I was recently inspired to submit a post to The Momoir Project as they put out a request for stories about the “little moments” in raising children. It’s running on their blog this week and I welcome you to stop for a read!
Learning to Speak: Lessons from 9/11
A mother’s aim is to protect her children from the wicked and unknown. No event instilled this responsibility deeper for me than the events of 9/11. The tenth anniversary has passed, and we have all been reminded that our complacent license for peace is one we can no longer take for granted.
I put my 5-year old and my 4-year old sons on the school bus that morning 10 years ago for their half-day JK and SK morning programs, all of us still fresh with this experience that is ‘going to school’. I returned home with my 1-year old daughter to tend to all that a mother of three young children attempts in the 2½ hours per day when only one is at home. I got nothing done of course as I did what millions did that morning: watched with horror and sickness as events unfolded.
As my boys jumped off the bus at noon and scuttled into my open arms, I set about routine and served them lunch. My silence was a stark contrast to their kindergarten energy. Oblivious to unfolding events, their excitement only escalated with an unprecedented midday return of Daddy whose normal workday, like everyone’s, had naturally turned upside down.
What would we tell our boys? They were far too young to understand terrorism. What did we know of terrorism? Up until now, our parenting struggles had been restricted to proper nutrition and sleep and reinforcing the kindergarten dogma of hold hands and share. We knew we could not shelter them from the media storm as it permeated the sandbox, so we chose to share that a terrible accident had occurred. What else do you tell a 4-and 5-year old?
Late night CNN was taking its toll the next day, as I struggled with the morning school bus routine. My 5-year old was uncharacteristically quiet that day at lunch. “Are you ok?” I finally asked my eldest child. He looked at me seriously and said, “I have something to tell you” and I waited for some recess confession. “Remember yesterday when you told me that it was an accident that a plane flew into the World Trade Center ?” I braced myself, and nodded. “Well, no Mom, I’m sorry. It wasn’t an accident. I have to tell you what really happened.” Oh my God, he thinks he has to set me straight on this. “Some bad guys flew two big planes into the towers on purpose because they don’t like Americans. They did it on purpose, Mom.”
The grief that filled the world in the days that followed 9/11 was far larger than mine that day. However, it was a sad day for me when I realized I could no longer promise to protect him from everything … and now he knew it.
We’ve since gone on to make many more full disclosure mishaps (my husband refers to these moments as good material for his fatherhood memoir, “Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned on the School Bus”), but none more emphatically than the day we lied to our kids about 9/11. My son learned to speak to me that day, as a 5-year old kid who grew up all too fast.