We are Worried. We are Preemptive. We are Vigilant. And, Still, It Is Not Enough.
When I saw the news of Harambe’s tragic death, I thought: “That could have been my child.” Despite the fact that I’m watching, guiding, and protecting my daughter for what feels like 28 hours a day, our family has had close calls. Haven’t we all?
Tragically, Cincinnati Zoo officials were forced to kill a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe in order to protect a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into his enclosure on Saturday. And, almost instantly, the floodgates of criticism opened wide — against the zoo and, more overwhelmingly, against the boy’s mother.
I’m not here to talk about who was wrong or how to build better fences. The Internet is overflowing with opinions — most of them worth exactly what we paid for them, which is nothing. Instead, I’m here as the voice of a parent whose child has ADHD. I’m here to say that, after the shock of the tragedy wore off, my very next thought was: “That could have been my child.”
In truth, I’m not overly concerned about the specific risk that my child could slip into an enclosure at a zoo. She’s not hyperactive, and she doesn’t explore. But she is inattentive. It’s entirely reasonable to think my daughter could wander into a dangerous situation without realizing anything was wrong. These thoughts and worries plague me as I watch her approach the street on her way home from school each afternoon, barely glancing for oncoming traffic. As I shout out to her from the porch to remember to look both ways before crossing the street (every day), I worry: “Will she look both ways when I’m not there?”
Her hyperfocus and chatter scares me. As we walk through crowds, she’s so intent on getting to the point of her story that she doesn’t see where she’s going. She gets angry if I interrupt her, and she is unable to step outside that anger because she has to finish her story right-this-instant. Never mind that she’s about to fall through an open manhole.
Her need to know the ‘why’ of all things makes her unlikely to comply with any immediate request. “Don’t touch that fence!” will always invoke a frustrated “WHY?” before she’ll stop reaching for the unseen barbed wire.
I’m on hyper alert all the time — not because she wanders or gets into mischief. I can’t look away because she seems both unable to sense danger and unable to learn from past experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to yank her away from the bus’s path after it drops her off. She never even notices or reacts.
I’ve had conversations in which I attempt to scare her into compliance. “You can’t ask ‘why’ when I ask you to do something in public,” I say. “There isn’t always time for me to give you an answer. You can’t always see the danger. I might tell you not to open the gate because I see a rabid dog on its way to attack you. I don’t have time to tell you all that. I only have time to say, ‘Stop!’ Do you understand?”
I’m honestly worried that if the house was burning down, she wouldn’t listen to my evacuation directions because she’d be too concerned about telling me she’s suddenly feeling warm. On a daily basis, I’m still sprinting with superhuman power to rescue her from dangerous situations she’s really too old to still be finding herself in.
No, I don’t think she’d climb into a gorilla enclosure. But can I completely protect her from every danger? I never let my guard down in public, but we’ve still had close calls. I venture to guess most parents have.
As I read the hateful comments against the mother of the boy who fell into the enclosure, I feel empathy on top of sadness. I know how it feels to be judged and treated unfairly because of my child’s behavior. I’m terrified just thinking about the consequences of my child’s inattentiveness and distractibility. I worry about how these factors play into her social world. I worry about how they affect her education and the treatment she receives from teachers.
I worry constantly about my child’s safety, and I know I am not alone. As parents of kids with ADHD, we do everything in our power to teach, to watch, to think ahead, to plan for the worst, to scan every environment we enter. And it still isn’t always enough.
So what are you thinking as you watch the Internet rip this mother to shreds? Are you, like me, left wondering: Who will be there to support me should the worst happen?