A last minute entry into the contest for weirdest parenting story of the year: Mary and Christopher Hansche woke up one recent morning to find a few of their four-month-old daughter's toes chewed off. Subsequently, the main quibble between the parents seems to have been a disagreement over which of their pets might have been responsible. While the father blamed the pit bull, the mother was sure the ferret was the culprit.
There are few things I understand about this story. I don't understand what would lead either a dog or a ferret to snack on an infant's toes. Unless the daughter is one of those scary children who feel no pain, I don't understand how her parents could have slept through snacktime, particularly given that the family slept together on a mattress on the floor.
And I particularly don't understand how the blame has been meted out. Apparently, the animals will both be removed from the house but allowed to live elsewhere. So they have been judged innocent. But the parents have pleaded guilty to improper child supervision. Parents who were asleep two feet from their infant when something completely unforeseeable occurred were improperly supervising their child. The parents will spend at least some time in jail, and the cnn.com story suggests that they might not get custody of their child back.
I hope something is missing from the story. I can only assume there is real evidence of parental misconduct beyond owning pets and going to sleep. I mean, as a parent of a young child, I would not necessarily choose to have a ferret or a pit bull in my home, but there are no laws against this, nor should there be. And if I were to keep pets in my home making sure they didn't chew off my baby's body parts while we slept would not even be on my radar. Unless the parents rubbed the child down with lamb chops after bathtime, how can they be held responsible for an inconceivable act that they did not themselves commit?
Parents cannot keep an eye open and a hand within reach at all moments to protect their children. The fact that we cannot is one of the most difficult facts to come to terms with as a loving parent. Of course we want to shield our children from all potential hurt at all times. When parents fail to protect their child from life the law does not need to punish them; the child's pain is punishment enough for all.
And so I hope, in some sense, that the Hansches are truly negligent to such an extent that they should reasonably be held responsible for this horror. And if they are not I extend my sympathy to them.