On September 11th, 2001, my daughter had not yet been born. My partner and I were not yet married. We were both still in graduate school. She was in Missouri and I was in Indiana. Many things were different then than they are now, many things. Yesterday, on the anniversary of September 11th, I made every attempt to keep my four year old daughter from viewing the continuous footage captured of the planes, the collapsing towers, the ghostly images of the aftermath. I know soon enough my daughter will see those things, read about them- they are a part of her collective experience as much as they are mine, even though she did not witness them live on television as I did. It is an event none of us, including our children and our children’s children will ever get away from. It was not lost on me that I have a great privilege to make attempts to keep my daughter unexposed to those events right now until an appropriate time. Many parents were not so lucky on September 11. Many parents had to explain why mom or dad, or grandpa or grandma, or uncle or aunt, are not coming home. Children in Manhattan that day witnessed it outside their living room or classroom window. I cannot, frankly, imagine.
I am not necessarily the parent that wants to keep my daughter in a bubble. I believe that a child needs exposure to reality and frankly, when it happens, I’d like to be the one doing the exposure so I can explain things to her. Certainly, there are some realities that we cannot keep our children from being exposed too. There is suffering and poverty in this world. Some people are mean. The world is not all a fairy tale like the ones we read about before bed, as much as, frankly, I’d prefer it to be for her. And while I understand that even this event will be a reality she learns about in due time, and should- I still say, “not yet”. I do not want the first thing she learns about September 11th, 2001 to be about September 11th. I want her first to learn about September 12th. The next day.
There is always a next day, although for some on that day, it was not an easy day to approach. However, nonetheless, it was there. I want her to learn about the collective care, reflection, and help that came out on September 12th, 2001. I want her to know her father stood in line to give blood on his college campus for three hours. I want her to know about the prayers, the candle vigils; how neighbors cooked for each other, checked on each other, and earnestly helped each other. I want her to know that it was love that, at the moment, was prevailing for the most of us. That on September 12th what became most important was the collective “us” or “we”- not the “me” or “I”. That is something I wish we could all reflect back upon regularly. My friends that lived in New York at the time and that still do often reflect upon how for a brief moment, for several weeks after 9/11, the city was, as they say, “just different”.
Eleven years later, unfortunately, we have often fallen back into our same patterns. We are back more to “me” and “I” than we were back on September 12, 2001. This is a reality already that she sees and recognizes. If I am being honest with you and myself, I fall into that pattern as well from time to time, in spite of how much I don’t want my daughter to see it, I show it too her. As parents, we all do. Maybe that’s why I want so desperately to make sure that when she learns about 9/11, she first learns about September 12th. Unfortunately, what has changed for us all can trace it’s origin back to 9/11, but what if the changes that occurred for us all were more inspired by the day after? What a different world it would be. That’s the world I want my daughter to see first, because, even in brief moments, those fairy tales exist.
The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum offer some useful tips on speaking to your child about the events that day.
Image Credit: Niels Mickers