The Unraveling of September 11

I was aware that Baxter didn’t know about September 11th, 2001.  It had occurred to me that at some point he would find out, or I’d need to tell him, but that day hadn’t arrived quite yet.

What I realized today is that the telling of what happened on that day is not only exceedingly difficult to speak aloud without crying, but is a process that needs to unfold slowly with our children, the ones who weren’t around yet on that date or who were just 10-month old babies nursing in our arms when we switched on the news that morning.

Baxter heard about the Twin Towers for the first time at school today and learned that they are gone because a plane crashed into them.  Just hearing those words coming from him left me choked up.  But then I discovered that he didn’t know it wasn’t an accident.

Because how could something like that not be an accident, you know?  In the eyes of a child?  How can we apply the words “on purpose” to an event such as that?  Does that not shift the balance of good and evil in that child’s mind for good?

I did that today as we drove from school to an appointment together.  I had to say “it was done on purpose” and when he asked why, I needed to tell him it was done by people who were very, very angry with our country and felt that killing others – and themselves – was the only way to get what they wanted.  I explained in general terms that this is why someone has deemed it necessary that we take off our shoes and put our chap stick and asthma inhalers in quart-size baggies at the airport, shuffling his Webkinz and Harry Potter books through an x-ray machine when we want to visit his grandparents.

I pulled out the horrifying word terrorist and handed it to him, fingers dangling it far as far from my body as possible so as not to see it or smell it.

I don’t want that word to be in his mind, because, well, I guess maybe if I’m honest I feel that if it’s part of my young child’s world view then it really exists. Once our young innocents know about Osama bin Laden and the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the other flights?  Well, it’s a whole hell of a lot more real.

Nothing even close to the full story came out today, but I answered his questions as honestly as I could without scaring him more than I had to.  I can see this is a topic that we’ll be coming back to many times over the years as our children try to wrap their minds around the horror of it and what it meant.

As will the rest of us.

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11 responses to “The Unraveling of September 11

  1. It is so difficult to explain that which we cannot yet understand ourselves, isn’t it? I admire your recognizing the necessity and applaud your courage for beginning the discussion. xo

  2. GP has known for a long time. I can’t even remember how long. Maybe because it’s simply been a part of so many of our discussions about the city, he seems to take it in stride. He gets it. He completely understands what happened–bad men drove airplanes into the buildings because they thought hurting people would solve their problems (this of course leads into a teaching moment on how to solve problems–but you knew that, already).

    From the time he was very little, he’s loved “cities” and he loves his NY. So, to him, it’s like, “in some of my books and pictures there are these very tall buildings, but when I go into the city, they aren’t there.” I think that’s how the conversation started.

    Again, I will recommend the children’s book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, a true story that celebrates what was and honors what is now gone. I dare you to read the last page without getting choked up.

  3. That’s the book Baxter’s teacher read yesterday that was his introduction to the towers. I’d love to read it. I’m sure that kids who live near or have been to NYC would learn all this earlier – or kids who lost someone that day. It’s never come up for Bax, but those days are over.

  4. Oh dear. This is a conversation that scares me, but I know it will have to happen. And it does feel like a loss of innocence that we try so hard to protect. I think I will be going to get that book asap. Thanks for the recommendation! I am actually seeing my Uncle Pat this weekend. He’s a retired NYC firefighter and was called in when this happened seven years ago. He lost so many good friends that day. So maybe this will all come up sooner than I think – like tomorrow….

  5. And how to explain the utterly inconceivable concept that terrorists want nothing more or less than for us to live in fear of it all happening again? A sober day for us all, Baxter included.

  6. Jordan, it’s times like this that make me exceedingly grateful that Baxter is older, and so I can learn from you step by step. Thank you.

  7. Like Kristen, this has already come up, pretty much always been out there. Perhaps b/c we live close to NY. I really can’t remember why/when/how we told him. Since Scott can be so anxious I worry about telling him too much, but it is hard to shield them, you know? This year he said they had a moment of silence in school & sang patriotic songs in music class. And, as you would expect, Scott said he was very glad the day was over b/c he was afraid that something bad would happen on that date. I tried to explain that that wasn’t true, but I’ll bet lots of people feel that way, even if it is irrational.

  8. Thanks for the post,

  9. Nice post man i just signed up to flickr to!

  10. Hmmm, I am tempted to try this.

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