore signs that tell you to stay out of the water, because- what’s the harm? Other people and children are doing it, why should my child be left out? I drew connections between you and the parents of the boy who fell into a gorilla cage, and another that occurred at a park nearby… All situations where the parents of a young child didn’t make certain their children were 100% safe and the child got hurt. When I read your story and saw phrases like, “child splashing in the water where a no swimming sign was posted”, and “two year old playing at 9:30 at night in a foot of water where no swimming signs were posted”, I assumed it was a similar situation to all the others… a parent who allowed their child to fall victim to the complacent parent trend.
After I learned more about your story, how the evening went on and what was happening, after I saw photos of the surroundings, it became crystal clear to me – this could have happened to anyone, including me. I am so, truly sorry for adding to the noise of judgement.
I want you to know that I don’t blame you for what happened. I never blamed you, not directly – but if you’d read what I wrote that first morning after, it probably would have felt that way as I searched for some kind of root-cause for this terrible accident. I actually don’t think any of this is about blame and this is not about shaming an individual for a mistake that I am certain thousands of people have made before you. It is about us all trying desperately to wrap our minds around this and to find some way to control an unfathomable, horrible situation.
I want you to know, too, that I see more than this mistake when I read your story and I see your photos. I see loving parents who provided a beautiful life for your babies. You protect your children, you honor your children, you gave life and birth and milk and a home for to your children that kept them safe and warm and secure. You celebrated the small milestones as though they were as big as mount Everest and you posted pictures of them on social media pages brimming with pride sharing these incredible moments with your friends and family. You took dozens of pictures all seconds apart from each other filling your available memory with moments captured that were just too beautiful not to have, didn’t you? Yeah, me too. You researched, right? You studied what was best, you asked questions, you did what you could to make sure your baby was healthy and happy… I did, too.
You and I are not that different and I want you to know that I know it could’ve been me. I want you to know that you are not alone and if anything is to “blame”, it isn’t a person, a parent, a single ideology… it’s much deeper than that and lies within our faith that everything will always be okay. We can’t fathom something that terrible happening to us, so we don’t prepare for it. It’s human nature to do that and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you and it does not mean you did anything most people wouldn’t also have done.
After spending 2 days thinking about this, I have realized a few super important things, mostly about my reaction and perception of the situation from the outside and I wanted to share these realizations with you, as they may help you to feel a little better about the judgement that you will undoubtedly see. The thing is, my inability to understand the “why” here, has much more to do with me than with you. See, I had several miscarriages before my first son was born. Throughout my pregnancy with him and beyond, there is a part of me waiting for the axe to fall. My anxiety trigger is their safety because, I think… part of me still doesn’t believe I deserve them and every day, I feel like I’m fighting against everything just to keep them alive and healthy.
The reality is, I don’t think I would have wanted my children to go anywhere near that water no matter what time of day, but that is because of me and my level of crazy, not because I think I’m better than you. I guarantee you, my husband totally would have let them do id and would have laughed at me for being anxious about it. He’d have said, “honey, look at all the other kids in the water, it’s fine- this is DISNEY, it’s not a big deal”, all the while, I’d be covering myself in my essential oil blends for anxiety, praying he was right and trying to keep myself from crying with worry. (Can you tell things like this have happened before?) I can’t expect every mother to look at every single scenario from a Final Destination perspective the way I do, seeking out the elements of every situation that might kill my child while taking measures to prevent those things from happening. See?! Crazy! I mean, maybe people should think this way a little bit more, but I can’t expect anyone to do it to the extent that I do because they are not me and their thoughts are not colored by the experiences and fears that I have.
All of this aside, many are asking – what do we do now? “If we can’t blame the parents, who or what IS to blame?” Well, I think it’s pretty easy what has to be done now and it has nothing to do with blame. Let’s just remove the term blame altogether, okay? It’s about taking ownership, learning from what happened and moving ahead. Let’s not take another step backward or even glance behind us one more time with this to consider what anyone (including you) could have done differently.
Let us instead, move forward with the facts we now have and look at what we CAN do:
In the parenting world, we can advocate for parents to speak for their baby’s/toddler’s/children’s needs, to remind people how important it is to focus on them, always, and to let them know that disaster can happen in a flash. We can encourage them to never take their babies for granted and to spend every second we can with them. We can ask parents to stop taking unnecessary risks and consider the reality that rules exist for a reason, and even if you don’t personally see the danger, a danger may exist. We can all do better at not taking chances based on a false sense of security. Broken bones and skinned knees are one thing, but there are acceptable injuries and there are unnecessary ones and we need to have the maturity to know the difference BEFORE we place our children in those situations. This is not about judgement. It’s about facts and keeping our families safe and in tact.
To the topic of vacationing and local wildlife, there is also much work we can advocate for. All over the nation right now, stories are coming in. Stories about how tourists thought they could handle situations in the wild that hurt them, hurt the animals, that hurt the environment simply because they didn’t know better. At this resort and probably many other public vacation areas, we can demand better signage, better initiative taken by staff and rangers to ensure guests get a proper education of local wildlife as they orient themselves with their surroundings. Also, let’s encourage tourists to research their vacations locations for more than just “where’s a great place to have dinner”. They need to research and learn all they can about worst-case scenarios, wildlife, natural disasters, etc.
This is not to cause them to live in fear or to accuse them of doing anything wrong or being stupid. The point is to empower them with information and tools that could prevent such a tragedy as yours, from happening a second time.
I am truly sorry for your loss. I know that doesn’t even remotely cover it, but I’ve thought of little else in the last two days and my heart just hurts for you knowing that, as much as I may try, there is no way I can know how this must feel for you.
As a member of the mother’s circle, please know we are all grieving the loss of precious Lane and that we have and will continue to surround your family in love, light and prayers. You are not alone.
In respect, love and with deep apology,
The Cautious Mom