There’s a picture in our family album that was taken on the first anniversary, on September 11, 2002. My kids are seated in their double-stroller, stationed on the sidewalk leading up to the home we lived in back then. I’d positioned my 9-month old twins strategically, by the flowers and the American flags that lined the path.
Just as I snapped the picture, they both turned their little heads – and the result is both kids gazing, almost reverently, at the flags.
Someday Daddy and I will tell you about That Day, I thought, looking at the photo after it came back from the lab. (My first digital camera was still several years away.) We’ll tell you what happened with the planes, and the people who flew them into those buildings and into the ground in Pennsylvania, and the thousands of people who died. We’ll tell you where this happened, and where we were, and how devastated we were, and how the country came together as our world was forever changed. We‘ll tell you about the who, the what, the where and the how.
But we will never, ever be able to tell you why.
* * * *
In all of the last 10 years, we have never had that conversation.
And because we haven’t had that conversation, my kids don’t know about 9/11.
I would know – believe me, I would know – if they knew. There would be questions. My kids are forever asking questions. And one day they will have questions about this, and I will do my best to answer them, even though I don’t want to.
I suspect this may be the year. Today is “Wear Red-White-and-Blue Day” at school. And last night, Boo wondered aloud why there was a flag on September 11 of his lunch menu calendar.
(After my initial great, there goes my pre-scheduled blog post thought, I tried to engage him in conversation about it, but he moved on to something else before I could ask why he thought there was a flag on that day.)
On September 11, 2001, my twins were still in-utero, so we were spared having to tell them anything about the events of that horrible day. Like other expectant parents, we worried what this meant for their future, for the world we would be raising them in. We worried about other things too.
I became a little obsessive about saving everything I could from that day – newspaper articles (and the actual newspapers themselves), magazines, photographs, editorials, the program from the church service we attended that evening. My intention was to make a scrapbook – morbid as that sounds – perhaps as a way of avoiding that conversation I didn’t want to have, or perhaps as a way of aiding it.
One of the things I saved, that was intended for the scrapbook, was the newspaper from September 10, 2001. I wanted to remember what it was like Before. Before we knew that people could commandeer planes to crash into buildings. Before we knew that evil lurked among us and was dead-set on killing every single one of us. Before we knew that no matter how we lived our lives, it could all be ended in a New York minute.
I saved the paper because to me, it was a tangible thing. We would long remember the after. We would, I knew, soon forget the before.
And I mourned that for my soon-to-be-born twins. It seemed grossly unfair that they would be part of a generation who would live under the specter of such horror. Who wouldn’t know a world where this was still unimaginable. I mourned this for them, and I deeply mourned for all the children whose parents were taken that day, suddenly, without warning. As someone who lost a parent at a young age, even I couldn’t even begin to imagine what losing a parent in such a way could be like.
I was angry about that, and I was angry that these terrorists had the nerve to take away their innocence before they took their first breath.
I’m being dramatic, I know. Or maybe not, because isn’t that is what’s at the core of this parenting thing of ours anyway? We’re charged with protecting their innocence and that we’ve done.
But up until what point? I’m not naive to think that I will be able to shield my kids from 9/11 forever. There’s going to come a day when they will learn about this. And, as I said, maybe this will be the year. And if it had come up in the past decade, I would have answered them honestly, and to the best of my abilities. (Except for that inability to explain why.)
As The Husband would tell you, as a mother I am the Queen of The Teachable Moment. I answer their questions with almost too much honesty, with the bare minimum of sugar-coating (if any). My kids know about our infertility, about my uncle dying of AIDS, about how some girls like girls and how some boys like boys. We’ve talked to them about all of these as these issues and topics have come up.
Somehow, even though it is one of the defining things of our lives, 9/11 has never come up. So, because of that, we haven’t sat down with them and told them there was something they needed to know. What parent wants to sit down with their kid and start explaining 9/11?
My kids still believe in Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny. And the Tooth Fairy. They believe in all things magic and in dreams and in a world where good triumphs over evil.
I could have told them about all of this. I could have given them a history lesson about 9/11 or brought home books from the library. But I want them to have this – an untarnished belief that the world is essentially a good place, and I want them to be able to hold onto that as long as they possibly can. Because you never ever get that innocence, that child’s sense of wonder and belief, back in the same form as you first had it.
I want them to have their Before. Their September 10. Because I know it won’t always be this way. I know my luck and the years of their innocence are quickly running out. It will be taken away.
I just don’t want to be the one to steal it from them.
Although I probably will.
The End of the Innocence – sung by Don Henley, written by Bruce Hornsby
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