On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was standing in our hallway bathroom, staring at a wall, when the phone rang. It probably took me a few rings to snap out of my trance—after all, bathroom remodeling is serious business. But after I answered the phone, deciding on paint color and tile didn’t seem so important anymore. It was Andy calling from work, telling me to turn on the TV and see the events unfolding over 1,500 miles away. I put down my tape measure and watched in horror. It was so unbelievable, at times I felt as if I was watching a twisted episode of Batman where the villains were winning, in an over-the-top, diabolical way, using only a few people and a few box cutters. The atrocities kept happening, and somewhere, you just knew that a villain was smiling some sick grin and probably throwing his head back, laughing like The Joker. This is not supposed to be happening for real, I thought. This can’t be happening to America. I wanted to wail. I wanted to scream. But there in the next room, my 2 ½-year old toddler was dancing happily in a pink tutu. And down the street at the elementary school, I had a six-year-old starting her third week of first grade. I knew, based on past experience, that any strong outpouring of emotion by me would scare both of them, and they wouldn’t understand why, or if they did, they might feel wrongly that they were in eminent danger. And so, I made the decision pretty quickly that as a mom protecting her kids, I would not act like the events of the day were a big deal. I would stifle my emotions. I told Emmie I was watching “some very important news” while she danced in circles, round and round to the soundtrack from The Big Comfy Couch (a former PBS show). Sirens were wailing on the TV in front of me as I heard Emmie singing at the same time: “Ya gotta stop! Don’t go! Wait ‘til the green light says so-oh…” As the hours wore on, I was even more determined that no terrorist was going to affect any more lives than he already had…Emmie and I ran errands together, ate lunch…I remember actually being annoyed that some stores, such as The Container Store, were closed for the day. I was determined to keep moving for the sake of my kids and my country, and I didn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t doing the same. We need to be like Whoville, I thought. The Grinch did NOT steal Christmas!!!
I felt helpless to do anything else. How could I possibly make a difference? I wasn’t going to enlist in the Army, as many were inspired to do, or get on the next plane to New York. I felt that I needed to be at home, being a mother to my kids. We gave a donation to the Red Cross and the star-studded telethon. We attended a 9/11 memorial church service with Allison and prayed. We did tell her about the events in basic, simple terms and allowed her to see a bit of the footage on TV. But we didn’t dwell on it much more than that.
Ten years later, we still haven’t. Out of my strong desire to shield my kids from needless stress and worry, I pretty much swept 9/11 under the rug. But lately I’ve been wondering if that was such a healthy thing to do, for me and for them. I mean, it’s not good to stifle emotions, right? But once they got old enough to where my emotions wouldn’t scare them, seeing Mom crying about anything became a source of humor for one of them, and embarrassment for the other. (I have managed to steal a few 9/11 cries over the years in private, like this morning as I watched on TV as a 12-year-old girl remembered her mother, a fallen NYPD officer who died in the south tower…)
For sure, keeping quiet about 9/11 for so long definitely doesn’t help our kids’ history knowledge, which Andy and I are usually big on enhancing. Surprisingly, their school classes have been pretty quiet about it as well.
Andy and I discussed recently about possibly showing the girls a documentary or movie to mark the 10th anniversary. A Google search and IMDB.com revealed a larger selection of choices than I expected. Flight 93, a made-for-TV movie, might be good. It focuses on heroism and doesn’t contain the foul language of its big screen counterpart, United 93. But, according to reviews, it’s still extremely tense and sad. “I know I don’t want to see that,” said Andy. There’s World Trade Center directed by Oliver Stone (got horrible reviews) and DC 9/11, a view of the tragedy from inside the Bush administration (a bit slanted). A good choice looks like “9/11”, a documentary first aired on CBS, which uses hand-held footage taken by two French brothers who were already near the twin towers, working on a documentary about a fireman, when 9/11 unfolded. It won two primetime Emmys and gets high praise for its avoidance of sensationalism. So, maybe we will add that to our Netflix queue. In the meantime, it looks like there are a lot of news specials on TV tonight that also sound good—CNN’s “Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11”, CBS’ “9/11: Ten Years Later” which uses footage from “9/11” and is again narrated by Robert DeNiro; and “CNN Presents: Footnotes of 9/11”, which focuses on eight ordinary people who were footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report, such as a man at the airline ticket counter who checked in two of the hijackers.
Ten years ago, shielding my kids was probably the right thing to do. Experts lately are saying that children who viewed nonstop images of 9/11 in the days after the events showed signs of post traumatic stress syndrome. But now, I think it’s okay to show them more, at least older kids (mine are almost 13 and 17). Allison says she’s fascinated by what little she’s already seen. And both Allison and Emmie had lots of questions when Osama Bin Laden was killed recently, since they knew it was a “big deal”. Now they can see for themselves just how big.