This morning I woke up to the news that yet another tragic event occurred in the city of Orlando. A small child, only two years old, was wading in less than 12″ of water near the Grand Floridian resort and was suddenly grabbed by an alligator and dragged into the water. His parents, who were right there with him, attempted to save him. They were unsuccessful. A search was underway and the chance of anything but a tragic outcome was bleak.
I don’t know if my feelings were extra raw because of all of the tragic tales we’ve been bombarded with over the last few days, but this story struck a chord deep in me. I knew the chances that he would be found safe were almost nonexistent, but my God, for a few hours I held on to hope. I prayed. I wished.
I started combing through the comment sections of the different Facebook posts related to the story, I suppose looking for some answers, and found myself becoming enraged. Really– enraged. For every comment that expressed sorrow or empathy, there was another one calling the parents stupid, ignorant, careless, reckless and so on. The suggestions that somehow these people brought this upon themselves or even deserved this on some level were plentiful. We recently saw another event where a four year old boy got away from his parents and climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. For every sympathetic comment and hashtagged tale telling of the time #ivelostmykid, there were two more comments demanding the parents be brought up on criminal charges for negligence and that they be investigated by CPS. Here are two sets of parents, both faced very suddenly with the mortality of their small child (albeit with vastly different outcomes) and all we can do is blame and criticize?
Is the problem that we have become so jaded, so quick to pass judgement that we automatically turn to cruel remarks and finger pointing when the unthinkable happens? Are we so desensitized that we are no longer capable of expressing sympathy? We’ve lost our humanity, haven’t we?
I’m not sure.
What struck me today was the number of comments that were made by those who quite obviously hadn’t even read the very basic account of the event. So many “Where were the parents?” and “Why was a 2 year old swimming alone?! Smh!” queries that could have been easily answered by clicking on the link they were actively commenting on. I found myself shaking with anger and saying, “DID YOU EVEN READ THE ARTICLE, ASSHOLE?”
And, then I had a sort of epiphany.
We are so quick to heap judgement and victim blame because it is the only way to convince ourselves that somehow, some way if we do things the “right” way, we will avoid tragedy. It’s mental self preservation at its finest, and the only way we can convince ourselves that xyz will never happen to us. Because if we can not pinpoint a cause or identify a source of blame, then that just means that the universe is one cruel motherfucker and a terrifying twist of fate can find its way into any of our lives at any time… and that is downright horrifying. If we are to make it through the day with our sanity intact, we somehow have to separate ourselves as the “us” (the good parents, the attentive and informed parents) from the “them” (the people that bring bad shit upon themselves). We have to write off these tragedies as the result of parental failure because if we don’t that means we could very well be next.
Social media has allowed us to become hyperconnected. Thanks to Facebook I can see what my cousin in CT, who I haven’t seen since I was 8, is eating for lunch… I can watch my nieces and nephews grow from a distance and celebrate their milestones and dance recitals and baseball games. I can distract myself at work or in line at the DMV by reading Buzzfeed posts. I can maintain my sanity by sharing tales of potty training or the last fight I had with my husband with my tightknit little mommy group. I can laugh at viral cat videos or silly eCards.
But what Facebook giveth, Facebook also taketh away. Thanks to the miracle of social media and the oversharing that occurs, I am all too aware what my friends’ and family’s political leanings are, and that alters my opinion of them at times. I read too much controversial bullshit and find myself angry. A lot. I am privy to news stories of unthinkable disasters from small towns across the country that don’t make their way to the local news here. I see the Gofundme pages for acquaintences’ children who are fighting cancer or for people who’ve lost their house in a fire. I am completely steeped in reality: the good, the bad, the mundane, the tragic. So, sometimes a headline pops up and I judge the content of the story based on the clickbaitey headline because I. Cannot. Take. Any. More. Bad. News. A child was ejected from a car? (Probably bad chest clip placement. Luckily I know my car sear safety!). A baby is left in a hot car by a parent? (That would never happen to me! I’m never THAT preoccupied!) A toddler eats a moldy applesauce pouch and this triggers a massive recall? (Lucky for me, I refuse to buy THAT brand as it is! Score one for me!) So, I am–on occasion– one of those assholes that jumps to conclusions without the facts. I scroll past and think “not me” and feel better for a brief moment.
But, I can never escape the feeling that maybe, somehow, some way…it’s only dumb luck that has allowed me to avoid tragedy… that maybe my superior choices and keen maternal instinct aren’t responsible for my child’s safety and well being, but that I have thus far been on the right side of parental luck. And, that is equally humbling and frightening.
I’ve always thought that the root of sanctimommying is fear and uncertainty, and the mass reactions to events such as these seem to support that theory. The vitriol and venomous criticism come from a place of fear. The fact is… we aren’t angry with you. We ARE afraid that we are, or will be, you.
I can’t imagine what those parents are going through right now. My heart aches for them. I hope they don’t ever read the comment section of any article related to their tragedy, because the Monday Morning Quarterbacking might be too much to bear. But if they do, I hope they can see through what appears to be smug judgement and know that fear that we could be in their place is what guides the harsh criticism, and that their pain is all too palpable to all of us, even if we are afraid to acknowledge it.