What I Should Have Said To My Children On 9/11
This past September 11th, my day started out as any other. I got my kids ready, and I was driving into town to drop them off at daycare. Our commute is about 15 minutes long. The conversation started out innocently enough. I was telling my kiddos that today was a special day. September 11th is Patriot Day.
I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, but first, a bit of history.
Patriot Day is the day we remember. We remember the men, women, and children tragically lost on September 11, 2001 from terrorist attacks on the United States of America.
(You can find the official definition, according to Wikipedia here.)
Where Were You when The World Stopped Turning?
My heart is always heavy on September 11th each year as I recall that day. I was a senior in college, just 21 years old, when the terrorist attacks occurred on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The first attack was just before my first class of the day. I had no idea that there was anything out of the ordinary going on. Then I had a break between classes. Trudging along to my next task for the day, work study, I arrived at the office of Dr. English. (Ironically, he taught business courses.) I will NEVER forget the look on his face. In short, he was stricken. He was the person who told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Little did we know, that was only the beginning.
I continued to my next class. A psychology course, where the professor wanted to sit in a circle and talk about the events and how we were feeling. As dumb college kids, we took the opportunity to talk for 10 minutes and agreed that we should cancel the rest of class. Not caring that a major tragedy was unfolding, but glad to have a reason to get out of class early.
I still didn’t understand the magnitude of the events that were occurring. Nor did I understand how that day would shake America. Then I went home and turned on the news…
And I watched. For hours and hours. The second plane crashing into the South Tower. The damage. The fear. Bodies falling/jumping from the World Trade Center Towers. They didn’t sugar-coat it. The media showed us everything. Only days later, after the images were already burned into my brain, did they stop showing the graphic footage of bodies falling.
The tragedy of that day is tattooed on my heart forever.
I will NEVER forget 9/11 as long as I live.
Back in the car…
I was telling my kids that today, September 11th, was a special day. After that, there was a lot of fumbling on my part. First of all, my kids are at the tender ages of 4, 3, and 2. I already knew that I’d need to keep this conversation simple. But how do you explain a tragedy like 9/11 to such little kids?!
First, I asked if they knew what it meant to die. *gulp* Yes, I did open up that can of worms. But quickly realized that this 15-minute car ride was NOT the time to dive into that topic. The older two definitely got the gist of death, so I quickly moved on.
Today, I said, is a day to remember all the people who died on 9/11.
We talked about the American Flag. I asked them if they knew what our flag looked like. Proudly, they did! We talked about the colors, the stars, and the stripes.
Again, I reminded them that it was a special day, and we spent the remainder of our commute pointing out American flags.
What I Wish I Would Have Said
My conversation did not include one utterance about planes. I was so freaked out about the death part, I forgot to talk about what actually happened on that day. If I could have a do over, I would have told them this:
“On September 11th, 2001, there were several airplanes that got into accidents. Some people did a bad thing and distracted the pilots from doing their job which caused the airplanes to crash. Today, we remember all the people who died in those accidents.”
I wish I would have told my children that people are not bad. Just because some people did a bad thing, does not make them bad. Every person on the planet is good inside. The only reason people do bad things is because they are hurt, mad, or scared. Then I would have had a conversation about what my kids can do if they are ever hurt, mad, or scared.
The Conversation Will Continue
This conversation will repeat every year for as long as my children will listen. The lesson and history will become more detailed as they mature. But as long as they are little, I will shelter them as best as I can.
Our job as a parent is a tough one. We deal with so much on a daily basis. It seems easier to not even explain an event like this to our children. We WANT to protect them. We WANT to shelter them.
But in the same token, we are their teachers. Whether it’s lessons on how to use the potty or how to drive a car, we are teaching our children. With events like this, we’re their history teacher. If we want our children to make a positive impact on the world, they need to learn all the lessons including the difficult ones.
Thankfully, my children will never know the terror that so many people experienced on that fateful day. They will, however, know what happened. My kids will know what Patriot Day is and what it means.
Just like me, my children will never forget 9/11.