For those of us with older children, 9/11 brings back memories for the whole family. Two out of three of my kids saw it happen, live, outside their classroom windows. All three had to flee their schools. I often say that for my children's generation, 9/11 is December 7 and November 22, all rolled into one.
Yet for many on this list - I dare say most - 9/11 is something that happened before your kids were born. Maybe your kids are too young to even ask about it this year. Maybe they know something's going on but you don't know what to say. On another, small parenting list I'm on, someone asked what to say to her seven-year-old, who was asking questions about what happened 10 years ago, based on things she saw in the newspaper. She didn't want to upset her daughter, but she wanted to explain. The following is (adapted slightly for PSP), my response:
There are a lot of resources available on talking to kids about 9/11, but here are some personal thoughts:
- It's likely that it's not going to bother her much unless it visibly bothers you. At her age, 10 years ago or 100 years ago is just way in the past. So I wouldn't worry too much about that.
- I think you can explain it to her as well as you can and accept that some of it just is inexplicable. It's good to acknowledge that.
- I personally don't think you should wait for her to ask you more. I do think this is a major event and it's part of her education to know about it and part of your responsibility as a parent to teach her about it.
- The why-would-they-do-that question doesn't have good answers. I think it's worth saying that they wanted to start a war, that they hated America and Americans enough to be willing to die in order to kill Americans. But I think it's also worth saying that you don't understand either why anyone would want to kill people.
- 9/11 is, of course, the story of people killing people, but I don't think you meet your obligation as a parent to tell the story if that's the only - or even main - thing you focus on. Because 9/11 is also the story of people saving people, of people being willing to risk or give up their lives so others could live. It's the story of firefighters running into a burning building and running up 70 flights of stairs with 100 pounds of equipment on their back, firefighters who were pulling still living victims out of the crash site when the first tower fell. It's the story of the chief of security of Morgan Stanley who sang to the employees through a bullhorn in the stairwells to keep them walking in rhythm, just as he'd done in all their drills, and who died in that building having saved all but 5 of the employees. It's the story of passengers who had the courage and the self-possession to bring a plane down in a field so that - knowing for certain they would die - they avoided killing others. It's the story of ordinary people walking to hospitals to volunteer and to give blood in those early hours when we thought there would be enough living casualties to need that. It's the story of teachers evacuating schools nearby staying calm so the kids wouldn't panic and then providing support and love and nurturing and education in the months that followed as their traumatized students picked up the pieces of their lives. At a time when teachers and other public servants are being demonized, it's worth talking early and often about how ordinary people rose up to deal with extraordinary circumstances and helped one another.
- A particularly touching story (and one where everyone survives) is the story of the day care in the World Trade Center. It's a place I knew well. It was a regular day care/preschool and also had two "back up" rooms, which is what I had used. All my kids had spent time there, Zara the most. It was the most lovely place - best day care I ever knew. Zara was particularly enamored of Irina - a Russian immigrant who was head teacher in one of the classrooms.
The day care center was in 5 WTC. They had an evacuation plan - all day cares do - and it was to go to 7 WTC. Well, clearly that wasn't going to happen. The teachers picked up all the babies and told the big kids to stick with them and they ran north. They had a no-shoes-inside policy, so they not only left all their stuff in the building, but they ran barefoot. They got to a supermarket some blocks north of the WTC and they took carts and put the kids in the cart so they could move faster and kept running until they came upon another day care center in Tribeca and they knocked and asked to be taken in. So, barefoot and frightened and covered with the dust from the falling buildings they went inside and started trying to call, someone, anyone, to tell them where they were. Every child in that day care got out safely and - even more amazing, considering the location - all of their parents survived, too.
- I'll close by recounting something that happened a couple of months later:
Monday of Thanksgiving Week in September 2011 I went to Zara's first grade Thanksgiving Feast with a turkey I made. Silly me, I
hadn't realized that volunteering to bring a turkey meant starting cooking at 5:00 am :-). I was in my new apartment and roasting a turkey for the first time there and didn't have a roasting pan. Assorted mishaps mishappened, but I got to PS 261, turkey in hand, for the Feast.
Anyway, the three first grade classes held the feast together in the classroom of one class, and the parents all brought food and the kids all had little performances prepared. It was totally lovely.
The "host" class had their Thanksgiving Poem up on the wall. They had written it cooperatively as a class and it totally ripped my heart out. I still can't read it aloud without crying. I'm posting it below. I said at the time that it broke my heart because I'm quite sure that the year before these same kids would have said they were thankful for their toys. *I* am eternally thankful to my friend Jennifer, who told me that kids are resilient and next year they would be saying they are thankful for their toys again. She was right, as she usually is.
Here's the poem:
We Still Have Hope In All of Us
The airports are open,
The trains are moving,
The 2 train is moving,
The TV channels are coming back.
The bridges are open.
And, the tunnels, too!
The firemen, police and EMS workers are still helping
So many of us are safe and well.
A poem by class 1-209