Dear Michelle Gregg
Ever since I read about the incident with your family at the Cincinnati Zoo, I have had strong feelings. You see, I am from Cincinnati; born in Bethesda Hospital and raised in Silverton. I attended Silverton Elementary School – in its old location on Stewart Avenue, not the one in the middle of Silverton Park. Walnut Hills was my junior high school.
My family has a long history in Cincinnati; many relatives still reside there. I have been to the Cincinnati Zoo more times than I can remember. I have fond memories of my experiences there. It is what inspired me to develop a tradition of visiting zoos with my own children. I have a strong connection to the Cincinnati Zoo.
So, when I heard that your son had fallen into the gorilla habitat, and Harambe was subsequently shot to save him, I was upset. I couldn’t fathom that something like this could happen in the beloved place of my childhood memories. I have been thinking about ever since that day. And there are a few things, Ms. Gregg, that need to be said.
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Dear Michelle Gregg: I Love Cincinnati Zoo
One of my earliest memories of the Cincinnati Zoo is when I was 3 years old. I was visiting with my family; at least my mom and my aunt were definitely there. But I vividly remember this visit because I got to feed an elephant.
At 3 years old, I wasn’t nearly tall enough to see over the wall of the enclosure, so my mother was holding me. I reached over the edge of the wall and the elephant sucked the saltine cracker I shared directly out of my hand. My hand was covered in elephant mucus. It was one of the grossest experience of my life.
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best choice. Even though it was allowed by the zoo, elephants likely shouldn’t eat Zesta Crackers. And trust me, you don’t want elephant mucus on your 3-year-old or yourself.
But here’s what really needs to be said: my mom was right there. And she wasn’t the only mom letting her child feed the elephants. Sometimes as moms we are present and engaged when our children make less than optimal choices. Not because we’re negligent, but because we’re human, and prone to errors in judgment.
Dear Michelle Gregg: Things Happen
As I stated earlier, my family visits zoos often so we purchased a membership. It allows us discounts or free admission to other zoos across the country. We’ve been in Orlando, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Evansville, Washington D.C. and Des Moines to name a few.
My kids are older now and we don’t go as much anymore. But I remember the days of strollers, diaper bags, packed lunches, sanitizers, sippy cups, backpacks, changes of clothes and all the other gear needed to survive a day outing with small children. I know what it feels like having your head on swivel to keep your children within eyeshot and snatching distance.
I even have a list of rules for every outing – whether to the zoo or to the grocery store. Rule #2 is “Stay where I can see you.” This gives my kids as much accountability to me as I have to them.
But this is what really needs to be said: I understand that within a moment’s notice, things happen. Small children are curious, quick and cunning. The best parents in the world have lost site of their kids for a few moments, and that’s all it takes for something like this to happen.
Dear Michelle Gregg: I Understand, Children Don’t
As a mom, I understand how this happened. I don’t understand how this happened on the zoo’s end. We had a scary experience at the alligator pit while visiting the Central Florida Zoo.
Alligators are scary enough, and there were only 2 feet between the bridge over their habitat and the ground. All I could envision was my little one falling over the very short fence trying to see them. And then me fighting off an alligator. The site of which you only see or hear about in urban legend.
My husband still makes fun of me contending that “alligators don’t jump.” But I didn’t care. This is what really needs to be said: children don’t always understand danger. We never think they will do something dangerous. But sometimes they do because they don’t recognize the danger. And that’s why as parents we teach them.
Sometimes we don’t get to teach them BEFORE they learn the lesson. I certainly hope Central Florida shores up their alligator exhibit after this incident.
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Dear Michelle Gregg: I’m Sorry
This needs to be said. I’m sorry. I’m sorry this happened to you and your family. I’m sorry people have no compassion. I’ve been there. Every mom alive has had a worst mom ever moment. And if she says she hasn’t, she’s lying. Or she’s too blind to see that your moment happened in a very scary public setting. Her’s wasn’t.
But all is not lost. Learn from this moment. Cry about it. Grow from it. Thank God for protecting your little boy. And move on. Many are trying hard not to let you, but you must. As your homegirl and native Cincinnatian, I’m rooting for you.