I remember it clear as day, and it still makes my stomach sink when it hits me randomly.
It was a beautiful day. We were having a playdate. Four other moms, ten kids and a backyard of fun. We had set up an obstacle course the day before and even pulled out the bouncy castle, an extravagant gift from my children’s grandparents, so the kids could really burn some energy.
I was sitting in the shade of our biggest tree with the other moms in view of about 90 per cent of our very large and full fenced yard. The part we couldn’t see was the part with a few sidewalk blocks. The kids had been coming and going from it all morning because it was a great little art station with sidewalk chalk and stencils. We weren’t too concerned because the yard was gated.
Except, someone had forgotten to latch that gate when they came in.
None of us were on our phones or taking a nap. While we were chatting, we were all sitting facing out towards our children and our gazes were focused on them. There was just a lot going on.
I remember my son on the climber, about 18 months old at the time. He had just had a little squabble with a friend about who got to use the steering wheel on it and I suggested he go play with the chalk to distract him. After a couple minutes, I took a little stroll over to see what he was up to. Except, he wasn’t there. And the gate was wide open.
That feeling? Where everything you are just sinks right in to the pit of your stomach and you don’t know whether to yell, run or cry? It’s awful. I did all three simultaneously, bolting from the yard and hoping that he hadn’t made it out to the busy road in front of our house. The one that traffic flies by on way faster than they should most days.
His little voice hit me right as I came around the front of the house. He was sitting on our front path playing with the rocks in our flower bed. A wave of relief washed over me as I scooped him up and hugged him tight, bringing him back to the yard and fighting the urge to barricade the gate with every heavy object under our deck.
Because here’s the thing with kids; they have no concept of danger and big, beautiful, curious hearts that love to explore their world.
We could all be Chase Marten’s mother.
Since the toddler’s untimely death, drowning in a creek only half a kilometre from their home where he ran off four days before, the Internet has exploded, with grief, shock and pointed fingers.
Everyone seems to have a theory of blame. Was this preventable? Maybe. But maybe not. Does it matter? Not really. The fact is that a two-year-old boy has died and his parents are shattered. His family is broken. They’ll never be the same.
They will carry this guilt and grief with them forever, and they don’t need anybody wagging fingers at them and parading as perfect themselves to make them feel worse. They don’t need to be made villains in this story when they’re perhaps the biggest victims.
All I know is this: as parents, we’ve all been there. Not a one of us can honestly say we haven’t.
We let go of their hand, and our kid is half way across the parking lot.
While we’re trying to get the boots on one child, the other has hit the handicap door assist button and is running out of our already full hands.
They miraculously grow three inches and figure out the deadbolt and are in the front yard while we’re trying to make dinner.
You reach up to get a box of pasta off the top shelf, and they’re three aisles over in the grocery store.
Sometimes, diligence isn’t the issue. Sometimes, no amount of child restraint systems can hold them in. Kids have an insatiable thirst for life, and sometimes it takes them places we can’t even imagine as parents. And sometimes? Those places are dangerous. Like a busy road, a crowded mall or a far-off creek you never imagined causing trouble for the child you loved and cared for with everything you had.
We could all be Chase Marten’s parents.
So instead of battering them while they’re down and intensifying every pang of guilt and grief they’re feeling, let’s band together and do what we’d hope people would do for us in a time of crisis. Let’s support them. Let’s believe they loved their child and dreamed of the amazing and full life he would live. Let’s give them the benefit of doubt and send them only love and strength right now while they grieve the loss of the little angel they were blessed to call theirs for as long as they did.
Let’s not let our grief and shock get in the way of our humanity.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.