"Tommy. Stop!" I shrieked when he was three and took off in the airport. One second he was beside me, playing with a toy car. I thought he was content. But as I put away our airline tickets into my purse, he bolted.
I chased him, leaving the carry on luggage in the chair. I was lucky it wasn't confiscated or stolen. Tommy rushed into another gate, nearly colliding with an airline worker. She scowled in my direction as I approached as if to say, "Can you not control your child?" I wanted to tell her, sorry, it was only me. His Daddy was deployed.
Tommy paused for a second and I nearly was able to grab him. My fingertips brushed his shirt. But then he darted out of the gate and into the one across the way.
"Tommy!" I begged, my breath ragged.
I eventually caught him. But it took me five minutes to gather him into my arms. In those five minutes, he could have done anything.
If we had been at the zoo, maybe he'd have dropped into a gorilla enclosure. He was quicker than I was. Smaller. When I reached out to grab him, he could duck and sprint away.
When I heard about the gorilla story, all I could think was, "It could have been Tommy."
He didn't take off because I was a bad parent. He took off because that's what some children do. I chased him. I chased him each time he ran from me. But the few seconds people saw him alone, they automatically thought it was my fault: that I couldn't parent properly. Even though I was always, always behind him.
I learned. After he ran from me at the airport, I got him a harness. I know I was judged for that, too. I see the online posts. "I don't get parents who put their kids on leashes! It's ridiculous! They aren't animals!" I saw the giggles and the pointing when I had Tommy on the harness in public. Well, which do you prefer: my son racing off, or a harness?
According to the stories I've read about this little boy who went into the enclosure, he was telling his mom he wanted to go in. Maybe she should have led him away. But it appears she had other children. Maybe they wanted to continue looking at the gorilla. Maybe one of her kids distracted her and the boy took that moment to slip into the pen.
I wasn't there so I don't know the full details. I know I do feel for the gorilla named Harambe who lost his life.
But I also feel for the mother.
Parenting is not easy and we shouldn't be quick to judge.
It could have been my son that fell into the gorilla enclosure.
And it could have been yours, too.