Another Sunny Tuesday

It is so hard, on days like today, to explain the world to your children. Eleven years ago today was also a Tuesday morning, the sky was sunny and the autumn air was warm and crisp. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Instantly everything we knew and held sacred was shifted in a way that can never be put back.

At breakfast this morning I struggled to find the right words to explain the significance of today to my children, who were not yet born on the day none of us will ever forget.  I was fully aware that my children knew I had just flown back and forth across the country this past weekend, and I fumbled over explaining the events of that Tuesday morning eleven years ago, of hateful men who flew airplanes full of people into buildings.  I didn’t do a great job of explaining “hate” and “killing people”, because neither concept is something my children have knowledge about. Those are things taught to children, those are not things children come into our world understanding. I physically could not bring myself to say anything more than “Bad men flew airplanes into buildings.” My four year old told me that is something people shouldn’t do because someone could get hurt, and I went into my kitchen and I cried.

I didn’t cry, I wept and grieved in the painful sobs that come out every year on this day. The memories of waiting for my husband to call from the Navy base to say the Threat Con Delta had been lifted, waiting for his commander to call and say my husband wouldn’t be leaving for war, waiting for my brother-in-law to call from his work one block away from the Trade Center to say he was alive, and waiting days later for my other brother-in-law to call from Ground Zero to say the bucket brigade wasn’t as horrific and atrocious as it sounds. But my sobs are not for me, because all of the phone calls I needed that day eventually came. My sobs were for the families whose phones remained silent.

My six year old asked if the other children at school will be wearing red, white, and blue. I said I didn’t know, but that our family would be. She asked if it was because today is a day about being sad. I answered no, today was a day about being strong. I said it was okay to be sad about what happened, but to focus on the strength demonstrated by all of the heroes that day. Today was a day about helping strangers, about bravery, about grit, about running into the flames and smoke of burning buildings knowing people needed you. Today was about being scared, but doing what needed to be done anyway.  Today is about the people who came home to their families, and the people who didn’t.

But this I did manage to do —  I told them that today wasn’t about being knocked down. It was about getting back up. I told my children that no matter how dark the day we remember today had become, the colors first to rise from the ashes were red, white, and blue.

 

 

Here are some posts I like that cover how to speak to kids about tough topics, like the anniversary of 9/11:

September 11th from New Moon Girls

8 Things Parents and Educators Must Know by Dr. Robyn Silverman

How To Talk To Kids About 9/11, interview with APA psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a program coordinator at the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Comments

  1. I would only add to it that at least Amelia is old enough to know that for some people it will be a day to be sad, because the 3000 lost left behind people who miss them, each one as an individual. That if she comes across someone who is sad because of the one rather than the thousands, it is good to be aware and to make the extra effort to be kind. That some of why she’s being strong today might be to shore up someone for whom today is more personal and very, very sad.

  2. Thank you for this post. 9/11 was a very bad day for our family, with one sister-in-law dead and one brother-in-law missing (but he escaped covered in ash). My daughter, then nine, developed insomnia, and in therapy, it came out that she could see planes flying overhead on their way to Logan through her bedroom window at night. We keep keeping on. We teach our kids that this country is strong. I do firmly believe that bad experiences like this–while we hope never to have them–make our children more resilient. Hugs Melissa.

  3. “today is a day that is about being strong…” Exactly.

  4. As a New Yorker, today has been a difficult day for the past 11 years. I lost an Uncle because of the events of that day and it destroyed the bubble of safety that I didn’t even realize my world existed in. What I’ve learned is that it is a day to feel. That feeling may be loss, sadness, anger, confusion, pride, etc and any combination of these feelings. I don’t know how I will ever explain today to my children, I don’t think it can be explained. It is what we do with these feelings that is truly important. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly, “(Today) isn’t about forgetting or remembering. None of us forget, many of us remember and think of it every single day. (Today) is about taking the strength, the courage, the grace with which so many people lived and died and spent September 11th eleven years ago and using it to do good, to make a positive change in this world. (Today) is about taking our memories and our thoughts and creating something meaningful and honest and lasting from them, and doing that every single day.” While I can’t explain the hatred that cause today or explain the extent of mine and others grief, this I can explain and demonstrate to my children. Melissa, I think you do a great job of embodying this idea. Keep up the good work and thank you for being the inspiration that you are.

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