There is a day in the near future when I will need to talk to my daughter about the events of September 11, 2001. Geeze, my stomach is queasy just typing that sentence. While I’m sure it will be talked about in school, she needs to hear about it from home first. It didn’t just happen. It was felt, and continues to be. There is only so much you can learn in a history book compared to first-hand experience.
I imagine the time will come when one of her teachers asks parents to come into the classroom to recount their day from their perspectives. I envision myself standing in front of a chalkboard (do they still have those?), telling myself not to cry as Kleenex boxes are exchanged between the other parents who weep for the same reason. Blindly hoping our kids will never know what this feels like.
My own story will likely be different from the parents of most of her peers. Despite the fact that we currently reside just a bit more than a hop, skip and a jump from New York City, we did not live here in 2001. I lived hundreds of miles away in western PA. My husband, then my boyfriend, lived even a bit farther west in West Virginia. Neither of us knew anyone (directly) who perished or anyone who was on site in the aftermath. Everything I know I saw on TV or heard on the radio.
It is highly likely, however, my daughter’s classmates families lost family members and/or close friends on September 11th. Some may have worked in the towers and escaped or even just worked nearby enough to have seen the smoke. Their stories are their own to tell, not by my speculation.
I remember my parents talking to me about the day JKF was shot, and for them (both first-year baby boomers), that was one of the catastrophic events of their lives. They looked broken every time they spoke of it; as if they were reliving the day over again with as much pain as they did in high school. I remember my mom recounting the details of that day – the colors of the clothes she was wearing, the silence in her classroom as the announcement was made over the loudspeaker, the smell of the dinner she was allowed to eat in front of the TV that night. The assassination was alive in both of my parents decades later, as well as with so many of their generation. They could never forget even if they wanted to. I get it now. I wish I didn’t.
How is it possible to relay such anguish to a child that has no concept of such cruelty yet? What age is appropriate? There were 5 years olds in 2001 – children rushed out of their schools as the towers burned. Five year olds who lost a parent to a brutal terrorist attack. They watched video playback of airplanes hit their parents’ place of work and the towers falling. I can’t fathom what that would have been like for anyone, and certainly not a child.
I guess I need to suck it up and simply tell her what I know – maybe holding out the more gruesome details until she gets older. I’ll tell her I was wearing my favorite purple shirt and gray pants for the first day of my internship. I will tell her that I heard about everything as it happened on the radio listening to Howard Stern for my 40 minute commute. I’ll tell her about driving home watching the sky, and hoping to not see a plane.