Thank you for all these stories of readers losing their little kids in public. Here’s mine: I was on the 22nd floor of a downtown office building with my baby in a stroller, holding the hand of my three-year-old son as we waited for the elevator. When the doors opened, the older boy slipped free and darted in. As I struggled to get the wheels of the stroller over the threshold of the elevator, the doors closed.
I am not sure why or how the elevator automatically went to the ground floor. Perhaps that was the default for the car, in case no one pressed a button. Or perhaps the kid knew to push G! We never figured that out.
The minutes I spent waiting for a second elevator and traveling down were some of the longest of my life. This was before cell phones. My three-year-old was waiting for us, in the lobby, crying, holding the hand of a uniformed janitor.
So yeah. A split second.
Dana’s story reminds me of this scene from Louie, when CK loses his daughter on a subway platform after she suddenly lunges through the closing doors:
This next reader, Anne, also has a story of a little kid getting through a door and exposing himself to danger:
I know this story isn’t about losing a child in public, but it really does take seconds for them to get into a situation. Toddlers can be amazingly curious, agile, and very quick.
I worked in child care for many years and lived for a while with friends, Russ and Cass, who had three kids. We traded partial rent for baby-sitting duties. Their two-year-old son, Rickie, was the challenge, as he was big for his age and quite the handful.
One day, while the kids were watching cartoons, Rickie suddenly decided to climb a bookcase.
I had my back turned, since I was washing our lunch dishes, but I heard a little something. I don’t know if it was a creak from the shelf or something else, but it caught my attention just in time. I turned to see Rickie almost six feet up this seven-foot-tall shelf! I ran and pulled him off in an instant. I was terrified! A minute earlier he’d been sitting quietly on the floor enjoying the cartoons.
The shelf was made of that pressboard material I find to be very heavy but somewhat flimsy. It was also a little warped, not bolted to the wall or anything, and full of big books. When I asked Rickie, he couldn’t even say what made him want to climb that thing! Of course he was oblivious to the danger he’d been in and seemed surprised at how distraught I was. We bolted down the shelf after I talked to his parents that evening.
I have another story where Rickie ends up in the middle of the road while everyone else is in bed. That one might have folks tut-tutting his dad, though. Let me know if you want to hear it.
Sure, I replied. Anne:
Russ and I worked a late shift together and Cass worked a regular day shift. She would leave in the morning and Russ would watch the kids until I got up and took over. When Cass handed off the kids, Russ would take them to the kids’ room, push one of the beds against the door, and let them play while he slept in the bed for another hour or so.
One morning, Rickie and his older sister Carrie figured out they could move the bed if they pushed it together. So these kids, who were just two and four, moved an entire bed with a 200-pound guy on it without waking him up and then got out of the room.
They had some cereal out of the box before Carrie went back to the room and Rickie decided to go play outside. This little toddler figured out the front door locks to get outside! I tell you, kids are clever and almost always on the move.
I was awoken by someone pounding frantically on the front door. It was the landlady who lived next door. She had found Rickie in the middle of the street in nothing but his diaper. Mind you, we lived on a road that fed into a freeway on-ramp and was always busy. Understandably the landlady was freaked out.
This happened over 20 years ago, but the names have been changed to protect Russ from internet outrage!
Via hello@, a reader in Queens flags a video from 1986 showing a five-year-old boy British boy at the Jersey Zoo—but this story doesn’t end with a dead body and the shaming of a distraught mother. As Tim notes, “This video is bubbling up a bit thanks to the Cincinnati incident, but mostly in the British press [the boy’s British], so Americans may not know the charming tale of Jambo the gentle silverback” (“jambo” means “hello” in Swahili):
From the YouTube caption:
Jambo shot to international news stardom overnight on August 31, 1986, when five year old Levan Merritt fell into the gorilla enclosure [at the Jersey Zoo] and lost consciousness. Jambo stood guard over the boy when he was unconscious, placing himself between the boy and other gorillas in what ethologists analyze as a protective gesture. He later stroked the unconscious boy. When the boy regained consciousness and started to cry, Jambo and the other gorillas retreated, and an ambulanceman and two keepers rescued the boy.
Tim adds, “For what it’s worth, the boy Jambo protected, Levan Merritt—now a father himself—believes the Cincinnati Zoo did the right thing given the way Harambe was behaving. (His mother disagrees.)” Here’s another reader, Brandon:
I’m not here to take a position on whether this Cincinnati mom is a bad mom or not, but as a non-parent, it’s a bit tiring to hear parents tell non-parents that they can’t judge her. Why not? Do I really need to be a parent to understand that losing a child in a potentially dangerous location is a difficult scenario that may call for added attention to the child? Or can I just use my own experiences and common sense to make a determination?
This is just a friendly reminder that there are groups of people who may not share an experience with a person but make big decisions about such persons everyday. They’re known as “juries,” which literally decide life-and-death matters everyday, and they’re the foundation of our justice system.
Another reader, Brett, broadens the topic even further:
The death of the Cincinnati gorilla seems like a tragic situation, and certainly an avoidable one. Yet, amid all the commentary, I’ve yet to see an answer to a key question: Why do we need to keep gorillas in captivity for human entertainment? What other purpose is being served? If it’s for the health and welfare of gorillas, wouldn’t that be better served by letting them live in their natural habitat? If it’s for “awareness” of some kind, does that “awareness” translate to any benefit for the gorillas (less habitat destruction, fewer threats from poachers, etc.)?
Weston today tackles that question: Do we need zoos? If you have any strong views on the matter, drop us a note. Here’s one reader, Chris Crawford, responding to Weston’s piece:
Bit by bit, we are chipping away at many of the natural habitats in which these animals live. The question then becomes: when the lowland gorillas have no place to live in the wild, where will they live? Africa is full of important animals and African nations don't have the resources to properly protect them. So they’re steadily being driven toward extinction. We have a responsibility to preserve these species, and for some of them a zoo is the only place where we can do it.
I agree that zoos are important to inspire young people with the realities of animal life. The film documentaries that we have are magnificent, but, as Weston wrote, they just don’t have the impact of seeing the real thing.
Certainly we should put an end to the barren cages. Certainly we should expand the areas available to the animals, allowing compatible animals to mix naturally. It’s expensive, but it’s still cheaper than trying to keep them alive in the wild.
“I was a perfect parent before I had a kid,” quips a reader responding to our callout for stories of losing a child in public:
There are a lot of childless, perfect parents in the world lately. Parenting is the hardest job in the world that no one can prepare you for and everyone thinks they can do it better then you.
Our story: My husband and I decided to do yard work on a gorgeous spring day, our almost-two-year-old son in tow. He was alternating between helping push the wheelbarrow and scooping up dirt.
And in a split second he was gone.
“I thought you had him,” followed by mind-boggling panic. You can’t really describe what it feels like when your world disappears in front of you. It only took a second. It was maybe two minutes before we found him just a few yards away checking out my husband’s car. But it felt like a lifetime.
Another reader can relate: “As any parent knows, it only takes a few seconds for attention to be diverted and something horrible to occur. Not minutes—SECONDS.” That’s the pattern I’m seeing among the dozens of notes coming in from readers: “split second,” “I looked away for just a moment,” “blink of an eye.” That tiny fragment of time, followed by a seemingly endless span of dread, is illustrated in the following scene from The Witch, a brilliant and unnerving film I recently watched and rewatched. (The full scene of the missing baby is so deeply disturbing—one of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen in cinema—that I cut most of it out to create this custom clip on YouTube.)
This next reader, like most of you writing in, wishes to remain anonymous:
I have a story of a lost child. It’s a story we thought of immediately in the aftermath of the Cincy Zoo incident.
We live in Cincinnati, coincidentally. We were at a Cincinnati Reds game and our four-year-old daughter wanted to go on the big, enclosed slide that goes down a full story to a garden area. My wife was at the top of the slide, and I walked down to the bottom—maybe a two-minute walk. Thinking I’d be down there already, my wife let her go down the slide and find me.
I stood at the bottom of the slide for a good three minutes, and my wife and younger daughter come down. She looks at me and asks, “Where is she?” I’m sure my eyes looked like dinner plates as I turned and sprinted through the garden to the top of the slide.
The panic was unbelievable: How in the hell am I going to find a little kid amid a 6th-inning crowd on a Sunday afternoon?! If she got scared and turned and started running in the wrong direction, I’d never find her.
Luckily, I did find her: at the the top of a slide, clutching a stranger who was comforting her.
Does this make me and my wife negligent parents? Turns out, there were two walkways through the garden. I was walking down one, and she must have gone down the other. We didn’t see each other. My wife, a borderline “helicopter parent,” was certain we couldn’t miss each other, so she let her go. Was it our faults? Absolutely. Could it have happened to anyone? Absolutely.
Losing a kid in a split second can happen to anyone, the best parents included. We are good, attentive parents, but this isn’t the only story we have. And it will happen again. As always, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Tens of thousands of online commenters should have considered that Christian adage before assailing the Cincy mother (whom Ron defended at length). This Notes thread is already becoming a sort of confessional space for parents to open up about the extremely common, though extremely judged, experience of losing a child in public. From a reader in Indiana:
Oh boy, do I have a story. Let the parents and non-parents judge me all they want, but make it anonymous so I don’t have to read the comments or fend off death threats.
I was a single mom on a vacation with my kids at a beach in Florida. My daughter was eight and my son was five. We walked down to the beach right after breakfast, where we played in the sand, poked our toes in the water, and generally romped around. I was swinging my daughter around the water’s edge and making her squeal with delight as my son waited for his turn.
But—when we fell onto the sand and I turned to him to take his hands, he was gone. In the blink of an eye.
I looked up and down the beach with my daughter’s hand clutched in mine—no sign of him. The most terrifying panic came over me when I saw that his shoes were gone. There was a pool at our hotel, right next to the beach, and I was sure he’d decided to go swimming without us. But the pool gate was locked and he wasn’t there.
By this time, maybe two minutes had passed, and in those two minutes my mind went insane thinking of horrible possibilities like kidnapping, lurking pedophiles, being sucked out to sea—anything and everything. It was the most incomprehensible, visceral fear I have ever felt.
I ran into the hotel frantically and grabbed the hotel concierge and said “I can’t find my son! I can’t find my son!” The hotel security manager came out to me as I stood on the beach, babbling the story of playing with my kids, trying (but failing) not to weep while comforting my daughter, who was screaming “What are we going to do without him? Mommy!! Mommy!!”
Another agonizing 15 minutes passed when a maintenance man at the hotel radioed the security guard and said they’d found a little boy in a blue t-shirt trying to get into a hotel room. It was my son.
They carried him to me and I picked him up and said “What on EARTH made you leave the beach? You KNOW you never leave Mommy in a public place! We almost lost you!” He told me he’d decided he didn’t want to play and promptly picked up his shoes, went into the hotel and got in the elevator, and went up to our room on the 11th floor to wait for us.
So do not underestimate the ability of a small child to do something in a split second. My story has a very happy ending, although I had flashbacks for years about those 20 minutes of hell. I know the fear that parents can feel in that first moment when they notice their kid is out of sight. But that doesn’t make them bad parents; kids are slippery little devils.
If you haven’t yet heard about the story of the four-year-old kid at the Cincinnati zoo who climbed into the pen of a gorilla that was subsequently shot dead, Ron covered it yesterday. He defended the mother against the hordes of online commenters blaming her for the child slipping away in a split second. (An edited version of events is embedded above, and the original smartphone footage is here in full.) One reader’s reaction to the story:
There’s a post going around Facebook from a woman on the scene who indicated that parents simply lost their kid in one of those “blink of an eye” moments. Most parents will tell you that yes, small children are curious and impulsive and can act stupidly in an unbelievably short span of time. In the meantime, the rush to judge the parents has led to:
Avoiding the question of why the zoo didn’t have better protection against a stray kid falling in
Valuing a gorilla over a child
Monday-morning quarterbacking the decision to shoot the gorilla. (Show me your gorilla-expert credentials before you judge the zoo.)
Here’s a quick rule: If your reaction to a gorilla’s death causes you to lash out at a set of parents and call for their deaths and/or criminal prosecution (speaking as a lawyer, I can’t imagine what charge you’d bring against the parents, much less how it would possibly stick), consider whether you’re acting more like a rational human or an angry gorilla.
But this next reader, Olivia, doesn’t think the scrutiny is entirely unwarranted:
I am not a parent, but I have a gnawing question about this incident that I cannot shake. In 38 years (the zoo opened in 1978), not one person has ever fallen into the enclosure. In that 38 years, I have to assume there were thousands of toddlers and curious four-year-olds. Why did none of them make it over the barrier? Is this four-year-old boy deeply rare in his abilities? This is the main reason I feel there may be justification for the scrutiny of the parents.
A few core points from Ron’s piece:
Our judgment matters. Twenty years ago, a story like this would have been heavily covered by three broadcast networks and the wire services. There might have been some tut-tutting by those media gatekeepers, but nothing like the internet mob that rallied against this Cincinnati mom.
Where is our empathy? Show me the parent who hasn’t lost sight of a daughter or had a son bolt from their grasp and run into danger. I’ll show you a parent who’s either uninvolved in his or her children’s lives or is lying.
On that note, have you ever been in a situation similar to the Cincinnati mom’s, losing your kid in a public place and narrowly averting disaster? Let us know if you’d like to share: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from a reader with a quick story:
When my son was around three, we went to a bookstore at the mall. I had to let go of his hand briefly to bend down to pick up a heavy book from a bottom shelf. He ran from me so fast. I raced through the store, my heart pounding, tears welling in my eyes, when a member of the staff up on a ladder called out where he was running. He had gone back to see some stuffed animals at the front of the store.
I’m a good mother, but a child can get away from you in less than a second. What happened in Cincinnati was an accident. Instead of turning our fury toward this family, we should be looking for ways to protect animals in the wild, so we don’t have to see the last of them in a zoo.
Another reader also opens up:
I think most parents, if they’re honest, have a story like this. While I’ve never “lost” either of my kids in the store, a miscalculation nearly cost my oldest her life.
I was heavily pregnant when I took my then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to the local park. It was surrounded by a fence and had a gate at one end leading out to a very quiet residential street. Usually, I would have followed my daughter around to make sure she didn’t get into anything, but it was humid, I felt horrid, and decided to sit down on a bench and watch her play.
She got it in her head that she was going to make a run for the gate. Why I don’t know, but she did and the latch on the gate wasn’t fully secured. I immediately saw what she was doing and tried to run after her, but I simply couldn’t move quickly enough (I didn’t anticipate that either) and she ran toward the middle of the road. A car was coming down the road, and I only managed to get her to stop by screaming as loud as I could. It startled her; she stopped, the car stopped. I was hysterical.
So, yeah, I never lost a kid, but I almost lost a kid.
The Democratic Party’s gerontocracy is holding back the political causes it claims to want to advance.
Why have national Democrats and not national Republicans fallen under the tyranny of the 70-somethings? It seems so contrary to common expectation. Democrats are, as they often remind us, the party of progress and the future. The question seems to rival those enduring, unanswerable mysteries such as “What happens when you die?” and “Why did Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones?”
People in their mid-to-late 70s are thick on the ground nowadays, while in an earlier era, of course, you’d have been more likely to find them under it. This is especially true in the urban centers of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, according to a recent survey of census data by the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In particular, the Washington, D.C., area is a leader in “senior labor force participation,” by which the researchers mean the region is loaded with people who have passed the age of retirement yet somehow neglected to retire.
The senator from New York is a battle-tested campaigner who thrives as the underdog. But 2020 is proving to be a much tougher challenge than she thought.
DES MOINES—Isaac Rosenberg is stumped. What is it about Kirsten Gillibrand that makes people love to hate her, the rush of coverage eager to point out how her presidential campaign has underperformed?
Maybe, Rosenberg says, “it’s because America isn’t used to such an opinionated and strong woman.”
Rosenberg doesn’t get it. They hit it off. Rosenberg likes her style—in politics, and in fashion. They’d just done their makeup together upstairs. “I like a full, pink lip; she likes a red lip,” Rosenberg tells me.
We were standing in Blazing Saddle, a gay bar in the East Village neighborhood here. Rosenberg had on a white top exposing a bare midriff, and a flowing white skirt that people in the crowd had to be careful not to step on. Rosenberg is better known as the drag queen Vana, and is one of the senator’s biggest fans in Iowa.
A faction of the religious right has concluded that if liberal democracy does not guarantee victory, then it must be abandoned.
By the tail end of the Obama administration, the culture war seemed lost. The religious right sued for détente, having been swept up in one of the most rapid cultural shifts in generations. Gone were the decades of being able to count on attacking its traditional targets for political advantage. In 2013, Chuck Cooper, the attorney defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, begged the justices to allow same-sex-marriage opponents to lose at the ballot box rather than in court. Conservatives such as George Will and Rod Dreher griped that LGBTQ activists were “sore winners,” intent on imposing their beliefs on prostrate Christians, who, after all, had already been defeated.
The rapidity of that cultural shift, though, should not obscure the contours of the society that the religious right still aspires to preserve: a world where women have no control over whether to carry a pregnancy to term, same-sex marriage is illegal, and gays and lesbians can be arrested and incarcerated for having sex in their own homes and be barred from raising children. The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.
Mama was in her 70s before she discovered the true story of her conception.
Late on the eve of my mother’s wedding day, in August of 1965, in Springfield, Illinois, a hoot owl on a tree outside her bedroom window called out “Who? Who?” The call echoed in the darkness of her high-ceiled room. It was a loaded question.
Earlier that day, my grandmother (Granny, we kids called her) had taken my mother (whom we call Mama) aside for a private talk. “Now Beth,” she said. “You know that Daddy and I had trouble having you.” In spite of Granny’s midwestern Methodist reserve and impermeable feminine decorum, Mama did know a little about this. When, as an unusually intense and imaginative little girl, she had begged Granny for brothers and sisters, Granny had finally explained that siblings were impossible. She and Grandpa had tried to conceive Mama for five years and sought the assistance of doctors at a Chicago hospital; it was a miracle she had been born at all. Mama would have to content herself with her cousins in Moweaqua—the children of Granny’s little sister. Effusive and highly sociable, Mama bonded with her cousins as if they were her own sisters and brother, and made near-siblings of the kids on her block, herding them to perform dog circuses and theatricals on their quiet street.
Fifty years after Jazzercise was founded, it is still shaping how Americans workout—for better or for worse.
“You’re not in Jazzercise, ladies,” a trim, tattooed, fitness instructor chided me and the roomful of women who were attempting to work up a sweat one morning a few months ago. I’d never done Jazzercise, but I knew what she meant. The caustic cue conjured grainy VHS tapes—the kind that circulate on social media for their Totally ’80s aesthetic—featuring a gyrating blonde who’s all limbs, leotard, and embarrassing exclamations like “find that boogie body.” My instructor was calling us uncool.
Tempting as it may be to dismiss Jazzercise to the dustbin of fitness history, the dance-cardio program—which turns 50 this month—is more than a punchline. The format founded in a dance-studio basement by Judi Sheppard Missett, the frontwoman in the videos, established the style and substance of “boutique fitness,” the fastest-growing segment of today’s $26 billion industry. Jazzercise set the standard not only for contemporary choreographed offerings, but also for the franchise model exemplified by the likes of Curves, PureBarre, and Barry’s Bootcamp.
A 1952 Supreme Court ruling gave civil-rights groups a way to combat anti-Semitism and other prejudices—but in the years since, it’s largely gone unused.
“Jews will not replace us.” When 300 neo-Nazis marched with flaming torches through the central quad of the University of Virginia on a late Friday evening in August 2017, their message was clear. The college’s response, in contrast, was a study in confusion. As a public institution, wrote then-President Teresa Sullivan, the university “must abide by state and federal law” regarding the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. Short of barring the “torch-bearing protesters” as an imminent threat to safety, university officials’ hands were tied. National Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee concurred, denouncing the shocking display of hatred but urging the public to let the “protesters” voice their “protected speech.”
Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.
I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.
My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.
Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.
Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.
This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.
A growing pattern of attacks across Europe is as much about electoral opportunity as a conflict of ideas.
When Federico Batini, an Italian academic, wanted to research classroom bullying, he distributed a questionnaire to 54 schools in central Italy. The survey was carried out in partnership with local education authorities and sought to explore the extent to which young people faced racial, homophobic, or gender-based discrimination from their peers.
But instead of learning more about students’ experiences, Batini found his name smeared in the national media and his research abruptly discontinued. A senator from the far-right League party condemned Batini’s questionnaire as “gender indoctrination.” A national conservative daily, La Verità, berated the survey as “crazy gender ideology.” Then the Italian education minister, Marco Bussetti, a member of the League, blocked the questionnaire altogether.
Homes have gotten bigger, but Americans aren’t any more pleased with the extra space.
American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.
This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later.
But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes. “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”